Balzano Apple Cake, Revisited

balzano apple cake

I have blogged about this cake before. It is one of my favorites, and I want it to be one of yours, too.

The roots of Balzano apple cake lie in the Alto Adige region of Italy, where Scott Carsberg of Seattle’s Lampreia trained as a young chef. There, Carsberg worked at the Michelin one-star restaurant, Villa Mozart, whose menu reflected the simple foods of the region, and whose chefs taught him how to make Balzano apple cake, a classic northern Italian peasant dessert. Over twenty years later, Carsberg put the cake on his menu, serving it with caramel ice cream. Yum.

(Read more about Carsberg, Lampreia and the Balzano apple cake in this New York Times article: Seattle Grown, Italian Flavored.)

I adore this cake, but classifying it as a cake, I am discovering, is perhaps misleading. The word cake is why several of you, I suspect, have had trouble with this recipe, mostly with the baking time — some of you have had to wait 90 minutes for your cakes to finish cooking.

I know every oven is different and every pan conducts heat differently, so baking times will surely vary, but I worry that cooking this “cake” for over an hour will severely alter its delicate texture and flavor.

You see, Balzano apple cake is more like a cross between a clafouti and a pancake — and the most delicious clafouti-pancake cross you’ve ever tasted at that. After the cake is removed from the oven, it falls, and the slices of vanilla-seed speckled apples meld together sinking into the tiniest of tiny layers of cake. It is delectable.

If you fear your oven’s temperature and dial aren’t quite calibrated accurately — mine certainly are not — I recommend getting one of these little oven thermometers. Mine hangs from my top oven rack, and I refer to it every time I use my oven.

When testing the doneness of this cake, inserting a knife will offer little guidance. The paring knife I used emerged covered with little bits of batter. I still removed the cake from the oven after 55 minutes of cooking and let it cool in its pan on a rack for more than 30 minutes before tucking in.

It has been over a year since I made Balzano apple cake, and I have forgotten how much I love it. I most enjoy eating it when it has cooled to room temperature. I’d wager, in fact, that it peaks at breakfast the day after it has baked. Yum yum yum.

Smit Orchards’ apples, found at the San Clemente farmers’ market:
farmers' market apples

Apple slices:
apple slices

Balzano Apple Cake

Source: Adapted from The New York Times 2004
Serves 8

1 stick butter, plus more for greasing pan
parchment paper
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean 

4 Fuji apples
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt such as fleur de sel (or 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)
½ cup milk at room temperature
powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease a nine-inch-circle pan with butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and place inside pan. Grease sides of pan and parchment round with butter.

2. Melt butter in small saucepan. Set aside. Beat together eggs and half of sugar in a bowl. Continue to beat while slowly adding remaining sugar until thick — it should form a ribbon when dropped from spoon.

3. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into the egg-sugar mixture and add pod to melted butter.

4. Peel apples and cut straight down around the core into four big chunks. Discard the core then slice the apple pieces thinly.

5. Remove vanilla pod from butter and discard. Stir butter into sugar-egg mixture. Combine flour, salt and baking powder, then stir into batter alternating with the milk. Stir in apples, coating every piece with batter. Pour batter into pan.

6. Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, but not for much longer, or until cake pulls away slightly from the pan and is brown on top. Cool for at least 30 minutes, then cut into wedges sprinkling each with powdered sugar if desired.


  1. says

    ANOTHER apple cake for me try!!!!
    I have made sooo many apple cakes, I am posting the brown butter bliss apple cake tomorrow…..this one looks like a winner. I guess I will have to bake another apple cake this weekend!

  2. says

    i seem to have reached a place in life where i can’t get enough apple cake. i like it cream-cheese-frosted, i like it caramel-glazed, i like it naked, and i have no doubt i’d like this version. it sounds unique and scrumptious!

  3. says

    This cake sounds amazing, and it’s come along at just the right time for me, I have sacks of apples from my boyfriend’s parent’s apple tree!

