One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.
Laurie Colwin

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Almond Cake

Adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert


Almond Cake with a Crunchy Crust

Sweets are not my weakness. As far as I can remember, I only ever ate dessert first once in my life.

I was meeting someone for dinner at Pearl Oyster Bar on a frigid winter night. It was too early for the restaurant to be open, and I had exhausted wending my way around all the places in the neighborhood that interested me, including Murray's where I wanted to eat everything in sight, so I went into Rocco's and had an espresso and a miniature cannoli.

Lucky for me, it didn't spoil my appetite for an early dinner - but that's not saying much since I don't actually think there's anything that could spoil my appetite for oysters so fresh you can taste the sea. Oysters so fresh you don't even want mignonette sauce to cloak them. Oysters so fresh you pick them up and "drink" them right out of their shells.




But that's a different subject, for another time.

THIS is about cake.


As much as I love to cook, I'm not a particularly dedicated, sophisticated, or proficient baker. However, since I don't live in Paris surrounded by a zillion fabulous patisseries and since the two best French pastry shops in NYC - Dumas and Bonté - have been closed for a long time, I need a few good dessert recipes in my arsenal. And that does mean a few good cakes. After all, I can't always serve vanilla ice cream and berries.

I make a mean chocolate torte thanks to Lora Brody as well as a delicious orange cake that I snagged from Clothilde, who calls it Le Gâteau Piège.  Marcella's carrot cake is also my kind of cake, simple and light, not dense at all.

So when my friend Sarah described this almond cake to me, I checked out my copy of Pure Dessert, my favorite cookbook of 2007, and the picture of the cake looked wonderful to me.




I knew right away THIS was a cake to check out. It had two versions so I tried the first (Almond Cake) one week, and the second (Almond Cake with a Crunchy Crust), the next. Each one is good and oh-so-fragrant.

However, both times I made this cake, it sank in the middle.

It didn't stop the cake from tasting good.

It didn't even stop the cake from looking good.


The second one sank a little more than the first, but it made me think the depression in the top, which was studded with sliced almond pieces, should be filled with a compote of fresh peaches (peaches and almonds are a match made in heaven) - or, of course, the ubiquitous berries; I'm thinking blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries at my July Fourth lunch. But the cake's falling sort of surprised and puzzled me.

Then - like a swami - Shuna, the spirit of baking present - lit on my shoulder and explained it. So now I'm going to mess around with the cake a little more to see what I can do to keep it from sinking.

But don't let my problem stop you from making it. It really is wonderful - especially if you like the taste of almond macaroons or Italian pignoli nut cookies, which are made with almond paste. And you may have better luck than I. The gods might be with you even if they are not with me.  And even if it does sink, it's good - even good enough for company.

As I said, there are two versions of this cake.  One version is plain; the other, my favorite, is studded with sliced  almonds over the top and along the sides, hence the name Almond Cake with a Crunchy Crust.

This cake is definitely best made the day before you want to serve it as the flavor is enhanced as it "cures."


I've discovered It's a good idea to unmold the cake onto a completely flat plate, which will help to keep it from sinking in the middle.  I use a Pillyvuit 11-¼-inch round serving platter to plate most of my cakes.  It's beautiful white French porcelain, perfectly  flat, and the smallest size they make.  It's also a nice serving platter for cheese.

Both version can be served unadorned or topped with heavy cream softly whipped, with or without fruit. If you use Amaretto in the recipe, and you are serving it with whipped cream, you may want to lightly flavor the whipped cream with it.  The Amaretto I like best is Luxardo.  It has a lovely fragrance and does not have a sweet, cloying taste.  It is luxurious in the mouth.

Berries or peaches, lightly macerated with a little sugar, are good choices for the fruit.  To do this, wash and dry the fruit.  Cut it into pieces the size you want.  Sprinkle it with a small amount of sugar, stir, and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. 

Version One

Almond Cake
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich   

Equipment

An 8 by 2-inch round cake pan.  (If you want to use non-stick, I I like the Gold Williams-Sonoma Non-Stick Pan.)  A flat plate on which to unmold the cake.

