Lemon Almond Butter Cake

A few weeks ago, I was an extra for a cake baking competition TV show, but sadly no cake was served during the shoot.  I was so disappointed that I went home and baked a Lemon Almond Butter Cake.  Disappointment turned into elation when the cake turned out to be one of the most amazing things I’ve baked.  The combination of rich, tart lemon curd nestled throughout a light fluffy almond cake makes this cake dangerously irresistible.  It takes a bit of extra time to make the lemon curd from scratch, but the cake itself comes together pretty quickly.

A few days later, I couldn’t stop thinking about how good the cake tasted, so I experimented with adding Nutella (instead of lemon curd) which made the Nutella fans in my life very happy.  Fast forward to a few days after that, I wanted to pull together a quick dessert and used strawberry jam as the add in.  Again, deliciousness ensued.  It appears you just can’t go wrong with this cake recipe.

Lemon Almond Butter Cake.  The globs of lemon curd make the flavors of this cake over the top in the best possible way.

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Lemon Almond Butter Cake.  My brother ate three slices of this.

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Nutella Almond Butter Cake.  How can you not get excited about a dessert that involves Nutella?

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Strawberry Jam Almond Butter Cake.  Another successful flavor pairing.

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Lemon Almond Butter Cake

Makes 8 servings
(adapted from NY Times Cooking)

Ingredients

Lemon Curd

Grated zest and juice of 2 medium or large lemons
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 large eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
Cake
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
3/4 to 1 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (I used 3/4 cup when I baked this with the Nutella topping)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
½ cup almond flour

Directions

Lemon Curd

  1. In a medium sized saucepan, beat together the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and eggs.
  2. Add the butter, and place over a saucepan over low heat until the butter melts.
  3. Over low-medium heat, cook the mixture while stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until it thickens into curd (I like to do this slowly over lower temperature so that the egg doesn’t cook too quickly.  Depending on the heat you use, it could take about 5-12 minutes to get the curd to the right consistency.  Do not let it boil!  For a visual of how to tell when your lemon curd is ready, check out this page.).
  4. Using a fine sieve, strain the lemon curd into a bowl (this will help get rid of any cooked egg whites and ensure the curd is smooth).
  5. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate the lemon curd until it is cool (at least 1 1/2 hours).

Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease a 9-inch spring-form pan with 1 tablespoon of butter, and dust with 1 tablespoon of flour, shaking out the excess.  Or line an 8×8 inch pan with parchment (no buttering or flouring needed).
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together 8 tablespoons of butter and 3/4 (or 1 cup with you want your cake a little sweeter) cup of sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt.
  5. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture, and mix until combined (don’t overmix).
  6. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until they start to foam. Do not overbeat or the cake will be tough.
  7. Add the eggs and the almond flour to batter, and mix until well combined.
  8. Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly.
  • Drop 8 individual tablespoons of lemon curd (or whatever add-in you’re using) around the perimeter of the batter, leaving a 1-inch border, and space the drops evenly.  Drop 3 to 4 tablespoons of lemon curd into the center of the batter. (You will have leftover lemon curd which you can refrigerate for another use.  It’s also OK to use all of the lemon curd.).
  • Sprinkle the top of the cake with 1 tablespoon of sugar (optional.  I did this for the lemon curd version but not for the Nutella or strawberry jam add-in versions).
  • Bake the cake until it is toasty brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the cake (not the curd) comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes.
  • After letting the cake cool on a rack for 10 minutes, remove the sides of pan, and cool completely.  Or if you’re baking in an 8×8 inch pan, remove the cake by using the parchment paper.

Note:  The lemon curd version of this cake should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.  The Nutella and strawberry jam versions can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Mini Almond Cakes with Chocolate Ganache (Gluten-Free)

Gluten-free sweets lovers rejoice!  These Mini Almond Cakes with Chocolate Ganache are perfect in so many ways.  The cake is light, tender, and spongey with just a hit of almond flavor while the chocolate ganache is rich and creamy.  Plus, these cakes are barely palm-sized, so they’re easy to share, which is a good thing because these cakes are best eaten warm or within eight hours of baking.
A few things to know before you bake these:

  • Allow enough time to chill your ganache (30-60 minutes in addition to prep and baking time)
  • Finely chop your chocolate so that it will melt smoothly into the heated cream
  • Don’t overdo it on adding almond extract as the flavor can be quite strong
  • It really cuts down on prep time to use both a food processor and a mixer
  • Whipping egg whites is the key to the spongey, light cake texture so make sure to follow through on this
  • Don’t overbake the cakes on the first round of baking as it will be more difficult to insert the chocolate ganache balls for the second round of baking

