Seeing as I don’t get out as much as I’d like to, I’ve never really thought about what would be my “desert island” cake. Or should I say “dessert island” cake? As in, what is the one cake that I would want with me if I couldn’t have any other kind. Chocolate figures largely into the equation, but as much as I love Chocolate Orbit Cake or a custard-filled Coconut Cake, I’d have to say that this Almond Cake would be the one that I would choose to sustain me through thick and thin.
We made almond cake at least once weekly when I baked at Chez Panisse, which I’ve adapted from one of my baking bibles, Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere. Lindsey was the executive pastry chef of the restaurant, and co-owner, since the beginning, and she told me she used cook and bake everything in a home oven stowed away in a shed behind the restaurant, which is those days, was akin to the backyard in Berkeley. I always imagine something like a kid’s rickety fort, except one that smelled a little better.
This cake is endlessly adaptable, and once I baked it in loaf pans, split the cooled cakes horizontally four time, and smeared a bit of dark chocolate icing between each layer, and stacked them back up. I frosted the whole thing in more chocolate icing and when I gave a slice to Lindsey, she asked me where I got such a delicious recipe. Ha!
Although chocolate is wonderful with this rich, moist almond cake, this cake shines equally bright when paired with lightly sweetened fresh peaches, plums, apricots, or whatever berries were the most spectacular at the time. I’ve also served it successfully with quick-candied cherries or poached pears with chocolate sauce, and for those who like tea-time cakes, it can be split horizontally and filled with a thin layer of raspberry or apricot jam, reassembled, and brushed on top with bit more jam and a layer of toasted almonds, then finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
This is one of those cakes that’s hard to mess up. There’s no sifting or folding or tricks, and it keeps well for several days. In fact, it gets better if it sits a day or two before serving. Occasionally it will sigh a bit in the center, which is normal and adds to its character. You will need to get almond paste, not marizpan, which is softer and sweeter, but I know that most supermarkets in America and France carry it. If you want me to find it in your neighborhood, if you live near a sunny beach, for the prices of a plane ticket, I’ll help you hunt for it.
(But I do require an ocean-front balcony.)
To get the paste fine enough, you enlist your food processor. When I wrote my first cookbook, even though I had one, I assumed most people didn’t so I didn’t include instructions for one in the recipes. Then I realized that many people do have them, they just don’t use them enough because they’re stored away in the back of a cabinet. When I had a larger kitchen, I kept mine on the counter and used it all the time. But now I do need to reach for it from time-to-time, and this is one of those times that using it really makes a difference.
If you don’t have one, be sure the really get the almond paste broken up as fine as possible in your stand mixer. (Depending on the model, you could likely pulse it in the blender as well.) When I worked in the restaurant, we’d let our big, heavy-duty Hobart stand mixer go for around ten minutes or so, to make sure everything was well broken up; large clumps of almond paste will diminish the chances of the cake having a fine, almond-rich crumb.
Interestingly, in France, I’ve only been able to come across pâte d’amande that has 33% almonds in shops, but you can find it online. Supermarket varieties available in America generally are stronger and have around 50% almonds. I’ve used both successfully, but whichever one I use, I add a dash of pure almond extract, never the artificial stuff. The best pure almond extracts are made from bitter almonds and impart a clean, sharp almond flavor, so it’s best to read the label at the store before buying to make sure you’re using the real deal.
One 9-inch or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake
Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere
As mentioned, this cake is best made in the food processor. If using a stand mixture, use the paddle attachment and let the mixer run until the almond paste is finely broken up. There’s a few notes at the end of the recipe, including some almond paste tips and suggestions.
I dialed down the butter from the original recipe, which had two more ounces (55g), for a total of 10 ounces (280g) since some feel the cake was a bit heavier and too-buttery with all that butter in it. But if you do wish to go that route, I’d be interested in knowing what you think.
- 1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar
- 8 ounces (225g) almond paste
- 3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour
- 1 cup (8 ounces, 225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC). Grease a 9- or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake or spring form pan with butter, dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper. (See Note, below.)
2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup (35g) of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup (105g) of flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. (You may wish to open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.)
After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled. Don’t worry; it’ll come back together after the next step.
6. Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix. (You can also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in, which ensures the dry ingredients get incorporated evenly and you don’t overbeat it.)
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 45-60 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.
Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve. (Tip: Warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.)
Storage: This cake will keep for four days at room temperature, well-wrapped. It can also be frozen for up to two months.
Note: For this cake, I used this 9-inch cake pan, whose sides are 2-inches (5cm) high. Some readers noted that the batter rose higher than their pan, although I’ve made this cake well over a hundred times and have not had that problem. So use a standard size cake pan whose sides are at least that high, not a layer cake pan, which is shallower.
Tips: If your almond paste has dried out, the Odense FAQs (see below) recommends placing the almond paste in a plastic bag with two slices of bread or an apple half, and letting it sit overnight.
People often ask about making their own almond paste. To be honest, I’ve only done it successfully in pastry school, where we had a large rolling machine that makes a nice, smooth paste. Most home food processors won’t get the almonds fine enough so I recommend buying it. But there’s a link below if you want to give it a go yourself.
In the United States, Solo and Odense are good brands of almond paste. I’m partial to the almond paste from American Almond Products, which is marketed in home baker-sized containers under the name Love ‘N Bake.
Related Links, Post, and Recipes
Almond Paste FAQs (Odense)
Almond Paste Recipe (RecipeLink.com)
Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote (Smitten Kitchen)
Almond Cake (Amateur Gourmet)
Olive Oil Almond Cake (Sassy Radish)