  4. says

    I made this cake last November after seeing it on your blog and it is HEAVENLY! We’re having company next week and I think I’ll make this for them.

  5. Tracy says

    Bolzano is a beautiful little town in northeastern
    Italy… please correct the spelling of this lovely little “cake”! I made it last weekend and I thought perhaps a tarter apple such as a Granny Smith would have been nice. Also, it’s really nice with a side of whipped cream, ice cream, sour cream, etc.

  6. says

    I spent a year living in Milan last year and the one thing I cannot get out of my mind is the apple cake I consistently indulged in. Let’s just say the northern Italians got it right when they started making apple cake. Unfortunately, I never found a recipe to bring back with me, I think you just filled that void. I cannot wait to make this.

  7. Kathryn says

    It sounds like a great desert that I will try this apple season. I was wondering about the apples; do you think it is important to use Fuji apples? Have you tried it with other varieties?

  8. Jon Glazier says

    It would be very helpful to me if you would take the temperature of the cake when it is finished baking with an instant read thermometer,especially since there seems to be some uncertainty about when it is done.
    thanks for all the great recipes.

  9. says

    ¡Delicioso! What a great cake even if I had to use the yellow delicious in house and substitute Mexican vanilla which is dreamy. When I tasted the batter, it reminded me of the Mexican vanilla ice cream we make in the summer.
    I’m still savouring the polenta with sauteed chard & fried egg. Your pictures are incredible!

  10. Julia says

    Hi, just discovered your blog and have spent the last several hours just going through it – love it!! This looks totally yum but was wondering if red delicious apples would work – I have a 10 lb bag of reds (thats what happens when u send ur husband to the grocery with “apples” on the list!) and need to use them up.

  11. kookie in london says

    Just want to ask those of you who’ve made it if it’s good with a tart or sweet apple? I can get nice russets which have good flavour and hold their shape well, I usually bake with Granny smiths as I like tart apples in my desserts, and I have no idea what a Fuji apple is like. Thanks!

  12. says

    Success! I made this cake for the third time tonight and it was by far the best. I took the suggestion of one of your reader comments and used granny smith apples. It gave the cake a little kick. I also bought a new baking dish that is deeper than the one I usually use and it is absolutely perfect! Thanks so much for this recipe. I really have grown to love this dessert :)

  13. says

    I was able to make this in individual tart pans with deep sides. So great to serve like this. Company was impressed! It also helps with portion control. I can devour this entire cake over 2 meals! Love apples, butter and sugar.

  14. Donna says

    I’ve made this wonderful cake three times. Messed it up a bit the first time, was still delicious. It’s a little hard to get into the pan though cause it tastes so good even before it’s cooked. Ha!

  15. says

    Thanks so much for posting this! Some students of mine brought me a big packet of Italian baking powder mix that is made specifically for said apple cake. They had it in a cafe in Piedmonte I had recommended, and the proprietor told them to buy this specific yeast. Unfortunately the apple cake recipe on the packet was horrid, I’ll give this recipe a try.

  16. Nancy C says

    I’ve made this two or three times since that recipe was in the NYT Times. Going to try it with pears in a week or so for a family get together. Will let you know how THAT turns out.

  17. JoAnn says

    Hi! Love your site, this recipe is awesome! My three year old son loved it, my husband loved it, I love it! (Even using regular vanilla as I didn’t have any vanilla bean)also excellent for breakfast and a pre-workout snack! I think I will try a little more flour next time to see if I can get it a little puffier (I’m at 6200 ft). Let you know.

  18. says

    recommendation: double the flour. I use an extra half cup of coconut flour and it makes it way more cake-ey, more substance, and it holds together better.

  19. Christine says

    I tried it and loved it! I followed the recipe. I was wondering if you had tried it with different fruits (plums, rhubarb)?
    Thanks for your fabulous recipes and pictures:)

    • says

      Christine — so happy to hear this. And no, I haven’t tried this with any other fruits, but I love the idea of both plum and rhubarb — rhubarb especially as it has such an affinity for vanilla… I’ll have to wait for the spring to experiment. Thanks so much for your nice words.

