Saturday, December 26, 2009

Almond Joy

I'm a sucker for weird ingredients. Ok, let's call them "unique" ingredients. Whenever I come across a new, uncommon ingredient that I know will likely use a single time or, more likely, never actually use, it's hard for me to resist buying it anyways in the hopes of giving it a whirl.

Like that pot of Adriatic fig spread I once ate with pears.

Or the jar of tahini I used the single time I made falafel.

Even when I show self restraint, my mind always wanders back to that ingredient on the store shelf and I invariably give in with an "Oh, what the heck." Such was the case with the cans of Almond Cake and Pastry Filling. For some inexplicable reason making a prominent appearance that I don't remember from holiday seasons past, I had successfully avoided making the purchase of this odd ingredient back home--though I admit to picking up a can several times and actually wondering out loud--"What do you use this for??" While home visiting family, however, it was a different story. I mean, what better way to experiment with a strange new ingredient than in someone else's big, well-appointed kitchen? :)

The back of the Solo-brand can quickly gave me a couple of ideas on what, exactly, you do use this product for. One of which was an almond bundt cake. BORING. Doing a quick search on the interwebs I came across a delightful almond cake recipe from one of my fave chefs, David Lebovitz, and couldn't wait to try the simple yet moist cake. If you haven't read David's book, The Sweet Life in Paris, put it on your holiday reading list now because the man is hysterical.

Also to all of you out there that say baking is too difficult: While there is some truth to the saying that "Cooking is an art, but baking is a science," let me tell you that you can mess up a lot more than you think before it will actually affect your recipe. Case in point: almond filling is NOT almond paste. This was mistake #1 in my attempt to recreate David's divine recipe in the blind desire to try out my can of almond filling. #2) after searching the house top to bottom, Mom and I came to the conclusion that she must not, in fact, own the 2 round cake pans that she and I distinctly remembered her owning. No matter, I made this cake in a round springform pan instead and, you know what, this cake was still amazing! It has incredible almond flavor and was still extra moist, as promised.

David Lebovitz's Almond Cake
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup almond paste (not marzipan, maybe almond filling)
10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9" round cake pan (or springform pan) and dust it lightly with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. With an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and almond paste (or reduce sugar to 1 cup if using almond filling).

3. Now add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, or a measuring cup with a spout, stir together the eggs then dribble it into the batter as you beat. Add the vanilla.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until just incorporated.

5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Some variation in baking time may be needed depending on the brand of almond paste. This cake is extremely moist and, if wrapped well, will keep up to a week.

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