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Mini Almond Cakes with Chocolate Ganache (Gluten-Free)

Makes 12 cupcakes
(from New York Times Cooking)

Ingredients

Ganache

⅓ cup (80 milliliters) heavy cream
3 ounces (85 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Almond Cake

6 tablespoons (85 grams) melted unsalted butter, cooled, plus more for muffin tin
¾ cup (85 grams) almond flour or meal
¾ cup (94 grams) confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs
Few drops almond extract (optional)
3 tablespoons (24 grams) cornstarch
1 ¼ teaspoons (4 grams) baking powder
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar

Directions

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Put the cream in a glass measuring cup (a 1-cup size works well), and heat it in the microwave (approximately 45-60 seconds) until it’s bubbling (or you can heat the cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan).
  2. Add the chocolate to the heated cream, and let it sit for 1 minute.  Then stir the chocolate and cream together until smooth.
  3. Transfer the chocolate ganache to a small container (preferably metal) and freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  4. Scoop the chocolate ganache (a small cookie scoop works well for this), and roll into twelve 3/4-inch balls. Since the ganache is very soft and can be messy to handle, you don’t need to create perfectly round balls.  Place the ganache balls in the refrigerator until needed.  Ganache balls can be prepared up to 1 week ahead.

Almond Cake

  1. Heat the oven to 350F.
  2. Butter a muffin tin or line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  3. Using a food processor or blender, mix the almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt until powdery, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the two eggs and almond extract, and process until smooth, 30 seconds longer.
  5. Pulse in the butter, cornstarch, and baking powder.
  6. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl, and set aside.
  7. Using an electric mixer, whip the two egg whites until very foamy.
  8. Gradually add granulated sugar while beating the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  9. Using a spatula, gently and carefully fold a third of the egg whites into the almond mixture to lighten it. Then, fold in the rest of the egg whites just until no streaks remain.
  10. Spoon the batter into prepared muffin tin, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
  11. Remove the ganache balls from refrigerator, and place one ball in the center of each cake, pushing it down halfway into batter.
  12. Return the cakes to the oven, and bake until light brown and a toothpick inserted into cake (and not the chocolate) comes out clean, another 8 to 10 minutes.
  13. Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably within 8 hours of baking.

Fig and Almond Cake

The summer of 2016 is the summer when I learned to love figs.  Thanks to some friends who have a huge fig tree that produces the sweetest fruits, I’ve been lucky to have an abundance of figs to eat on their own and to use in baked goods. The latest fig-themed dessert to come out of my oven is a Fig and Almond Cake.  This hearty but delicate cake perfumed with almond extract is nutty, tender, and barely sweet.  Figs are scattered on top of the cake batter and sprinkled with a bit of sugar to caramelize in the oven.  The cake is best eaten the day that it’s baked as it tends to get mushy pretty quickly because of the moisture from the figs.

If you want to learn a little more about figs, check out this article on how figs get pollinated.  A bit of a warning though, the details are a bit of a horror movie, and depending on how easily grossed out your are, you may never want to eat a fig again.  So remember, you’ve been warned.

Gorgeous figs from a friend’s treeIMG_6642[1]

The cake comes out looking beautiful with figs scattered over the top of the cake batter [even though I put my figs “wrong side” (cut side down ) up].
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Fig and Almond Cake

Makes one 9-inch cake
(from NYT Cooking)

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup natural raw almonds (not blanched)
¼ cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon cinnamon
teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon almond extract
12 to 14 ripe figs

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Butter or spray a 9-inch fluted tart pan or pie pan (I used one with a removable bottom, and that helped ensure that the cake stayed intact when I removed the outside of the pan); set aside.
  3. Put almonds and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor and grind to a coarse powder.  The finer you ground the almonds, the less crunchy the cake will be.
  4. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; pulse to combine.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, honey, and almond extract.
  6. Add the dry ingredients (the almond mixture) to the wet ingredients, and stir together until batter is just mixed (don’t overmix).
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  8. Remove the stem from each fig, and cut the fig in half.
  9. Arrange the fig halves cut-side up over the batter. Don’t leave a large space between figs as they will shrink when they bake.  It’s OK if the figs are touching each other.
  10. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the figs.
  11. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is golden outside and dry at center when probed with a cake tester.
  12. Cool before serving.

Note:  This cake is best when eaten on the day that it’s baked.

