Wednesday, October 31, 2012

almond cake

almond cake

A couple of weeks ago, while picking up a coffee at an East Village cafe, the Bluebird Coffee Shop, I ate the best almond cake of my life. The experience was so monumental, that I couldn’t stop talking about this amazing cake. I talked about it to anyone who’d listen, I’d use superlative adjectives, I’d gesticulate wildly. You’d be surprised by just how few people want to hear about the “best almond cake” they’ll ever have. Kind of blew my mind.

I became besotted with this almond cake so much, that I did something I’ve never before in my food blogging and writing career have done—I gathered enough courage to ask the café, outright, for the recipe. And lo!—they gave it to me!

almond cake mise

This kind of forward behavior is not my usual M.O. For those of you who know me well, know that one on one, I can prattle away about various ephemera, say the magic behind natural lacto-fermentation, so much so, that sometimes I forget to come up for breath; but put me in an unfamiliar environment, and I get very quiet and hang back. I suffer from a ridiculous case of the shy.

Lately, however, I’ve been doing those things that make me uncomfortable; I don’t know if it’s the water I’m drinking, but I’m (trying to, anyway) putting myself out there. I’ve asked intimidating (to me) people for meetings; I’ve inquired about a stage opportunity (post recovery, of course!); and when I lost sleep over this cake, I decided that I wanted the recipe, even if I had to ask for it. The way I reason, when you ask for something, the worst answer you will hear is “no”; and the best… the best will be an unequivocal “yes”. Personally, I’d rather be denied something than never know the answer. Rejection can be hard, but at least it’s something definite.

almond paste and sugar

The week after my cake obsession started, I returned to the café, armed with a little bit of chutzpah, begging (and you should have seen the begging) for the cake recipe. My husband will forgive me, but I did what I had to in order to get the job done. Mostly it was a little flirting and a lot of eye lash batting. Thankfully, I wore mascara that day, otherwise my blond lashes would’ve done little in the way of charming the barista. He disappeared for a few minutes only to return with a binder, presumably of recipes.

“The chef says I can give you ingredients only, and you have to do the rest,” he said as he jotted down the ingredients on an order slip.

All I could do was thank him from the bottom of my heart. After all, the ingredients were what was critical here. With ingredients, reverse engineering this almond cake was, by comparison, well, a piece of cake. In a way, getting only the ingredients was so much better than getting the recipe outright. I had to work for it. It made the process a bit more fun, like a treasure hunt.

The testing went beautifully – I really had to just adjust the proportions once (for a smaller home batch) and the cake was perfect. But as I was sliding the cake out of the pan onto the cooling rack, my left wrist (the one with the ginormous scar) gave way, and I dropped the cake on the counter, causing the cake to split in the ugliest possible way. There, see it? Tell me that’s not hideous. In earth-quake glossary terms, the cake just had a strike-slip fault. Totally normal, folks, just your average strike-slip cake separation!

broken! or is it a strike-slip fault?

There might have been some expletives following the break, and Andrew rushed on the scene to see what caused me to erupt in such a way. “Well, that’s too bad,” he said examining the two jagged halves, “It appears that, unfortunately, you’re going to have to make that cake again. And I’ll have to eat it.”

It is rather unfortunate, but Andrew is right—I am so going to have to make this cake again. It’s really just too bad.

almond cake

P.S. As I write this, the news is on in the background and we’re watching the effects of Superstorm Sandy. It’s mind-boggling: the devastation and destruction the storm has left. Many of my friends are without power; my husband’s boss is in a building entirely surrounded by water. We, on the other hand, got freakishly lucky and are counting our blessings. If you’re in the affected areas, I hope you get help soon and I hope that you are, in the meantime, safe and sound.

If you do wish to help, here’s a link to Red Cross – as that is probably the most effective way.

Almond Cake
Adapted from the Bluebird Coffee Shop

I found almond paste made by Odense, a Danish company, at my local Whole Foods, but I also have seen it sold in the supermarkets all over New York. I have a feeling, however, that there are better quality almond pastes out there, though they might not come in the very size you need, so you’ll have to measure out.

Bear in mind, that that cake sinks somewhat. This happened to the cake at the café as well as when I made it. I don’t mind this sinking, or as I like to call it, the “slumping” one bit – in fact, it looks kind of cozier that way. Don’t let the cake cool longer than 10 minutes in the pan before inverting. The heat from the pan will make the cake drier.

(UPDATE 12/29/12: I’ve made this cake numerous times since posting – and each time it sank in the center. A reader wrote to me that his cake sunk a lot, and I went on a mission, asking everyone who was willing to listen, about the cake sinking and as to why. In the end, I arrived at this conclusion: the cake needs more protein to withstand sinking – without egg whites, it’s too delicate. However, the tradeoff to a sunken cake is a rich, tender crumb which you don’t get as much when using whole eggs.