 Ingredients

1 generous tablespoon softened butter to coat the cake pan 
4 ounces (¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons) unblanched whole almonds*  (See Note.) 
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and allowed to soften slightly
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional, but recommended, preferably Luxardo)
1.5 ounces (⅓ cup) unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur.)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the sides of an 8-by-2-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper, but do not butter the paper.

Place the almonds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and process using the metal blade until the nuts are finely ground. Add the eggs, butter, almond extract, and Amaretto, if using, and pulse until completely blended.  Mix the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl, and add to the food processor.  Pulse again, this time just long enough for the mixture to blend.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan, and spread it evenly.

Bake the cake on a rack in the lower third of the oven until the top is golden brown and a cake tester put into the center comes out clean. This will take between 30 and 40 minutes  depending on your oven.  34 minutes is the ticket in mine.

Place the cake in its pan on a rack and cool completely.

When ready to unmold, if you have not used a non-stick pan, slide a thin spatula around the sides of the cake. Cover the pan with a plate, and turn over. Remove the cake pan, peel off the parchment paper, cover the cake with another plate, and turn over again so the cake is right side up.  If you have used a non-stick pan, you may not have to slide the spatula around the sides before releasing the cake, but you need to know your pan well if you decide not to do this.

This cake can be served unadorned or topped with softly whipped cream with or without fruit. If you used Amaretto in the cake, you may want to lightly flavor the whipped cream with it.  Berries and/or peaches would be good choices for the fruit.


Version Two

Almond Cake with a Crunchy Crust
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

Equipment

An 8 by 2-inch round cake pan (I like the Gold Williams-Sonoma Non-Stick Pan.)  A flat  plate on which to unmold the cake.

Ingredients

1 generous tablespoon softened butter to coat the cake pan 
About 2 tablespoons sugar to coat the cake pan, more if necessary 
6 scant tablespoons sliced almonds
4 ounces (¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons) unblanched whole almonds*  (See Note.) 
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and allowed to soften slightly
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional, but recommended, preferably Luxardo)
1.5 ounces (⅓ cup) unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur.)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Coat the sides and bottom of of an 8-by-2-inch round cake pan generously with softened butter. The reason I like to use a light-colored non-stick pan is that it does not cook the sides too much before it cooks the middle, and it releases well.  Do not line the pan with parchment. Coat the pan with sugar. Scatter 6 tablespoons of sliced almonds over the bottom of the pan. 

Place the whole unblanched almonds, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and process using the metal blade until the nuts are finely ground. Add the eggs, butter, almond extract, and Amaretto, if using, and pulse until completely blended.  Mix the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl, and add to the food processor.  Pulse again, this time just long enough for the mixture to blend.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan and spread evenly.

Bake the cake on a rack in the lower third of the oven until the top is golden brown and a cake tester put into the center comes out clean. This will take between 30 to 40 minutes, depending on your oven.  34 minutes is the ticket in mine.  You don't want to over cook it.


Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes - no more - before unmolding. If you leave it longer than 10 minutes, the sugar lining the pan will make the cake stick.

  With the Williams-Sonoma Gold Non-stick Pan, I find that the cake releases perfectly on its own.  If you are concerned about releasing the cake, you can slide a slim, small spatula or knife carefully (you don't want to damage the coating) around the inside of the pan to help release it.  Cover the pan with a flat plate, and turn over. Remove the cake pan, and leave the cake almond crust side up.

Note

*Brooks Headley, the pastry chef at Del Posto restaurant in New York City whose book Fancy Desserts is a contestant in the 2015 Piglet at Food52, has suggested that in order to enhance the flavor of almond flour, which is  essentially almonds finely ground, it should be toasted, and he recommends you toast it in on a parchment-lined pan at 325 degrees for five minutes.  So although I use raw unblanched almonds for this cake, you might want to toast the almonds before using them or grind the 4 ounces of almonds and then toast them on a parchment-lined quarter sheet pan for five minutes at 324 degrees to see if you think the flavor in this cake is enhanced.

2 comments:

  1. not that your cake isn't stunning... but now I want to go drink oysters... the best way by the way. No sauce!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Blender Benefits,

    I had to Google almond milk to see what it was! Sounds like it would work well. If you try it in this recipe, let me know.

    Happy New Year.

    ReplyDelete