Chocolate Almond Muffins

During the past three weeks, I’ve been living in a thick fog of preparing to move, moving, and unpacking.  In the midst of it all, I’ve been eagerly eyeing my new stove/oven, reading the thick manual (it’s so fancy that it has a Sabbath mode), and researching recipes to try.  I used an electric stove/oven for the past four years, so there will be a bit of a learning curve as I get used to my new high powered gas oven.  Luckily I’ve found some recipes that are very forgiving and taste fantastic, even if things are slightly overbaked.  These Chocolate Almond Muffins were the first recipe I tried in the new oven.  I was especially drawn to the recipe because of the use of copious amounts of almond paste and the promise of deep, dark chocolate.   I was not disappointed as the muffins were delicious with a tender, delicate texture and a floral almond flavor that was well balanced by the deep chocolate.  Because the muffins aren’t too sweet, they’d be perfect for breakfast too.  The one caveat is that the list of ingredients can be a bit daunting for baking pantries that aren’t well stocked.  Some “specialty” ingredients that I had to add to my pantry for this recipe were a large tub of almond paste (the tube won’t be enough), brown rice flour, and black cocoa.

As you can see below, the muffin tops don’t rise very much, but they spread out to create slightly crispy, crackly edges.
Chocolate almond muffins- huckleberry2

Chocolate Almond Muffins

(from Huckleberry: Stories, Secretes, and Recipes from Our Kitchen)
Makes 16 muffins
My notes are in [  ] below.

Ingredients

3/4 cup (200 g) almond paste
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup (30 g) Dutch process cocoa powder [I wanted to really amp up the chocolate flavor so I used 20g regular Dutch process cocoa powder and 10g Black cocoa]
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (240 g) unsalted, cubed butter, at room temperature
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (130 g) all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons brown rice flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups (260 g) coarsely chopped dark chocolate, 60-70% cacao
Powdered sugar for topping (optional)

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350°F/180°C.
  2. Line two 12-cup muffin pants with 16 paper liners, spacing them evenly between the two pants.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste, granulated sugar, salt, and cocoa powder on medium speed until the mixture looks and feels sandy.  Be sure all the almond paste is broken up into a fine meal with no clumps. [Making sure the almond paste is not lumpy is really important, otherwise your muffins will bake up with with lumps of almond paste that will leave your tasters wondering, “what is that?” in a bad way].
  4. Add the butter and beat for 1 to 2 minutes on medium.
  5. Incorporate the eggs, two at a time, beating well after each addition. [After mixing in the eggs, I also scraped down the bowl.]
  6. Add the vanilla, then pause mixing.
  7. Add both flours, the baking powder, and chopped chocolate.
  8. Mix on low speed, just until incorporate; then fold by hand to be sure it’s properly, but gently, incorporated.
  9. Fill the muffin cups with batter, all the way to the top, then bake (the muffins to do not rise much).  If both pans won’t fit on the center rack, just bake in batches until the muffins just barely spring back when pressed, 20 to 22 minutes.
  10. [Use skewers to loosen the edges of the muffin tops from the pan.]  Allow to cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

Nut Meringue Cookies or A Baking Disaster Averted

This is a story of of an incredibly forgiving and flexible recipe that helped avert a baking disaster.  It’s a story about using less than ideal ingredients, cutting corners, ignoring instructions, being in denial, pushing forward even with barely a glimmer of hope, and emerging victorious with a fantastically delicious cookie.

These are all the ways that I deviated from the recipe and nearly ended up with a baking disaster.

  • I didn’t have enough almonds so I used almond flour (from Trader Joes) and pecan pieces, about half of each.
  • My cream of tartar was old (and apparently ineffective).
  • I used egg whites from 4 large eggs, but I did not measure to see if they actually equaled 1/2 cup, and I didn’t bother waiting for them to reach room temperature.
  • I barely achieved soft peaks when whipping my egg whites, and I didn’t get anywhere near stiff peaks, thus ending up with a severely runny meringue.

However, I did make a few good decisions that likely made a big difference in the outcome.

  • I used Nielsen Massey almond extract.
  • I lined my cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • I allowed for ample space between the cookies because they spread a lot during baking.
  • I let the dough sit on the cookie sheets for 40 minutes before baking.
  • And ultimately I did not throw away the batter before doing a test bake (even though I was really tempted to do so).

The results were more fantastic than I could have ever imagined.  While my nut meringue cookies didn’t look anything like the high piled cookies in the cookbook, they did look a lot like big thin macarons.  They turned out to have the most divine texture with a light, crispy top and chewy center.  The almond extract really shone through packing a lot of flavor in a deceivingly light cookie.

