Torta monferrina di mele e zucca (apple and pumpkin cake from Monferrato, Piemonte)

Well, that title IS misleading in its conciseness. It should read “apple, pumpkin, amaretti, chocolate, figs and sultana cake with brandy and rum” – no less!. This opulent pudding is one of the most delicious and the most unusual dishes I have tasted in a long time. It comes from Piemonte (again!, as you might have gathered I am having fun “exploring” this region) and it defies description: it is part cake part set mousse part fudgy brownie. It is slowly dried out in the oven, rather than conventionally baked and it keeps for days, getting in fact better – its taste deepens and develops, the boozy kick subsides and the chocolatey-fruity notes come to the fore. This is a splendid, festive pudding which I urge you to try.

Torta di mele e zucca monferrina
12 to 16 portions
(marginally adapted from “La cucina del Piemonte collinare e vignaiolo”, by Giovanni Goria)
An oven tray 35 cm x 25 cm x  4 cm, buttered and lined with parchment paper

1 kg peeled pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed small (net weight)
4 not too big brambly apples and 4 Braeburn apples, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 orange
200 g crushed dry amaretti biscuits (crash them by hand, do not pulverize them in a food processor)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
200 g bitter chocolate, finely chopped (I used 100 g/70% cocoa content and 100g /90% cocoa content – I tried this cake few times and I had the best result using this combination)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
240 g sugar
pinch of salt
12 dried figs, chopped up
a big handful of sultanas
60 ml brandy
60 ml rum

Heat up the oven to 200 C.Toss the apples with the cinnamon and the vanilla, place them in  large heavy pan and cook them, covered,  for about 30 minutes or until fully tender. Stir them to mashed them up.
Coat the pumpkin cubes with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon sugar , place them on a tray, lined with buttered tin-foil. Roast until lightly caramelized and fully tender, approximately 45 minutes., turning them a couple of  times.  Mash them up with a fork.
Bring the oven down to 150 C.
Mix the apples and the pumpkin. Add the orange zest, the crushed amaretti, the chocolate, the cocoa powder, the liqueurs, the sultanas, the figs and the eggs
Mix well and pour into the baking tray. Bake the cake for at least 3 hours and then check every 30 minutes: it must feel rather firm to the touch, notably drier and  it will have slightly shrunk from the sides of the tin. Do not expect this cake to become fully dry: think fudgy brownie. In my oven this took 4 hours but I could have left it even longer. Remove it from the oven, place it on cooling rack.
This dessert can be eaten warm (on the day it is made) or at room temperature, the following days.

I also made this cake using half quantities. I baked it in a buttered and lined 24 cm x 24 cm dish. It took over two hours at 150 C.

On the apples: the author just says “8 apples”. I found that using different varieties gave the best results. If you only have very large apples, reduce their quantity. I favor sharp apples, but it is up to you

Use your judgment when it comes to bake the cake: the author says that it must “dry ” (rather than “bake”) and that the oven must be “bassissimo, appena acceso”, very low, barely on. The cake will firm up as ti cool down.

This dessert is hard to sabotage, a little less/more pumpkin/apple/chocolate/alchol ecc will not alter its deliciousness



14 thoughts on “Torta monferrina di mele e zucca (apple and pumpkin cake from Monferrato, Piemonte)

  1. Ciao! I found your post while eating my version of Torta di Zucca which I posted some years ago
    This was a recipe passed down to me from my husband’s nonna. My late mother also made this cake. I make it every Christmas and we discussing the origin of this unusual cake so of course, we turned to google. I am very interested in the cookbook by Giovanni Goria. Do you make this often?


    1. marcellina: my apologies for not replaying earlier. Yr Nonna Lucia’s cake is pretty similar, it is the same cake with different accents – I guess her personal touches. Where did she come from? I agree with Signora Lucia in making this cake in big quantities: it keeps wonderfully, actually it gets better.
      I do recommend the book by Goria (if u r interested I can sed u the digital version) – it is brilliant. recipes and culture, which is what food is about.
      I discovered this cake only this year, but so far I have made it three times. … I suspect I might try yr version before pumpkin season ends. ciao marcellina


      1. Ciao Stefano, nonna Lucia was from a little village near Casale Monferrato in Piemonte. She came to Australia as a young bride of only 19 years of age. However she had been working, cooking and looking after children since she was only 9 years old. I loved listening to her stories and miss her still.


        1. ciao Marcellina
          ah ah! from Casale! that’s the answer: this cake does belong to that territory. Contemporary (far right) Italians should remember when it was us (Italians) to have to leave the country (often because there was not money/food/work in the Motherland). Hope u have all her recipes (even if in an “oral” form). ciao, st


    1. hey Jeff
      give it a go (maybe halving the quantities). it is odd: this is very Italian, actually a very Piedmontese dessert, i.e. very local and steep in tradition… and yet there is something of an English Christmas pudding about it, I guess the combination of fruit, sugar, booze….


  2. Goria does it again! This does sound intriguing, and I look forward to making it during the holidays. The cooking time is really surprising – 4 hours!! But it sounds like it is worth it. Currently I am obsessed with a ricotta and apple cake, the recipe from Castellina in Chianti. Quite tasty… un abbraccio, David


    1. ciao david: just to try and see if u like it u could easily divide the recipe by three (with much shorter cooking time, of course)

      ricotta and apple: !! which recipe is that? can u get good ricotta? these days I make my own ricotta-style cheese almost every week and… it disappears rather quickly (from the Rosetta Costantino’s book)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The ricotta and apple cake came from a chef named Louisa in Castellina – I got it from a blog. It’s quite good, and I think the recipe will post next Saturday. I get my ricotta from the farmers market – goat ricotta. It’s quite firm and flavorful. I have tried to make my own and it has always failed miserably…

        I will try this cake – probably a third of the recipe, as you suggest. I have a Marina di Chioggia pumpkin that I going to cut open during this Thanksgiving weekend, and it weighs in at 5.5 kilos! I need to make pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, soup and this cake!


        1. ah yes, Louisa’s cake (which I think should be Luisa, don’t u think? – it comes from Food52, which is pretty good). Good basic cake, too sweet for me, but good. It does not sound Italian to me (creaming butter with sugar is not a very typically Italian way of making cakes, which generally are made whisking eggs with sugar…) but a good thing to know (actually it sounds “new californian cooking to me, but hey… it is good!)

          ricotta: use the recipe published by Saveur, playing around with temperature.
          pumpkin gnocchi: I loooove… which recipe do u use. I published here a wonderful carrot gnocchi recipe (originally coming from Hazan, then heavily re-worked) which is also very good with pumpkin (and easy too). I also love ravioli di zucca mantovani, from Mantua, with amaretti biscuits and mostarda… not everybody’s taste (they can be sweet – renaissance cooking) but, if the sugary elements are paired down, truly magical (with burro e salvia)


    1. ciao Michelle
      it is really a weird and delicious thing… very festive, almost christmassy, it feels almost like an english pudding, moist and slightly alcoholic.

      Liked by 1 person

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