Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Bi-curious, Two-timing Almond Cake Affair

I’m going to come right out and say it: I swing both ways. Think of it as my experimental kitchen years, if you must, but I like to get it on with Butter and Olive Oil. My girl Olive and I have a healthy relationship. I spend lots of quality time with her. But sometimes I sneak out and get a little Butter on the side. Salty and dangerous, he drives me wild. Please don’t tell him this, but lately, I’ve also been getting it on with his brother, Unsalted. I really didn’t want to be a two-timer, but the experts told me to. They said for true fulfillment, I needed Unsalted. Frankly, I find him a bore. Who are they to tell me who I can love? If they told me to get it on with Crisco, I’d tell them to go to hell. That would be like hooking up with Charles Manson—if he were hydrogenated. Just because I’m bi-curious, it doesn’t mean I’m a trollop. Telling me to two-time on Salted? Pastry chefs, recipe writers and baking bloggers: please leave my love life out of your callous directives.

You say that Salted will make my cake too salty, but I say phooey. If you think I lack the culinary savoir faire to appreciate the subtle nuances between the two, au contraire. You’re forgetting that 1) I have an Extra Sensory Palate, and 2) I just used two French words in one sentence—that rhyme, no less. I even did a two-way with the brothers to prove my point. I made David’s Almond Cake for two birthday parties. And both of them were real pleasers.

Sure, Unsalted satisfied when we did the deed, but then I was stuck with him the next morning and forced to have him naked on my toast. There’s no intimacy with Unsalted because you can’t even tell he’s there. Like a mirage, I see him, but I don’t taste him. Why have him when you could be with his more exciting brother? And don’t tell me to simply salt my toast. That would be gauche. I might as well open a bag of Doritos and have those alongside my eggs. Do I really need them both around? How do you think that makes Olive Oil feel? Three’s a crowd.

When I made the cake with Salted, I simply used a little bit less salt than was called for. I wasn’t even that scientific about it. I just used my eyeballs. That’s what they’re there for. And not one person at the party stood up and accused me of straying from said callous directives. In fact, in between moans, they asked who had made the incredibly sublime almond cake with the pitch-perfect apportionment of salt. And along with their oohing and ahhhing ovation, they demanded the recipe on the spot.

So I am not buying into your Unsalted butter authoritarianism that made me stray from my love, Salted. Martha Stewart, Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz and Joy the Baker: you’re not the boss of me.

Almond Cake from David Lebovitz
(In his words, slightly abridged; my notes in red)

One 9-inch or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake

Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere

This cake is best made in the food processor. If using a stand mixer, 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. (No! It’s got plenty! Do I look like Ina Garten?)

1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar

8 ounces (225g) almond paste (I used a 7 oz. tube of Odense)

3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour

1 cup (8 ounces, 225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed (or salted and use a tad less salt)

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 (I used a 9-inch spring form), 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 65 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 a 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.

Related Links:

A Plum Amaretti-Crisp Quandary

Cream Cheese Brownies (by David Lebovitz)

Strawberry Rhubarb Galette


  1. omg soooo funny. This is brilliant.

  2. LOVE IT! I do go both ways too, but I'm mostly in love with "Salted" ;)

  3. I agree completely. 99% of the time I use salted butter in baking, except for buttercream frosting and maybe in a white wine butter sauce. Sometimes I even salt the salted butter on great tasting bread. The salt is what makes your tastebuds groan.

  4. Excellent post! This is definitely one of your best ever. Nice looking cake too.

  5. Love, love, love your writing.

  6. I'm a trollop! I always had a suspicion, but never could confirm it until now. I have a few recipes that I use crisco in. I know, I know, the shame of it all...


  7. Wow! You've made butter hilarious. I see an NBC sitcom here. Once again I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Thanks!

  8. haha!!! funny! I always use salted. rules are dumb. have you ever had a cookie where they didn't use salted butter nor salt? YUUUCK! The unsalted butter rule is like the don't wear white after labor day rule. Um clearly whoever made that up lives in Maine and is dressed like an eskimo most of the time. Bake with salted butter. AND wear white. I live on the edge, man.

  9. beautiful photo by the way. (i meant the one of you holding the banana) :)

  10. There are some tastes that unsalted butter could never replicate - a pat of salted butter on creamy oatmeal; no, unsalted butter+salt will never = this taste. It's not a case of and or, but and with... let's enjoy the beauty of all butter! Bravo Lentil!

  11. I especially love salted butter on my toasted onion bagels! YUM!
    Beautiful cake and as always, an entertaining read. This one cracked me up!
    It was lovely to see you today, and I think you're a happy blogger! ;-)

  12. Thanks for adding a smile and a little salt to my day. Love it.

  13. I always thought you were a bit of a salty dog, and now you prove it!