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Nut Meringue Cookies

(From Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes by Alice Medrich)
Makes about 90 1 1/2-inch cookies

Ingredients

1 2/3 cups (8 ounces) blanched whole almonds
2 cups (8 ounces) powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup egg whites (from about 4 large eggs), at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F.  Line the cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the almonds, powdered sugar, and salt in the food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground, scraping the sides as necessary.
  3. Using the electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar in a large clean, dry bowl at medium speed until the egg whites are creamy and white and soft peaks are formed when the beaters are lifted.
  4. Add the almond extract.
  5. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating until the whites are fluffy and very stiff.
  6. Pour the almond mixture over the meringue and fold in with a large rubber spatula just until fully incorporated.
  7. Scoop tablespoons of batter 1 inch apart onto the lined cookie sheets. (While the first two sheets are baking, scoop the remaining batter onto a third lined sheet or onto a parchment liner to be baked when the first batch is done.)
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cookies are golden; rotate the sheets from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.
  9. Set the pans on racks to cool completely, or slide the parchment liners from the pans onto racks.

The cookies keep in an airtight container for weeks.

Financiers with Nutella

After several weeks of Nutella-themed baking activities, I thought that my Nutella baking obsession had gone into hibernation for a while.  But all it took was a Facebook friend’s post about Nutella ice cream to pull me back in to the dark (chocolately hazelnut) side.  Armed with a new (impulse buy) Nutella cookbook, I decided to make financiers stuffed with Nutella.   Financiers are typically small rectangular almond cakes with a plain look to them, and as with many French cakes, they’re light and moist in the inside.  Even though I’ve come across financiers in the many pastry displays I’ve oogled, I had never eaten one before because all the other surrounding pastries just looked so much more appealing.  But as I learned after making these financiers, looks can be deceiving.  And when you stuff them with Nutella and bake them up just right (i.e., not overbaked), people start eating them like potato chips (just can’t eat one!).  My only complaint with these is that the silicone pans I used to bake them in were really difficult to clean afterwards.  So, this recipe will be relegated to my “special occasions” dessert list.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have financier pans.  I baked mine in a variety of shaped pans.

Financiers with Nutella- Nutella book 1

My goal was to have as close to an equal ratio of Nutella to cake as possible without causing the cake to explode.

Financiers with Nutella- Nutella book 3

Financiers with Nutella

(from Nutella: The 30 best recipes by Larousse)
Makes:  It depends… I used several different pans/mold including round, square, and rectangular silicone molds.
Note: The recipe I used was kind of vague in its instruction.  So I had to do a little bit of trial and error to determine the best amount of baking time.

Ingredients

5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (50 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (130 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
3/4 cup (70 grams) ground almonds (I used almond flour from Trader Joe’s)
4 egg whites (from large eggs)
3 tablespoons of Nutella (I used more as I like to include as much Nutella as possible)

Directions

  1. Prepare pans by greasing them well or spraying them with baking spray.  These cakes will stick to the pan, so make sure you don’t skip this step.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat or microwave it for about 20-30 seconds.  Set aside to cool a little.
  4. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, and ground almonds.
  5. Add the egg whites, one at a time, to the flour mixture and beat well after each addition.
  6. Add the melted butter (make sure the butter is not too warm so that it won’t curdle the egg whites) to the flour and egg mixture, and mix well.
  7. Fill your greased pans about 1/3 with the cake mixture.  Using a small cookie scoop (if you have one), drop Nutella on top of the cake mixture (make sure to leave room for the top layer of the cake mixture to cover the Nutella).  Then cover the Nutella with a layer of cake mixture.  Leave about 1/3 to 1/4 of the top of the pan empty as these cakes will rise a little as they bake.  Also, make sure that the top layer of the cake mixture completely covers the Nutella.
  8. Baking times are a bit tricky, and I found that the key to determining when the financiers are done is based how they look and feel.  The tops should be only slightly shiny and not all wet (although if they’re dry to the touch, then you’ve overbaked them) and a bit spongey to the touch.  Also, keep in mind that the tops won’t brown very much but the bottoms will.  The financiers will keep baking as they cool in their molds, so it’s better to err on the side of underbaking.  Just to give you a few loose guidelines on baking times, the original recipe used financier pans and recommended a 10-12 minute baking time.  Since I didn’t have financier pans, I used silicone pans with a) round cavities (about 1 1/2 inch diameter for each cavity)

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b) square cavities (1 1/2in x 1 1/2in cavity)

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and c) rectangular cavities (2×3 inch cavity)

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The round and square cavity pans took about 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 minutes to bake.  The rectangular cavity pans took about 10 1/2 minutes to bake.

9.  Remove the pan from the oven, and let the financiers cool in the pan.  After they’ve cooled, you might need to use a butter knife to loosen the edges from the pan.