Consider this an open apology letter to Gina DePalma, pastry-chef extraordinaire at Babbo. Gina, I should never have second-guessed you on anything, especially the brown butter glaze you instructed for this cake. In the future, I will follow all your recipes to the minutest detail and never ever doubt your wisdom and experience.
You might be thinking, what is she talking about? After all, there is glaze on that cake in the picture. And yes, glaze surely is on this divine almond olive oil cake, but it almost didn’t make it there. You see, I’ve an aversion to sugar glazes or things that are overly sweet. And my favorite cakes, such as this one, or the ginger pear one I made a few months back, are moderately sweet, a bit restrained in their sugar content. Plus, I find sugar glaze kind of disgusting to touch, I know – I’m an odd duck. And in case you were wondering, I really really cannot get on board with sticky buns. Homemade or otherwise – they simply gross me out.
And so while I was making this cake, I had absolutely no intention of making the glaze. I decided upon it so firmly that I even said it to myself out loud while I was mixing the cake batter – sometimes I talk to myself while I cook, or rather, talk myself through the recipe. Does anyone else do that? Or did I just confess to being the ultimate kitchen weirdo?
But then, looking upon the baked cake that sat so peacefully and plainly on my kitchen counter, I felt like it just needed something. A little accessory to make it pretty and festive, like lip gloss, or a pretty purse – my cake needed something. And I read through the recipe again and my eyes drew to Ms. DePalma’s name, I thought to myself, “You idiot, the woman works at Babbo. Don’t you think she knows best? Don’t you think she would have omitted the glaze were it not absolutely divine?” And with that thought, I ignored my own prejudices and made the brown butter glaze.
First of all, let me repeat. Brown. Butter. Glaze. As in, why did I question anything with brown butter in it? Why? Clearly, I have much to learn. And secondly, my goodness! This cake! The flavors of olive oil and almonds! The glaze! The subtle hint of citrus on my palate! This was superbly moist, delicate, comforting. And it’s got to be the easiest thing I have ever baked. It requires no electric appliances at all, and you need only two bowls and a whisk. Mix your dry ingredients into your wet ingredients, fold the batter gently, and bake. When the cake cools, glaze it and let it sit. Easy does it. And with the glaze the cake shines; the flavors just dance. Which is exactly what you’ll want to do around your kitchen after you have a slice of this.
Moist Almond Olive Oil Cake (Torta di Mandorla)
Adapted from Gina DePalma – pastry chef at Babbo via Serious Eats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/4 a medium orange
1/2 cup orange juice
For the Glaze:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.
3. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.
7. While the cake cools, make the glaze. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.
8. While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.