Whenever I visit my relatives in Sicily they cannot do enough for me. They fuss and fuss over my well-being and happiness and like all Italians they are constantly preoccupied about food. For them, maintaining me in a blissful state has to include the constant preparation of food.

It is common for Italians in all parts of Italy to eat light cakes at breakfast and this light cake is a torta di mele (an apple cake). It was made by my cousin Franca who lives in Ragusa (in Sicily).

Cathedral in Ragusa in the photo below.

Ragusa Cathedral_180

Franca made this in front of me and surprisingly on this occasion and for my benefit she weighed the ingredients (a bit of a rarity in an Italian/Sicilian kitchen where everything is done by estimation and touch, sight and smell.

The milk was not measured, but it was a splash, as she described.

When one encounters an Italian recipe for making cakes, listed as one of the ingredients is likely to be a proportion or a whole bustina of lievito. This is the leavening agent and each bustina (small envelope or packet) weighs 16g. In English lievito is translated as yeast, but the leavening agent in these packs is baking powder.

Italians use the same word (lievito) for yeast and baking powder – both are leavening agents but the way that they differentiate between the baking powder and dried yeast is that the packet of baking powder is likely to include a picture of a cake or/and include the phrase per dolci (for cakes). The bustina of dry yeast and will have a picture of bread or pizza on it or/and include per pane (for bread).

Fresh yeast is referred to as lievito fresco compresso (fresh compressed yeast) or lievito industrale (industrial) or lievito di birra (beer yeast).

The contents of each bustina di lievito is listed as being sufficient for 500g flour and for this cake Franca used a half of the packet.

Pears could also be used for this cake.


250 g plain flour

8 g baking powder

150 g sugar – divided into three parts

2 eggs

75 g butter (melted)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 apples (she used Delicious apples)

grated rind of 1 lemon

a pinch of salt

a little milk (she says, as much as it takes)

icing sugar to sprinkle on top.


Peel and cut one apple into small, thin pieces, add the lemon rind and about one third of the sugar and set aside.

Mix the eggs with another third of the sugar, add the butter and oil and beat well – Franca used a metal spoon. Gently fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and a little milk to make a stiff batter. Fold in the pieces of apple.

Slice the other apple into thin slices – leave the peel, cut the apple in half, then into quarters and then into slices.

Pour the batter into a buttered baking pan (in Australia I use a spring back tin covered with buttered parchment paper). Place the apple slices in a radial pattern on the batter and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar.

Bake at 180C for 25 minutes and at 150C for about 20 minutes or so.

Remove from oven and let the cake cool in the pan, then sprinkle with a little icing sugar.

Franca in her kitchen.Franca MG_0272

And some fabulous Melbourne autumn fruit below:

Autumn Fruit platter hero



  1. Ciao Marisa! Thank you for the explanation of lievito. I always knew it as yeast and I thought there must have been a different name for baking powder and I just forgot what it was called. Thankfully I didn’t. I am still amazed the many recipes mamma made without measuring — they always turned out beautifully. I have measuring cups, measuring spoons, scale, liquid measure — you get the picture. Grazie per la ricetta. I look forward to making it. Buona giornata!!

    1. I tend not to measure and get away with it (more often than not). One of my biggest inconveniences when I wrote the recipes in my books was having to measure everything. Grazie to you too, and probably you will not eat your cake for breakfast. Or will you?

  2. Ciao Marisa–not only does this cake look beautiful & easy too, but you have solved one of my most intractable cooking/baking problems here in Sicily. I have not ever been able to figure out what that stuff in the little packets really is, and so all these years I’ve been hauling yeast and baking powder (and baking soda, too) from the US. 🙂 In fact, stuffed in the back of one of my kitchen drawers is an old bustina for dolce with a picture of a fruit cake, so finally I can use it in this cake! (It is “lievito vaniglianato” so I hope a little vanilla flavor won’t harm anything.) xxxxbaci & grazie

  3. I am glad to have solved that problem!
    Have you sorted out what ‘amido’ is? Sicilians use it to thicken puddings/ e.g. biancomangiare. I used to be totally confused by this as ‘amido’ means starch in Italian, but it is what we call corn flour in Australia.

  4. I found your info by searching for “bustina di lievito per dolci” while translating an Italian recipe for a torta caprese al limone. Thanks for the explanation. Not sure if my US baking powder weighs the same as Italian but at least I’m close enough. I’ll keep your website in mind for Italian recipes.

    1. I know how you feel. have you noticed that some Italian cakes also require fecola di patate? Potato flour! That is pretty difficult to source too!

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