UPDATE 1/9/13: In my endless quest to figure out if there are any other cakes made with yolks only, I finally stumbled upon Amanda Hesser’s version from “Cooking for Mr. Latte”. Her ingredients (and proportions) are nearly identical to my version and at the end of the recipe, she writes, “Yield: one sunken but delicious cake.” I exchanged a few emails with Amanda and she confirmed it: the cake, albeit the most delicious she’s ever had (I concur), always sinks.)

I will make the cake again and swap in a prettier picture for the mess above, but I wanted, so badly, to share this cake with you because it is just so incredibly delicious that I can’t delay any longer. Trust me, this cake is the only almond cake recipe you’ll ever need.

2 1/4 cups (283 grams; 10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (312 grams; 11 ounces) granulated sugar
7 ounces (198 grams) almond paste (this brand makes 7-ounce tubes so no need to measure out)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks; 227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon (7 ml) almond extract
1 cup (226 grams; 8 ounces) sour cream, room temperature
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting, optional

1. With the rack positioned in the middle, heat the oven to 325 degrees F (click here for conversion to Celsius/gas mark). Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt until combined. In a food processor fitted with a blade process the sugar and almond paste until combined. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, on medium speed, for 1 minute. Add the almond mixture, a little at a time, to the butter and mix on medium speed for about 8 minutes. With the mixer set at medium speed, add the yolks, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition until each yolk is incorporated. Add the sour cream and the almond extract and mix until incorporated. Set the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture, in 3 batches, until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.

3. Transfer the batter to the pan, and using a spatula, smooth out the top. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean. You should see the cake pulling away from the sides of the pan, and, the top springs back up, if you push down with your finger. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack, and let rest for 20 minutes before turning the cake out onto the rack. Let cool for 1 hour. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if you like, before serving.

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake; serves 8 to 10.

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25 Comments

  • 1

    I, too, have a serious case of the shy and have missed out on one too many opportunities as a result. #sadface But good on you for having the courage to ask for the recipe for this cake, because it looks DELICIOUS and will most definitely be making an appearance in my own kitchen as soon as possible. :)

    October 31, 2012 4:53 pm
  • 2
    Whitney said:

    Totally make it again but leave the picture! Sometimes its the taste that matters, not what it looks like :)

    October 31, 2012 5:15 pm
  • 3
    Emilia said:

    The almond paste. Would that be the same thing as marzipan? Looks delicious!! Thanks!

    November 1, 2012 6:26 am
  • 4

    I love the story behind this and I really, really want to make this cake :)

    November 1, 2012 8:36 am
  • 5
    Stacy said:

    My goodness. That looks delicious! I am a big fan of almond cakes, and with your absolutely glowing recommendation of this one, I don’t know how I could refrain from trying it. And cheers to you for your newfound bravery! : )

    November 1, 2012 12:10 pm
  • 6

    My grandmothers next door neighbor made the most delicious almond cake for me when I was a kid. I am going to make this one and send it to grandma.

    November 1, 2012 1:50 pm
  • 7
    Ellen said:

    Looks very tasty! I might take a crack at modifying the recipe a bit further, so it can be made without a food processor or mixer, since I don’t have either. Surely, it must be possible to make delicious cakes the way our grandmothers did, without electric appliances :-)

    November 1, 2012 3:08 pm
  • 8
    Batya said:

    Olga, you are hilarious. Chutzpah and begging are a GREAT way to get a recipe! This looks delicious (even with the drop). I’ve been a huge fan of Almond Cake for, like, forever! I top mine (Torta di Mandorla– a recipe from Gina diPalma) with almonds and it is the most delicious. But the almond paste here makes me think this one could tie my old standby. Looks so yummy! Hope you made it through the storm alright. My parents and in-laws are fine, but other family members are still without power. And it’s all just a general mess. Hopefully everything gets cleaned up soon, but my heart goes out to those who lost much more than property.

    November 1, 2012 6:44 pm
  • 9
    Radish said:

    Ellen – here’s what i’d do if I were you, rub the almond paste and the sugar together applying pressure to a spatula until uniform. As for creaming the butter, it will be really really hard to do it by hand – I just won’t have the same chemical structure – stiffer butter–> more trapped air bubbles, but it’s possible. I recommend investing in a cheapo hand mixer (they go for about $20-30, no need for a pricey kind) and mix that way with a bowl set over a towel (so the bowl doesn’t move). Let me know how it goes for you!

    Batya – I’ve made the Torta di Mandorla and have loved it for years, but (and I apologize to Gina diPalma) this version has my heart. I think that I prefer butter cakes to oil ones, and also, the egg yolks make this cake so nicely dense with the best, tender crumb. I shared a piece with Melissa Clark today and she said the exact, same thing about the cake. Try it and let me know. I think this might be my favorite. I am so sorry to hear that your family is suffering in the wake of post Sandy devastation. Sending you & your loved ones good wishes!

