An almond cake for any occasion
Christy Olsen Field
I love to bake cakes. A simple cake can be a lovely finale to dinner with friends, a fitting tribute for a special occasion, or my favorite reason: it’s Tuesday!
My new favorite cake recipe is Butter Almond Cake. I first came across the recipe in the memoir Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home by Jessica Fector, which was the book of the month in our Foodie Lit book club. (Yes, we read books about food. And it’s wonderful.)
When Fector was 28 years old and a Harvard graduate student, she suffered a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her. Stir is a memoir of her recovery as she found her way back to wholeness through cooking. It’s not a cookbook, but features 27 of the recipes that brought her comfort during her journey.
The recipe for Marcella’s Butter Almond Cake called out to me as I chose a dish to make for our book club discussion. The original recipe was created by Marcella Sarne of Long Beach, Calif., who entered this recipe in a baking contest sponsored by C&H Sugar. She won the grand prize, a $40,000 custom kitchen!
It’s the cake that inspired the name of Fector’s food blog, Sweet Amandine, and I felt like it deserved a place at the table. And it was a total hit!
At first bite, it tastes like kransekake, the ethereal confection made of concentric rings of almond cake found at special celebrations in Norway and Denmark. It has the characteristic chew of kransekake that I love, and a heady almond flavor.
But unlike kransekake, this cake comes together in a few minutes while the oven heats up, doesn’t require any special equipment, and can be eaten for breakfast. It’s my kind of cake.
I set out to Norwegianize this cake and simplify the recipe even further.
First, I substituted vanilla sugar (vaniljesukker) instead of using extract. Have you baked with it before? It’s common in baking in Norway and many countries throughout Europe. I purchased mine from Bjorn at Scandinavian Specialties here in Seattle, but you can purchase it at your local Scandinavian shop. Call the NAW office if you need help finding one!
Next, I eliminated the need for a separate bowl for the ingredients. The batter can be stirred together in a pot on the stove; my two-quart saucepan worked great for this.
The recipe calls for a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, which makes for a beautiful presentation. But in my quest to simplify, I found a 9-inch round cake pan works just as well.
With its simple ingredient list and technique, this is a cake for all seasons. Try it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, fresh berries in the summer, or just straight from the pan for breakfast. It might just be your new favorite cake.
Butter Almond Cake
Adapted from Stir by Jessica Fector
¾ cup (1½ sticks; 170 grams) unsalted butter
1¼ cups granulated sugar (248 grams) plus 1 tbsp. for finishing
2 large eggs
2 tsps. almond extract
2 tsps. vanilla sugar (or substitute
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ cup sliced almonds (22 grams)
Finishing salt, such as Maldon or Fleur de sel (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, remove from heat and let cool for five minutes. Whisk in the sugar until combined. Whisk in one egg until fully incorporated, and then the next egg. Add the almond extract, salt, vanilla sugar, and whisk well until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan and spread the sliced almonds on top. Sprinkle with finishing salt (optional) and remaining 1 tbsp. sugar on top.
Bake for 35 minutes. Fector writes, “this cake blushes more than it browns,” and she’s right. Look for a slight rosy color of the cake, and use a toothpick inserted in the center to see if it comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Use a knife to slide around the edges to remove it from the pan and cool completely.
Wrapped and stored at room temperature, this cake will keep well for several days (if you don’t eat it first).
Hjemmelaget Vaniljesukker (Homemade Vanilla Sugar)
Commercial vanilla sugar is made with synthetic vanillin, an inexpensive chemical vanilla substitute. Synthetic vanillin was primarily made from the lignin-containing waste of preparing wood pulp for the paper industry, but today it is made from guaiacol, a petrochemical precursor.
If you have some time and you’re looking to simplify your ingredient list, consider making your own vanilla sugar at home.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean (available at well-stocked grocery stores or online; I like Beanilla beans)
Put the powdered sugar in a small lidded jar. Split the vanilla pod lengthwise, and scrape out the fragrant paste with the dull side of a knife. Put the paste and the pod into the sugar, screw on the lid, and give it a few shakes. Shake the jar every couple of days for four weeks, and then it’s ready to use. It keeps indefinitely.
Christy Olsen Field was on the editorial staff of the Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012, and the Taste of Norway page was her favorite section. Today, she is a freelance grantwriter for small to mid-size nonprofits with her business, Christy Ink. Learn more at www.christy.ink.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 19, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.