Mouths to Feed: Cake for Me and You

Almond Cake

Almond Cake

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If I were queen of the world, I would write this week’s column about leftovers. Not your leftovers, sorry, no, but the particular chaos of dishes cramming my refrigerator, residue of a busy week followed by a sociable weekend, all of which I over-shopped and over-cooked for, as always. But whatever recipe I came up with would be useless to you (“take 2/3 pint of 2-day old herbed rice…”), and the pictures would be ugly to boot. 

That’s a roundabout way of saying I don’t feel like cooking something new today. Which is why I’ve come up with a clever way to make this week’s column work overtime for me. 

Here’s the plan: Last Sunday morning, a dinner guest texted asking me for some of the recipes I’d served the night before. One of those recipes — for a chicken tagine — had already run in this space a few years back (“Tracing My Taginealogy”), so I directed her to the website. Others were ad hoc, on-the-spot combinations — a sauce of mustard and crème fraiche, e.g. 

But one recipe, for an almond cake, comes from a cookbook that’s a bit of a mess: full of my comments and adjustments, and a bit dog-eared to boot. I began making the cake over a decade ago for my wonderful mother, who adores anything almond, and I’ve continued to do so because it’s very delicious and, as far as I can tell, completely foolproof. 

It’s also super versatile, as it can be served plain, topped with a dusting of powdered sugar or accompanied by whipped cream and whatever fruits are in season. Moreover, it’s easy to make gluten-free without compromising flavor or texture, since it contains a scant amount of flour. And because it’s quite moist, it can be made a day ahead with no risk of staleness. 

Best (or worst) of all, it’s one of those cakes you can’t stop nibbling on. I’ve lingered late around our table on many evenings, watching the thing evaporate sliver by please-just-one-more sliver, until it’s completely disappeared. In fact, one night in a friend’s garden a few years back, we finished off an entire cake between four of us. (The recipe says it serves 10 to 12, so that seems about right.) On those rare occasions when there are leftovers, I wake up wanting it for breakfast, with a cup of good, black coffee, or with afternoon tea. 

So one self-serving aspect of today’s column has to do with that morning-after cake. I’ve long wished for a slightly less sweet version, one that would be better suited to brunch or teatime. So thanks to this (award-winning! Bravo, everyone!) paper, I had a good excuse to experiment — and the results were perfectly delicious. 

Another bonus: I use the Current website the way my mother used to use a little metal recipe box filled with handwritten 3-by-5 recipe cards. The site, like her card file, contains my evolving repertoire of go-to meals and treats, both for every day and special occasions. These days, our college kids access it often, too, instead of calling home requesting the recipe for this or that, as I still sometimes do with my mother. So now this cake can join its cohort in the ether.

And finally, hey Panni: Here’s that recipe you asked for! 

Almond Cake

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s “Pure Dessert”

  • 4 ounces whole almonds, blanched or unblanched (about one cup minus 2 tablespoons)*
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (for the sweeter version, use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into chunks and slightly softened
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch, maraschino liqueur or rum (optional)
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • Confectioner’s sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of an 8-inch cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment (see note for optional almond crust). 

2. Place the almonds, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely pulverized, about 1 minute. Take care that they are quite fine or the cake will be gritty. 

3. Add the eggs, extract, butter and liqueur, if using. Process until well-blended and smooth. Add the flour and baking powder and process briefly, just until combined, scraping down the sides.

4. Transfer the batter to the cake pan and bake about 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan placed on a wire rack. 

5. When cool, turn the cake out onto a plate. Serve dusted with confectioner’s sugar, with fresh berries or berry puree, and whipped cream.

* You can substitute almond flour for the almonds, and simply whirr it quickly with the sugar and salt in step 2. Just be sure that almonds are the only ingredient.

Note: To make an almond crust, skip the parchment paper in step 1. Butter the pan generously, then press slivered almonds into the butter. Sprinkle with about 3 tablespoons sugar, then proceed with the recipe as written. When baked, instead of letting the cake cool completely, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes, then slide a knife around the side, place a plate over the pan and invert. Cool completely on the plate.

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