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.

Version One

Almond Cake
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

Best made the day before you want to serve it.

4 ounces unblanched almonds
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks and allowed to soften slightly
1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional)
1.5 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

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, salt, and almond extract in the bowl of a food processor, and process using the metal blade until the nuts are finely ground. Add the eggs, butter, and Amaretto, if using, and pulse until completely blended. Add the flour and baking powder, and 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 about 35 to 40 minutes.

Place the cake on a rack and cool completely.

When ready to unmold, 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.

This cake can be served unadorned or topped with softly whipped cream with or without fruit. Berries and/or peaches would be good choices for the fruit.

Print recipe


Version Two

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

Best made the day before you want to serve it.

6 tablespoons blanched or unblanched sliced almonds
4 ounces unblanched whole almonds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks and allowed to soften slightly
1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional)
1.5 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the sides and bottom of of an 8-by-2-inch round cake pan generously with softened butter. Do not line the pan with parchment. Coat the pan with two tablespoons of sugar. Scatter 6 tablespoons of sliced almonds, blanched or unblanched, over the bottom of the pan. If you can press some of them one inch up the sides, do. If not, don't worry about it.

Place the whole unblanched almonds, sugar, salt, and almond extract in the bowl of a food processor, and process using the metal blade until the nuts are finely ground. Add the eggs, butter, and Amaretto, if using, and pulse until completely blended. Add the flour and baking powder and 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 about 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool 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.

To unmold, slide a slim, small spatula carefully around the inside of the pan, pressing the spatula against the sides of the pan to release the cake without cracking the crust. Cover the pan with a plate, and turn over. Remove the cake pan, and leave the cake crust side up to serve.
This cake can be served unadorned or topped with softly whipped cream with or without fruit. Berries and/or peaches would be good choices for the fruit.

Print recipe


Batter in the Food Processor

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