Torta di Mele con Sambuca

apple cake wedge Hello, I’m back. And I’ve brought a new apple cake recipe with me.

This one is courtesy of my friend Marta Carrozza of Il Marchese del Grillo B&B in Sulmona. Over the last few years I’ve asked her for I don’t know how many recipes, and she is always gracious about sharing them.

I’ve written about Marta before, when I posted her recipe for torta ubriaca (chocolate cake with red wine) last year. Every morning, weather permitting, Marta sets out a beautiful breakfast buffet on the rooftop terrace of her B&B. Our Abruzzo culinary tour guests loved it. There is always fresh seasonal fruit and a selection of freshly baked cookies and cakes made by her mother and mother-in-law.

Marta's table

The breakfast spread at Il Marchese del Grillo B&B, Sulmona.

Sweets aren’t my usual breakfast fare, but during our tour last month I enjoyed this apple cake two mornings in a row ~ it’s that good. The recipe comes from Marta’s mother, Olga. It’s a simple cake, not unlike the apple cake recipe I posted last year. Except it has a secret ingredient: sambuca.

Chopped apples get a nice soak in a sambuca bath before being folded into the batter. The result, once the alcohol bakes off, is a fragrant, tender cake with a distinct (but not too pronounced) anise kick. Be sure to use a mix of apples to give the cake a more complex flavor. I used Crimson Crisp, Honeycrisp, Grimes Golden, and Golden Delicious from my favorite apple purveyor, Twin Springs Fruit Farm.

apple cake whole Something else I love about this cake: it seems to improve with age. The crumb stays moist and the anise flavor mellows. I had one one slice left this morning from a cake I baked four days ago. It was just as good, if not better, than when it was fresh. Call it breakfast.

My thanks to Marta for sharing another stellar recipe.

Makes 12 servings

Torta di Mele con Sambuca | Sambuca Apple Cake

A splash of sambuca gives this rustic apple cake a subtle, appealing anise flavor. A dusting of confectioners' sugar is all it needs as a garnish.


  • 4 apples
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup sambuca
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sunflower oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (if using baking powder)
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 packet lievito per dolci (see NOTE) or 2 teaspoons baking powder


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with sunflower oil. Fit a piece of parchment into the bottom of the pan and lightly oil the parchment.

Peel the apples and cut them into bite-size pieces. Put them in a bowl with the sambuca as you go to prevent browning. Toss gently to make sure the apples are thoroughly coated and let sit while you mix the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and the sugar until light (I use a whisk). Whisk in the lemon zest, oil, and vanilla extract, if using. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and lievito or baking powder. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the apples and sambuca. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until the top is golden-brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 60 to 75 minutes. If the top is browned before the cake is done, gently lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top and finish baking. When done, transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Use a sharp knife or metal spatula to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Remove the ring from the pan and let the cake cool to room temperature.

Invert the cake onto a plate, remove the springform bottom and peel off the parchment. Re-invert the cake onto a serving platter. Dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving.

NOTE Lievito Paneangeli is an Italian leavening agent flavored with vanilla that is used for making cakes and other sweets. You can substitute 2 teaspoons baking powder per packet of lievito. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract to the wet ingredients if you want to add vanilla flavor to the cake.

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31 Responses to Torta di Mele con Sambuca

  1. Helen October 14, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    Wonderful to see this post. I’ve had many dainty slices of Marta’s cakes. Now I have another grocery store souvenir to bring home from Italy – Lievito Paneangeli. Nice.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:21 am #

      You can also get Paneangeli at the Italian Store in Arlington, Helen.

  2. Angela Brassinga October 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    That breakfast looks delicious too. Sounds like the tour was wonderful.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:22 am #

      Thank you, Angela. Yes, the tour was wonderful. Hopefully I’ll get around to posting some photos here on the blog. I love introducing people to Abruzzo.

  3. Mark A. Bauman October 14, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    I am planning to make this cake but for someone who does not care for anise flavor, so I will try it with either an apple brandy, such as Applejack or possibly limoncello. I was also thinking of adding a little bit of King Arthur Fiori di Sicilia essence along with the vanilla. To Helen- Lievito Paneangeli can frequently be found in Italian markets in the US.

    • Helen October 14, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

      Thanks, Mark!

