Tuesday, May 1, 2012

- Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Almond cake (updated 2/3/2015)

It took me a while to realize why this has been one of the most popular posts ... someone must actually be using the recipe (head slap moment). So fear not, the original 9" x 13" version appears below in its entirety. But ... but ... but ... I've changed the way I make this and I think it's better. So you might want to try it ... I'm just saying...

For the past year or more I've been making the almond cake to fit two 6" layer cake pans, as blogged in this Birthday Bites post.So here's the re-jiggered recipe for a 6" two-layer version (which looks way cooler than a 9" x 13" sheet pan, in my humble opinion).

Almond Cake (makes two 6" layers)

6 ounces butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup almond flour
2/3 Tbs. baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Alternate flours and milk (2 rounds of each), but don't overmix.Spray two 6"x2" round pans (Wilton makes them and they are fantabulous), divide batter between the two. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Put on wire racks to cool.

Note: I just tried insulated baking strips for the first time and the layers did come out much more even, but they also took an extra 8 minutes of baking time. And the jury is still out on whether or not I like the much lighter sides and bottom ... the insulation definitely damped down the Maillard reaction.

When I started to gather my ingredients for baking today I realized I had no almond paste and it was raining so I didn't want to drive in to San Marcos, but I really, really, wanted to make this cake for the 200th blog post celebration. So I went on the internet and found this make-your-own almond paste recipe, which I promptly changed (right?)

Almond Paste (to fill two 6" layers split into four layers)

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water (scant)
1 Tbs. honey
1 cup almond meal/flour (I get mine in the bulk bins at HEB)
1/8 tsp. almond extract (not almond flavoring)
1 Tbs salted butter (is there any other kind?)

Bring water, sugar and honey to a boil. Put almond flour in a food processor and pour boiling sugar mixture over it. Process and scrape down for a few minutes. Add almond extract (or perhaps a slug of Amaretto) and butter. Continue to process and taste for another minute or two ... trust me on this. It will be much softer than Odense Almond Paste. 

Note: I don't recommend reducing this recipe any further (to use in a one-layer baby cake for example) as it would be hard to blend such a small amount in a food processor.

However, I no longer put ganache over the top of the cake ... instead, I've been using the vanilla buttercream frosting recipe from this Smitten Kitchen post, sorta.

Ganache (to fill two 6" layers split into four layers)

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips

Microwave cream on high for 40-45 seconds. Whisk in chocolate chips until melted.

Vanilla Buttercream (to cover two 6" layers split into four layers)

1 stick of salted butter, softened
2 cups of confectioner's sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. almond extract (optional)
2 Tbs. heavy cream, plus milk as needed

Beat 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar into the softened butter. Mix in cream and vanilla, then continue to add confectioner's sugar 1/2 cup at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add 1 Tbs of milk if the buttercream is too thick.

Assembling the cake:

  • Split both layers in half horizontally, making four half-layers
  • Spread the top of the first-half layer liberally with seedless raspberry jam
  • Cover the jam with one third of the almond paste (I admit I had to use my fingers) or roll out a 7 ounce tube of Odense almond paste thin enough to cover three layers
  • Cover the almond paste with one third of the ganache 
  • Put the second half-layer on the cake and cover with raspberry, almond and ganache
  • Put the third half-layer on the cake and cover with raspberry, almond and ganache
  • Top with the fourth half-layer then put the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to firm up (or until the butter you forgot to take out for the frosting softens sufficiently)
  • Frost with vanilla buttercream and return to the fridge until serving time ... I find it's helpful to put a thin layer of buttercream over any jam and/or ganache that is seeping out so they don't show through the final layer of buttercream
To make a baby cake (pictured below ... at long last):
  • Split one layer in half horizontally
  • Spread one half-layer liberally with seedless raspberry jam
  • Cover the jam with 1/3 batch of the almond paste (I admit I had to use my fingers) or roll out about 1/3 tube of Odense Almond Paste to 6" in diameter
  • Cover the almond paste with 1/3 batch of ganache 
  • Put the top half-layer on top and put the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to firm up
  • Frost with 1/2 batch of buttercream and return to the fridge until serving time
  • Freeze or refrigerate the other layer and the leftover almond paste for another day (or make a batch of cake balls)

And please don't sweat the details ... I never (but never) follow recipes exactly and I heartily encourage you to do (not do?) the same.
Original post:

Meg made an amazing Petit Four Cake for Danielle's shower last weekend. I brought a piece home and Don raved about it. Since I needed to bake a cake for a co-worker's birthday, I decided to give it a try myself.
The recipe was from Smitten Kitchen, which is a terrific blog.  However, I've never met a recipe I didn't change (double negative ... which is to say, I always change recipes).  This was no exception ... not because Meg's wasn't good (another double negative ... Meg's was amazing), but I'm lazier.  So I substituted almond flour for the ground pistachios, bought ready-made marzipan, and baked the cake in a 9x13 pan so I could carry it in to work more easily. Oh, and just as Meg did, I substituted raspberry jam for the apricot. 
Even with all the changes, I'm glad copyright law doesn't cover recipes ... and I hope that my take on Petit Four Cake will lead you over to the Smitten blog for more inspiration.

Almond Petit Four Cake
8 ounces butter with canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
4 eggs (plus one yolk if your eggs are on the small side)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
7 ounce tube marzipan or almond paste (I used Odense)
12 ounces Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips
2/3 cup heavy cream
10 ounces seedless raspberry jam (Clearbrook Farms)
  • Preheat the oven to 350 and spray a 9x13 pan with Baker's Joy. If using a glass pan, lower the temp to 325.
  • Cream the butter, sugar, and extracts. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in one cup of the flour, the baking powder, and half the milk. Then mix in the rest of the flour, almond flour, and milk.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake just pulls away from the side of the pan.
  • Cool and split the cake in half lengthwise to make two layers.
  • Cut the marzipan roll in half and nuke it on 20% power for a minute. Roll each half out on parchment paper as thin as you can make it.  Your goal is to cover the 9x13 cake ... twice!  The good news is, you don't have to roll it into a perfect rectangle ... patching it together will do, since it will be covered with ganache.
  • Nuke the cream for 40 seconds on high, add the chocolate chips and stir vigorously until you have a satiny smooth ganache.
  • Spread half the jam on the first layer of cake. Top with half the marzipan pieces. Spread about 1/3 of the ganache over that (you want to have enough left to liberally coat the top of the cake).
  • Put the second layer of cake over the ganache layer and coat it with the remaining raspberry, marzipan, and ganache, in that order.
  • Stick in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving ... overnight would be even better, but if you do, then it's best to take the cake out for an hour before serving.
  • Postscript: the downside of using a 9x13 pan is that the edges get overdone by the time the center is baked. Next time I think I'll trim 1/4" to 1/2" off the edges.

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