Apple Torte with Bread Crumb and Hazelnut Crust
Torta di Mele di Carnia

serves: 8 servings

Apples grow well in the Carnic mountains in the northern part of Friuli and are used in many desserts. This delicious, double-crusted tart reflects the deep-rooted frugality of cooks in this tough mountainous terrain. The crust is made with bread crumbs taken from stale bread, probably due to the scarcity of white flour and the time it takes to make a refined pastry dough. But the results, in the Carnic spirit, are delicious.

ingredients

For the Crust
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted
1½ cups bread crumbs
6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Lemon zest, freshly grated
¾ cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
flour, for rolling the dough

For the Apple Filling
2 pounds tart, firm apples, such as Granny Smith (or a bit more)
⅓ cup sugar
1 cup hard apple cider, (fermented), white wine

directions


To make the pastry dough, chop the toasted hazelnuts into small bits, about the size of barley or rice grains, using a chef's knife or pulse in a food processor, in short bursts to avoid pulverizing. Mix the chopped nuts with the bread crumbs, sugar and grated lemon zest in a big bowl.

Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan just until the butter melts. Pour over the dry mixture and stir until evenly moistened. Let the very sticky dough sit in the bowl for about 15 minutes, so the liquids are absorbed by the crumbs. Scrape dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, enclose it and press into a disk. Refrigerate the dough for an hour or more until it is quite firm.

To make the filling, peel, core and slice the apples; you should have 6 to 7 cups of slices. Spread them in the saucepan; pour the sugar and the cider or wine on top; cover the pan and set it over medium heat. Cook covered for about 10 minutes, gently turning the apples every few minutes, as they wilt and release their juices. Uncover the pan, adjust the heat to keep the liquid perking and slowly reducing. Turn the slices over frequently but carefully, so they stay intact. When the liquid has all evaporated and the apples are soft and nicely glazed, shut the heat and let the apples cool.

When you're ready to form the pastry and bake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven (covered with a baking stone or tiles, preferably) and heat it to 375 degrees. Lightly butter the tart ring and removable metal bottom.

Cut off 1/3 of the chilled disk dough for the top crust and set it aside. On a well-floured surface, roll the remaining 2/3 of dough to a 12-inch diameter circle, almost 1/4-inch thick-more like a cookie dough than a pie crust. Flour the rolling pin and work surface as needed to prevent sticking. Lift the round and lay it, centered, on the tart pan. Press the dough down so it lines the pan bottom and sides and trim the edges so there's an even 1/2-inch of dough over the rim of the tart ring, all around.

Spread the cooled apple slices on the bottom crust in an even layer. Roll out the smaller piece of dough into a 9-inch round, the same thickness as the first. Lay it loosely over the filling and trim the outside edges to fit snugly inside the bottom crust, covering the apples like a lid. Fold the overlapping bottom crust over the top piece and pinch and smooth the dough layers together, sealing the apples inside.

Place the torta in the oven and bake for an hour or longer, until the top crust is deep golden brown, and the outer crust has separated slightly from the side ring. The top crust may crack open and you should be able to see the apple filling bubbling inside. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool.

Let the torta cool on a wire rack. When the crust has firmed up, remove the side ring. If you wish, use a long metal spatula to separate the bottom crust from the metal disk and slide the torta onto a board or cake plate. Serve warm or completely cool, cut in wedges, with powdered sugar or some kind of cream.