I don’t know about you, but Passover baked goods fail to excite me for the most part. The sponge-cake I’ve been used to eating for the holiday is dry and boring with barely any flavor to offer. And we are talking about dessert here, people. The period at the end of the sentence. Because that is what dessert is. Without it, a meal feels incomplete somehow, ending with an ellipsis, waiting for more.
But before I get carried away about punctuation and how it relates to dessert, let me say this: my Passover dessert woes are over. Completely, totally, wholly over. This cake you see here below comes together fairly quickly and doesn’t need much fussing. The olive oil makes the cake moist, giving it a delicate crumb. It’s not a dry and boring sponge cake that I remember eating in the past. Instead of flour, you use almond meal, which, if you cannot find it in your grocery store, you can make at home by taking almonds and pulverizing them in a food processor until the mixture becomes a fine meal. Some lemon and orange zest brighten up the flavors – whispering, “Spring is here!” and if that’s not enough – a homemade fresh strawberry puree takes this cake to a whole new level. When I tasted it, the bright, clean berry flavors made me want to take a leap in celebration of the brand new season and the most amazing weather New York has enjoyed since autumn last year. Immediately, I decided this is what I’ll make for our family Passover Seder this week.
Baking for my family is a tricky proposition. My mother, who is diabetic, can’t eat most baked goods and so I almost never bake at my parents’ house, because I hate the idea of her not being able to partake in it. But this cake here, without flour and low on carbohydrates (did I just write the word “carbohydrates” or what?) and a moderate amount of sugar – this is something she can have a slice of along with the rest of the family. And it makes me very happy to know that this time around, she’ll be able to have dessert after the Seder.
Lastly, the recipe on the web advises a 10-inch spring-form pan, which I didn’t have. I had a 9-inch cake pan, left a bit of batter in the bowl and adjusted my baking time accordingly – it worked for me. Be carefully cooling the cake – it’s delicate and might sink if you move it around too much before it cools completely.
Almond-Lemon Torte with Fresh Strawberries
Adapted from Epicurious
Mild olive oil (not extra-virgin) for brushing pan plus 6 tablespoons
4 tablespoons unsalted matzo meal, divided in two
2 cups almond flour or almond meal
1 cup sugar, divided into thirds
6 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange juice (I used a blood orange)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Sauce and berries:
3 cups sliced stemmed strawberries (about 2 pounds), divided
1 tablespoon (or more) sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush 9-inch-diameter spring-form pan or cake pan with oil. Line the bottom of the pan with a parchment paper round and brush top of the paper with oil. Place 2 tablespoons matzo meal in pan and shake pan to coat, tapping out the excess when done.
In a medium bowl, stir together remaining 2 tablespoons matzo meal, almond flour, and 1/3 cup sugar. Take two large bowls and place egg yolks in one and egg whites in another. Add 1/3 cup sugar to yolks, and, using electric mixer, beat yolk mixture until thick and fluffy. You will see the mixture lighten in color.
Beat in 6 tablespoons olive oil drizzling the oil gradually, allowing it to emulsify with the yolks, then lemon juice, orange juice, and lemon and orange zest.
With a spatula, mix in dry ingredients until just combined.
Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to whites, and, using clean dry beaters, beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into yolk mixture in 3 additions. Folding is different from mixing. To fold, you gently lift the bottom of the batter with a spatula and gently place it atop the egg white. You delicately repeat the process until the mixture is combined, but not mixed. You will see the whites giving it lightness and structure.
Gently, as not to collapse the batter, transfer it to prepared pan. Sprinkle almonds over.
Bake cake until golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Place pan on rack; cool cake completely in pan. Invert the cake over onto a baking rack and then onto a plate or a cake stand.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover cake pan with foil and let stand at room temperature.
For sauce and berries:
Combine 3 cups sliced strawberries, 1 tablespoon sugar and lemon juice in a food processor and blend until smooth. Sweeten sauce with more sugar and/or more lemon juice, if desired and transfer to a bowl. Cover and chill. Can be made ahead.
Serve the cake slices with the strawberry puree.