Marisa’s Piedmontese Apple Timbale with Cinnamon and Cloves

Timballo di Mele

Whenever we are in the Piedmontese town of Alba we try to have at least one meal in the cool, neat dining room of the Porta San Martino restaurant. The unlabored yet carefully prepared food of Porta San Martino has a quality I prize greatly, the perceptible presence of a real person at the stove. It is cooking that expresses the warmth and sincerity of the talented woman who produces it, Marisa Pavesi, a co-owner of the restaurant.

It’s hard to say what makes this apple timbale of Marisa’s so good. It is so simple that it is nearly impossible to sabotage. It doesn’t even have any pastry crust to struggle against. It is basically a puree of apples cooked with cloves and cinnamon, laced with brandy, plumped up with beaten egg whites, and baked in a loaf pan.

In Italy I use a homely but flavorful apple called renetta, squashed in shape with a dull, mottled yellow skin. Although it is described as a Canadian apple, I have never found it in North America. What I do find and would use is the always reliable Golden Delicious. You may choose any other cooking variety you favor, as long as it is juicy and more sweet than tart.

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Ingredients

  • 2 to pounds crisp, juicy cooking apples; see headnote
  • A dozen cloves
  • Cinnamon, two 1-inch pieces
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar plus another ¾ cup to make caramel
  • 3 tablespoons cognac or other grape brandy
  • 4 egg whites
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup water

A small piece of cheesecloth

An 8-cup loaf pan, 9 by 5 by 3 inches

Method

  1. Wash the apples, peel and core them, and slice them as thin as possible.
  2. Cut the cheesecloth into two pieces, and use them to make two equal bundles of cloves and cinnamon, tying them with some kitchen string. You could make just one bundle, but two separate ones will better distribute the aromas of the spices while the apples are cooking.
  3. Put the sliced apples in a saucepan together with the spice bundles and ¾ cup sugar. Turn the heat on to very low and put a tight-fitting cover on the pan. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the apples are reduced to a pulp, about 40 minutes.
  4. Transfer the apples to a food processor and puree them. Put the pureed apples into a bowl and add the brandy, stirring thoroughly.
  5. Turn on the oven to 325°.
  6. Beat the egg whites in a bowl with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Fold them gently into the apple puree, working patiently to incorporate them uniformly without deflating them.
  7. Put the remaining ¾ cup sugar and ¼ cup water into the loaf pan and place the pan over a burner, turning on the heat to medium. Bring the sugar to a boil, resisting the temptation to stir it. Tilt the mold forward and backward to move the melted sugar around until it becomes colored a light nut-brown. Take off heat immediately and quickly tip the pan in all directions, while the caramelized sugar is still liquid, to coat its bottom and sides evenly. Keep turning the pan until the caramel congeals, then set aside to cool.
  8. When the caramel is cold, pour the apple mixture into the pan, leveling it off evenly.
  9. Choose a saucepan with oven-safe handles that can subsequently accommodate the loaf pan. Pour enough water into it to come 1 inch or inches up the sides and bring the water to a simmer over the stove. Lower the loaf pan into it and place the whole thing in the preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven, lift out the loaf pan, and let it cool off.
  10. When cool, turn the pan over with all its contents onto a serving platter. The caramel should be completely liquefied and ought to pour out easily, but if there is still some sticking to the bottom of the pan, place the pan over a burner, loosen the caramel over gentle heat, and pour it over the apple timbale. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or up to 4 days, before serving.

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