It took a long time, but autumn finally feels cold, wet and windy in Melbourne. Tomatoes and plums are fading from our memory and giving way to pears, apples, pumpkins and walnuts. Autumn is my favourite season (though Spring comes a close second) and I love the produce that I can find at my local markets. Last Saturday Mark and I went to the Victoria Market, the largest fresh food market in Melbourne and bought a cornucopia (Mark’s word, not mine) of fruit and vegetables: farm-fresh unwaxed Fuji apples, tiny green Emerald Prince pears, black grapes, pink-striped borlotti beans in the pod, leeks, Victorian walnuts in the shell, large flat mushrooms. A cornucopia indeed.
So I decided to make a cake with the produce I had bought and inspiration came from a book called Dalmatia, recipes from Croatia’s Mediterranean coast by Melbourne’s own Ino Kuvacic. Ino was born in Split in Croatia, but many of the recipes in the book are very familiar to me. Dalmatia is on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, strongly connected to other towns and countries along that shoreline, and the food has many similarities. Fritule (frittole – or fried donuts), brudet (brodetto – or fish stew) and blitva na dalmatinski (bietole e patate – silver beet and potatoes) might have been made in my mother’s kitchen as well as in Ino’s, the similarity of the methods and ingredients is uncanny.
Given the vast quantities of apples I had bought, I decided to make a Croatian apple cake (Kolač od jabuke) from the book. Ino described it as a classic Croatian cake, to be eaten as a dessert for Sunday lunch with a cup of steaming coffee and a gossip session with your friends. The cake has a layer of apples sandwiched between two layers of pastry. The apples are grated, reminiscent of how my mamma makes her apple strudel. I changed the recipe quite a bit, halving the amount of sugar, adding walnuts as well as brandy to the dough and omitting cinnamon from the filling.
The first time I made it I sandwiched the filling between two dough circles, but found it a little fiddly to cut once cooked (the top layer of pastry was sliding on the apple filling). The next time I put sides on the pastry, making it a kind of pie, which made it a bit easier to cut. Ino’s version is in a rectangular pan and is more like a sandwich than a pie. The filling is a delicious balance between sweet and tart and the walnuts in the dough give the cake a lovely nutty taste. It is a rather special cake that I cannot wait to make again (I am happy that apple season is so long).
I will be travelling to ITALY in 5 days – this trip seems to have come around very fast. So I am enjoying apples and pears while I can as next week it will be strawberries and cherries (no, I am to complaining!). It will be quite a trip:
I am very excited to be staying with Annette Joseph at her fabulous newly renovated fortress (called La Fortezza) in Northern Tuscany, spending time with family in Milan then heading across to the northeast to do some fine-tuning for my September 2018 tour of Trieste (there is one spot left in the 5-night tour if you are interested). Next – a bus to Pula (or Pola as I call it) in Istria to where my father was born to do some research about the area (and I will probably look to try some Croatian apple cake while I am there). I will spend my final days in Puglia, at Polignano a Mare to meet up with Ali Pike from Southern Visions Travel. It will be an opportunity to go through the details for the 6-night tour I am running with Southern Visions Travel of southern Puglia in April 2019; so it will be an opportunity to go through the tour details and enjoy the beauty that is the Salento (what Southern Puglia is called). And take a whole lot of photos as well. I will be posting regularly on Instagram so please follow my travels through my feed as well as Instastories.
In other news, this weekend I am reviewing the final draft of my second cook book ADRIATICO before it goes to print on Monday. It is looking fantastic. The team at Smith Street Books have done an amazing job, I couldn’t be happier with the colourful design on the cover and the layout; it is everything I hoped it would be. I wish I could show you the drafts! It will be released at the start of October; I will let you know when it will be available for pre-order.
COOKING CLASSES – the classes I run at my home in inner city Melbourne are filling up fast for 2018, in particular the gnocchi and pasta classes. There are still several spots for a strudel-making class in July and an Italian sweets class in August. Please click here for details of all my classes in my online shop.
And as today is the second Sunday in May, Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers out there. I will be happily spending the day cooking with my mamma.
Apple and walnut layer cake
310g plain flour
60g walnuts, finely processed
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine seasalt
1 lemon, zest only
150g butter, at room temperature, chopped into small dice
1/2 tsp pure vanilla essence
2 tablespoons brandy
750g tart apples (about 5 medium sized), peeled, cored and grated
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons brandy
1 small egg, lightly beaten (for an egg wash)
12 walnuts halves
To make the pastry, beat the butter and sugar in your kitchen processor until pale and creamy. Add the egg, vanilla and lemon zest and beat until light and fluffy. Place the flour, walnuts, baking powder into a bowl and whisk briefly to combine. Fold the dry ingredients plus the brandy into the butter/egg mixture until combined. The mixture will be fairly dry. Bring together with your hands and shape into a disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.
To make the filling, place the apples and sugar into a saucepan at medium to high heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to evaporate most of the liquid from the apples. Remove from the heat and mix in the lemon juice and brandy. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 190C. Line the base of a 25cm diameter springform cake tin with baking paper and grease the sides with butter.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and divide into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. The large one will form the base and sides of the cake; roll it out so that it is larger than the base of your tin, about 30 cm in diameter. Line the base and sides of the tin with the pastry, smoothing it down with your fingers and then prick the base with a fork and return to the fridge for 15 minutes. Roll out the rest of the pastry so that it is about 25 cm in diameter and set aside. This will cover the top of the cake.
Place the cake tin with the pastry base in it in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, spread the filling and then place the smaller disc of pastry on top, pressing down lightly at the edges so that it seals with the sides. Brush the top with lightly beaten egg and then press the walnut halves into the top of the cake. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and cooked through.
Wait about 5 minutes then release the springform tin sides.
This cake is equally lovely warm, at room temperature or even cold from the fridge. The filling makes this cake rather moist; it can be eaten as is, though you could also serve it with vanilla ice-cream or whipped cream.
Keeps for 2 or 3 days covered in the fridge (it will probably keep for more but we cannot resist eating it within 48 hours!).