  20. lisa says

    i made this cake last nite and it is absolutely delicious. it was so easy to make and was so good that i had it for breakfast this morning. would definitely make this cake again!

  21. Donna Thede says

    This was the first of your recipes that I tried and every time I make it, it is with pure delight just knowing the delicious result that’s coming. You made me VERY happy with this.

  22. Adrienne says

    I’m wondering if there could be a summer version of this…could apples be replaced with something like peaches or would they not be substantial/fibrous enough to hold up?

    • says

      I have always wondered the same thing but haven’t experimented. I love the idea of using peaches. I think they would work just fine though I bet the texture of the finished cake will be a little different…I know that’ll vague. If I get to making this with peaches before summer ends, I will be in touch! Report back if you make any discoveries.

  23. Barbara says

    I recently discovered this cake via stumbleupon and had to make two of them this morning! Oh. My. gods. Truly divine. Thank you thank you thank you!
    I might have to make another for thanksgiving :)
    (Oh, I subbed out the flour for a 50/50 rice and tapicoa flour blend to make it gluten free and it worked like a charm because there is so little flour in here anyways!)

    • says

      yay! I am so happy to hear this! It is one of my favorites. And awesome tip re gluten-free variation! So many people will love to hear that. I need to add that to the notes. Thanks!

  24. Kristīne says


    First, I want to tell you huge thank you for what you are doing! You have rescued so many dinner parties at our home! I am learning so many new things reading your blog! Thank you thank you thank you!
    Second, about this apple cake. I tried to make it today and everything was wonderful until I realised that I forgot to add milk. I freaked out, of course :) Cake was ready in 45 minutes and was not so moist as yours, but it is still very very delicious. Now it is my favorite. Even my mother in law loved it. Next time I will make it with milk and compare the results!
    And again- Thank you so so much! You are wonderful!

    • says

      Oh Kristine, you are so welcome! THank you for saying such kind things. I am so sorry to hear about the milk — is there anything worse?! — and I totally understand having a freak out, but I am glad to hear that all was not lost, and that the cake turned out well despite the missing ingredient. Glad to know it’s on the forgiving side. I will love, of course, to hear how it turns out for you with the milk. Thanks so much for writing in!

      • Kristīne says

        Hello again!

        I made this cake yesterday with every ingredient and it turned out wonderful, of course. It was much more moist and actually I can’t tell which one I prefer. First attempt was more like a cake, second- more like a clafouti. Both disappeared in a couple of hours :) Thank you again!

  25. Llinda Herrington says

    Thank you so much for this recipe….everyone loved it, and it will be a regular for Christmas. In fact, they loved it so much last year, I need to make two this year. Can this recipe be doubled?

    • says

      Hi! I tried to email you a response via my phone because I was away from my computer, but it didn’t go through. Sorry I’m just getting to this! I have never doubled the recipe but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I think you will just have to do your best dividing the batter equally between the two pans but otherwise I don’t see any issue. So happy you and your family likes this one as much as I do! Merry Christmas!

  26. Kristīne says

    Hello again!

    So, I made this with saturn peaches! The result wasn’t as good as the apple cake, but tasty!
    I used a little bit more flour and less sugar. I should’ve used a little bit of lemon juice.
    Peaches sank to the bottom and the cake was a little too wet on the bottom and a bit dry on top, but otherwise it was good and my family loved it!

    Hope this helps!

    • says

      Thanks so much for sharing Kristine! Bummer it didn’t turn out as well with peaches, but it sounds like it was a worthy experiment anyway. So appreciate you reporting back!

      • Kristīne says

        Well, I guess it turned out that way because peaches were very juicy. Or maybe because it was 85F outside :) will definitely try this some other time again and will report!

        Thank you!

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