Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'm sorry. Want a slice of cake?

Dear almond cake, I think I love you.

It has been so long that I'm not sure where to begin. Well, I figure that people really like cake, so what better way to say hello, sorry, than with this lovely little number? There, now don't we all feel better? I'm not the first cook to notice that almond paste and butter and sugar make very, very fine bedfellows, but I'm here to underscore their observations. This is the kind of cake you'll be glad to have in your recipe box. It's perfectly moist, with a tender crumb, and the crowning touch of toasted, sliced almonds adds just the right amount of texture. It also has the added benefit of being incredibly versatile, the black dress of cakes. It's great on its own (even for-ahem-breakfast) but you can gussy it up with any number of seasonal accompaniments.

A little rhubarb compote, maybe, fragrant with orange zest? Some sliced strawberries? A gilding-the-lily drizzle of chocolate? Poached apricots in vanilla syrup? Well, you get the point. I wish I could tell you that I invented this cake myself, that I awoke one morning with a vision of dessert, realized on the first attempt. Alas, credit must be given to the good people up at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery. The recipe is in Keller's cookbook, Bouchon, which is filled with recipes that normal people can actually sharp contrast to the collection of recipes in his French Laundry cookbook. Before discovering this recipe I had a go-to almond cake in my repertoire, one so loaded with butter and almond paste that it always collapsed after coming out of the oven, which I dealt with by filling the depression with berries. But that cake has now been removed from rotation, because this one, this one is just perfect.

Gateau Aux Amandes from Bouchon Bakery

7 ounces almond paste
1/4 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 tablespoons mild-flavored honey
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons amaretto, plus additional for brushing
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
kosher salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
confectioners' sugar

3/4 cup creme fraiche, whipped to soft peaks (we made our own...I'll share that technique in my next post, as it's well worth knowing about.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Put the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream mixture on low speed to break up almond paste, then increase the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until paste is broken into fine particles. Add the butter and mix for 4 to 5 minutes, until mixture is airy and light in color; stop the machine and scrape down the sides as necessary. It is important to mix long enough or the cake will have a dense texture. Mix in the honey, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add amaretto, flour, and a pinch of salt and mix just to combine.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cake is golden and springs back when pressed. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool. Invert the cake onto the rack, remove the parchment, and invert the cake again so that the top is once again facing upward. Brush the top of the cake with amaretto and sprinkle with toasted almonds. Dust generously with confectioners' sugar. The cake will keep, well-wrapped, for up to two days (like it'll last that long).

Serve with a dollop of whipped creme fraiche and the fruit accompaniment of your choice. Die and go to heaven.