The chocolate caresses, it does not star. The almonds come center, Their scent permeates the cake. The chocolate may entice and bring you in. But it is the cake that makes you at home and begs you to stay.
Every culture has a nut cake. Just as we share variations of dumplings, breads and cheeses, so we have all devised ways to make nuts part of cookery and cuisine.
Cooking transcends boundaries. We all speak the same language when we devise ways to nurture and delight with cooking. Cooking has always been my time machine and personal jet. I wonder if cooking is also diplomacy.
The almond cake hails from Pescara in Abruzzo. It was a great favorite of the controversial and dramatic poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. It is said he ordered it regularly when at home and devised ways of having it sent to him when he was not in Pescara.
There are many versions of the cake - some use bitter almonds, some have chocolate throughout. This recipe comes from La Cucina: the Regional Cooking of Italy. It is a treasure trove of Italian recipes and their variations from region to region. It is my bedtime reading, my awakening of how Italian cooking developed - the realization that poverty created a cuisine. And that necessity brought forth art in cooking by focusing on what was available, local, fresh and if not always free, certainly cheap (and for most - free was better - Italians foraged.)
When you bite into the cake, you are taking a bite of the countryside. It's firmness is its strength. It's heartiness makes it a winter cake - perfect for the February days that continue under clouds with promises of wind and snow still to come.
I have come to the realization (which my family has known for years) that I am not a winter person. I welcome it for three weeks and then I am done. Unfortunately, winter is not. But the baking and serving of the cake made me feel as if I took at swipe at winter. That I warded it off as I folded stiff egg whites into the nutty dough.
Almond Cake Glazed with Chocolate Ingredients
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup blanched almonds
- 5 large eggs - separated
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Almond Cake Glazed with Chocolate Preparation
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Butter a cake pan (about 9 inches by 1-2 inches).
- Sprinkle the almonds with 2 tablespoons from your 3/4 cup of sugar. Pulse them in a processor or use a mortar and pestle if you want a workout. Do not grind it into paste or flour. You want the nutty specks sprinkled throughout the cake.
- Melt the butter on the top of a double boiler.
- Add the egg yolks and the remaining sugar. Cook, stirring until thickened. (Be careful that the egg yolks do not curdle).
- Remove from heat and add in your nut mixture. Mix thoroughly.
- Add the flour and cornstarch in increments and again - blend it in well. It will be very thick. And if you are like me and don't use corn starch very often, you may be surprised how easily it puffs into your face, onto the counter and all over your clothes. And covers the cat.
- Whip the egg whites until they are stiff and then fold them into the dough. At first it may seem that the dough will not incorporate it, but be persistent and bossy and the dough will succumb.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for 45 minutes.
- Cool for 5-10 minutes, remove from pan and cool completely.
- When cake has cooled, melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler and pour over the center of the cake letting it ooze wherever it pleases.
- If you like, you can top with additional almonds. Cool and serve. Because this cake is thick, I store it covered and don't refrigerate it.
It is the almonds that bring solace from the winter. It is the almonds that cast their spell and enchant the chill from your being. I was sturdier with every bite. I swear my balance improved.
It's crumbs are delicate and stalwart. A steel magnolia or an iron orchid.
Which bring me winter smiles.