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:24 am #

      Mark, I love the idea of using Applejack or limoncello. Let us know how it turns out.

  4. Mark A. Bauman October 14, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    Forgot to mention that if I use Limoncello, I will probably reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:24 am #

      That might be a good idea, though Sambuca is also pretty sweet. Looking forward to hearing the results.

  5. Adri Barr Crocetti October 14, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    I love apple cakes. I love Sambuca, and this beautiful cake is perfect for this time of year. It certainly sounds like your travel companions dined well in Abruzzo. I appreciate that you share your recipes from your travels, and I am looking forward to even more.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:25 am #

      Thank you, Adri. Italian cooks are so generous about sharing recipes. I always come home filled with ideas and inspiration.

  6. amelia October 14, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    torta fantastica! Domenica: love how few ingredients this torta has, and the wonderful aroma of Sambuca.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:26 am #

      Yes, the cake is one of those that is more than the sum of its parts. Nothing fancy, but very good.

  7. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way October 14, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    All of your ingredients, not the quantity, are examples how the right combination can make a delicious dish. I really love the idea of adding liqueurs to a dish — it adds so much more. My mamma liked to macerate her fruit before cooking with them. I look forward to making the torta. BTW, I grew up calling the fruit “pomi” and I have to stop and think. 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      Ciao Marisa ~ when I was little I didn’t care for liqueur-spiked desserts. At some point my palate grew up and now I love them. Calling apples ‘pomi’ makes sense; the french call them ‘pommes’ and the word ‘pomodoro’ means ‘golden apple.’ It’s all related!

  8. ciaochowlinda October 14, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    Thanks for posting this Domenica. i’ve eaten this on the terrace of Marta’s b&b and she shared the recipe with me too, a couple,of years ago, but I completely forgot about it. Thank goodness it’s not lost now that I can go to your blog to get it and make it after I return from my trip. I hope all went well with your food tour of Abruzzo.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 8:31 am #

      Linda, I’ve been living vicariously through your travel photos. You have been to some magnificent places. Maybe one day we’ll enjoy breakfast together on the terrazzo at Il Marchese. Un abbraccio!

  9. Paola October 14, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    your friend Marta sure loves to cook with alcohol! ha I do not blame her. This one sounds delicious, look forward to making it X

  10. Rominique Rubio October 14, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

    Ouch, 1 cup of oil is a lot. Could I use 1/4 cup of oil and 3/4 cup applesauce?

    • Domenica Marchetti October 15, 2015 at 6:48 am #

      Hi Rominique. Keep in mind that this cake serves 12, so it works out to about 1 1/2 tablespoons per serving. Adding applesauce would definitely change the texture and flavor of the cake. That said, I am all for experimenting in the kitchen so if you want to, why not give it a try?

  11. Marilena Leavitt October 14, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    Welcome back Domenica. This torta looks absolutely delicious!

  12. cheri October 14, 2015 at 11:20 pm #

    Apple cakes are the best, love how moist this looks.

  13. Rosa Jeanne Mayland October 15, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Exquisite! This cake looks very tempting.



  14. Chiara October 18, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    una bellissima variante alla solita torta di mele, l’aggiunta della sambuca mi piace molto Domenica !Buona settimana

  15. mammagina October 28, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

    Made this over the weekend and served it with Fig Leaf Gelato to a friend who is going thru chemo and radiation! Wanted something special for her! I used limoncello and it was delicious!

    • Domenica Marchetti October 29, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

      Ciao Mammagina, what a lovely thing to do for your friend. I wish her all the best. Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment. I haven’t yet made the cake with limoncello but I think I will the next time I make it. Cheers, D

  16. Rosetta November 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    Ciao Domenica!

    I tried this cake over this past weekend and it turned out fabulously especially because i did not have any Sambuca in the house so I substituted some finely ground anise seed; about a 1/4 teaspoon and since I personally do not eat white flour…I also switched that out as well with 2C GF flour and 1/2 C GF oat flour. It turned out great!! The flavor and texture of this cake is marvelous! Brava Domenica on a deliciously easy recipe for this Torta!!

    • Domenica Marchetti November 24, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

      Rosetta, I’m so glad you enjoyed the cake. Thank you for sharing your substitutions. I appreciate it, and I am sure others who eat GF will as well. Cheers, D


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