Simple, sweet

We’re still celebrating Henning’s 30th birthday, and it hasn’t even happened yet. Last night, we had a semi-celebratory dinner for just the two of us, since on his actual birthday I have to teach until 6pm. It was only semi-celebratory because we both didn’t have much time to hang out. Henning is giving a talk in the Topology seminar on Tuesday (his birthday!) and I have a lot of research to work on.

I made some pasta with Italian sausage and peppers and a simple orange scented almond cake, since Henning loves almond desserts. Cakes made with almond paste are amazing—they retain such great moisture and they tend to have a delicate, soft crumb and a nice chewy crust. Working with almond paste can be a bit of a pain, but I’ve got some tips that make it much easier (I don’t own a mixer, remember?). The only difficult thing about working with almond paste is getting it evenly incorporated into the batter. I’ve found that if it is ground to the texture of coarse sand, this is not a problem at all. I used the blender attachment for my stick blender to break up the almond paste, and then incorporated it a spoonful at a time into the creamed butter and sugar. You could also grate it with a cheese grater or whizz it in a food processor. If you don’t want to bother with this step, that’s ok, provided that you have a heavy duty stand mixer and you incorporate the almond paste by breaking off tablespoon sized chunks and adding them one at a time.

Orange-scented Almond Cake

This is a pretty standard almond cake, souped up a bit with the addition of Grand Marnier and orange zest. Well, it would have been if I had not forgotten my ID when I went to the store. I ride my bike a lot, and I always like to take my ID with me on bike rides, you know, just in case, and it seems that I left it in my little bike bag. Wonderful thing to discover in the checkout line of Trader Joes with a bottle of Grand Marnier in tow. Oops. So this time I had to substitute orange juice, since I was pretty sure that the other liquor options in the apartment (Jameson, sherry) weren’t going to cut it. I’ve made this cake before with Grand Marnier, and it is better that way, but it is still delicious without. It has a lovely light almond scent and a grand richness to it. How could it not, with a stick of butter, 3 eggs, and only a third of a cup of flour? Mmm. It makes a great breakfast as well. What? Cake for breakfast is bad? But Bill Cosby said it’s ok!

Orange-scented almond cake
adapted from Bon Appetit, June 1999

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
one 7-ounce package almond paste, broken into pieces
2 tsp orange zest
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or orange juice
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut an 8 inch round from parchment paper. Butter a round 8 inch cake pan and set the parchment in the bottom of the pan. Butter the parchment. Dust pan with some flour; tap out excess. Grate almond paste using a cheese grater or food processor.

Using electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup sugar and butter in large bowl until light and creamy. Add grated almond paste and oragne zest, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in Grand Marnier, almond extract and salt. In a separate small bowl, mix flour and baking powder; add to batter. Beat just until blended. Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth the top, making a slight mound in the middle.

Bake cake in middle of oven until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

Use a knife to loosen the cake from the pan. Invert cake onto rack and peel away parchment. Invert cake from rack onto a serving platter. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Serves 8.

p.s. I don’t own a 8 inch cake pan, but I do own a 9 inch springform, which has approximately 1/3 more area. Here are the ingredient proportions for a 9 inch pan.

1 cup sugar
1 1/3 sticks butter
9.3 oz almond paste (one 7 oz tube plus 1/3 of another 7 oz tube)
2 heaping tsp orange zest
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tbs Grand Marnier
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup plus 2 tbs cake flour
scant 3/4 tsp baking powder


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