    Everyone who’s written me personally and commented about almond paste being called marzipan – yes, almond paste is also known as marzipan I did a little digging around and apparently, they are two different things. Marzipan is sweeter and the almonds are more finely ground. Almond paste is used primarily in cakes/pies whereas marzipan is used almost like fondant, to create decorative touches.

    November 1, 2012 7:30 pm
  • 10

    I will have to try this!

    November 3, 2012 6:30 am
  • 11

    I love almond cake and would have enjoyed your gushing about the best cake ever. People often don’t understand when I gush about food, they think I am crazy but little do they know what they are missing out on. I had the best paella in my life earlier this year and i STILL have dreams about it!

    THANK YOU for getting the recipe and testing it out – I am totally going to try this out! I have been know to ask cafe’s for recipes too, I asked about this delicious bread they had a my favorite breakfast place and they gave me enough hints to find a recipe that produces something very similar to what they make. Seize the day and always ask I say!!

    November 3, 2012 6:53 pm
  • 12
    Theresa said:

    I love anything almond flavored so I tried baking the cake. I followed your recipe exactly and it was all I could do to keep from sucking down the batter raw…it was so good. I couldn’t find my 9 inch springform so I used a regular 9 ” cake pan lined with parchment. The cake rose so high -it really souffled – and it spilled out of the pan. I just stuck a sheet tray under it and let it continue baking. It took at least another extra 15 minutes to bake. Although the top looked done, it was jiggly inside so I baked it until a toothpick came out clean. When it was done, I let it cool a bit and when I flipped it…it broke (which I didn’t mind). The cake had a weird texture inside and the taste of it cooked wasn’t half as good as the raw batter. What could I have done wrong? Could I have whipped too much air into the batter when I creamed the butter or when I beat in the eggs?

    November 12, 2012 2:10 pm
  • 13
    olga said:

    Theresa – did you use whole eggs or just yolks?

    November 12, 2012 2:15 pm
  • 14
    Naveen said:

    Your intense enthusiasm and love for this recipe makes me want to try this recipe! This has been bookmarked.

    November 13, 2012 7:21 pm
  • 15
    Andi said:

    This has been bookmarked for several days now, I can’t wait to try it!

    November 23, 2012 10:45 am
  • 16
    Basit said:

    Delish! I used cake flour and salted butter out of necessity, and put the topping on top before cooking (using parchment pp underneath) and it came out great! Sweet, almond, eggy, very moist but clearly done.

    November 26, 2012 12:12 pm
  • 17
    Allison said:

    This was absolutely fantastic! Not at all in line with the “healthy” desserts I usually try to make, but a good treat for the holiday season :) Thank you for recreating the recipe for us!

    December 2, 2012 3:52 pm
  • 18
    debbie said:

    I am an almond freak I love it cannot get enough of it have made a veriasion of this cake numerous times found this recipe different in that it uses sour cream. Have made it twice and will keep this recipe. 2 thumbs up!!

    January 16, 2013 2:44 pm
  • 19
    Lea said:

    This is the perfect cake for almond lovers! Just delicious! I didn’t have kosher salt so subbed a scant 1/2 t. fine sea salt, and it worked well. This recipe definitely goes in my permanent cake rotation. Thank you!

    February 8, 2013 8:44 pm
  • 20
    Linita said:

    I had the same experience as Teresa, even though I used a springform pan. It spilled over the top, then never cooked thoroughly, even with an extra 15 minutes.
    I followed the recipe exactly, but ended up with basically a puddle on a plate.
    Help!

    May 17, 2013 1:24 am
  • 21
    olga said:

    Linita – I’ve made this cake over two dozen times by now (outside of testing) and that has never happened. Did you use an 8- or 9-inch springform? Also, was your oven at 325 and does it run hot? Do you have another oven thermometer in the to gauge the temperature? And is it a convection oven? I’m not there with you, so it’s hard for me to understand exactly what happened. Lastly, did you use egg yolk or whole egg?

    May 17, 2013 9:55 am
  • 22

    […] into creme anglaise? How about Almond Cake? The weather is getting downright autumnal. Were I not recipe testing, I’d be making this […]

    October 17, 2013 7:54 am
  • 23

    […] and Tiff, where we served, among many things: this carrot avocado salad, these scones, and this almond cake (it cratered as per my warning in the recipe – as expected – but we still couldn’t […]

    April 7, 2014 12:58 pm
  • 24
    Tammy said:

    A friend of my cousin made this cake for a party this summer. I loved it, she graciously sent me here for the recipe. I made it tonight for the first time…..love, Love, LOVE it!!

    December 8, 2014 10:33 pm
  • 25
    olga said:

    Tammy – so glad! It’s really one of our favorites and we no longer mind the cratering :) In fact, I’m making it tomorrow for my friend’s husband’s birthday on Sunday!

    December 12, 2014 10:16 am

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