Almond Cake for Everyone (even the ones who don’t like dessert)

I’ve started a little dessert challenge with myself. Well actually I guess you could say it’s kind of a competition with my friend Jose. You see, Jose “doesn’t like dessert.” Being a dessert making/eating fiend, I somehow find that fact slightly offensive. So every time he sits down at my table for dinner, I serve him dessert and wait in anticipation to see if he likes it or not. I’ve seen him graciously pick at homemade ice creams and custards, but I’ve seen him happily devour my chocolate chip cookies and my flourless Italian chocolate-almond torte. This Sunday, as Laura, Grif, and I watched in anticipation, hoping to be able to eat his rejected dessert serving, Jose happily devoured this almond cake, and even asked for more. The secret seems to be that there needs to be some salt in the dessert… and it needs to have a good texture to it, none of those creamy pudding/ice cream things that I personally love? Also, nuts seem to help? The best part is, Jose himself is actually shocked when he likes my dessert, and lets out all sorts of expletives in praise of it. The competition is ON Jose, I’m already trying to think of what to make next time you come over for dinner…  although we all know that no one would mind having this cake again.

This cake is based on a recipe in my faithful dessert cookbook, Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert. I adapted it to make it gluten-free, then decided to add a “crust” of almond paste, rolling some almond paste into a thin kind of pie crust and lining the cake pan with it before pouring in the batter. The effect was just as I hoped–the cake had a wonderfully crisp and chewy exterior with a soft and melty interior. I served my cake with fresh whipped cream, and sliced strawberries dressed with a bit of sugar and amaretto liqueur. If you don’t have almond flour, simply use 4 oz. (3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs) of whole almonds, and make sure to grind them really fine in the food processor, and to make this cake without worrying about it being gluten free, use an equal amount of white flour as I used rice flour mix, and omit the xanathan gum.

Almond Cake with Almond Crust
serves 10 to 12

about 1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 1/2 oz. pure almond paste
2 oz almond flour
2 oz whole unblanched almonds
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 eggs
1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter
1 tsp amaretto
1/2 cup rice flour mix (2 parts brown rice flour, 2/3 parts potato starch, and 1/3 parts tapioca flour) (or just all purpose white flour if not making gluten-free)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp xanathan (omit if not making gluten-free)

Preheat oven to 350.
Generously butter a 9-inch cake pan, then scatter the sliced almonds over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, evenly distributing extra nuts that don’t stick over the bottom.

Using your hands, form the almond paste into a flat disk, then lay it on top of a nonstick baking mat and cover with a piece of waxed paper, or simply sandwich it between two large pieces of waxed paper.

Using a rolling pin, roll the almond paste out into about a 10 inch round, making it as evenly thin as possible, then carefully transfer it into the cake pan, pressing it over the slivered almonds and up the sides of the pan.

Place the almond flour, almonds, sugar, salt, and almond extract in the bowl of a food processor and process until the almonds are finely pulverized.
Add the eggs, butter, and amaretto, and pulse until blended thoroughly.
Add the flour, baking powder, and xanathan (if making gluten-free version) and pulse until just blended.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly.

Bake until the cake is gloden brown on top and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
Cool completly in the pan on a rack.

To unmold, slide a knife around the cake to release the sides and invert carefully over a plate.