A few weeks ago, I was called upon to create a dish in honor of a beloved birthday boy. K came into my life through an incredible series of chance encounters; he’s my partner’s best friend’s partner and, independently, my good friend’s housemate. Either way, I’m the better for knowing him and wanted to pay tribute with a fitting dish. Being that K shares my sweet tooth, I knew I wanted to make dessert — but one with restraint. Some class, if you will. Now, if I were to put myself in sugary form, I’d probably be something decadent and over-the-top. K, however, is thoughtful, holistic, minimal. I knew I had to keep it simple.
Naturally, I turned to none other than Chez Panisse. I found a recipe for its almond cake and felt, in my heart of hearts, an immediate connection. I continued looking at other dessert ideas, but kept on returning to this particular cake. As it turns out, I was right to trust my gut reaction, because this foolproof dish was an absolute hit. Never have I received so many compliments on a sweet — seriously.
This might be one of my favorite recipes of all time. It is effortless, pure, and incredibly versatile. I can imagine topped with poached pears, chocolate ganache, fresh fruit, a scoop of ice cream..! I served mine with white pearlized sprinkles and caramelized Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples. Of course, no dinner party is complete without multiple desserts, so we matched up my slices with fantastically fluffy cheesecake and cardamom ice cream. It was a very fitting way to celebrate a very sweet friend.
Sidebar: K’s partner organized a lovely little dinner complete with a cookbook making station! Each person was able to contribute to the book by snapping instant photos, writing personal messages, and including recipes for their honoree-inspired dishes. It made for a fun, interactive experience and a super-cute keepsake.
Below: Jay made this fantastic roasted squash salad with a harissa and miso dressing from 101 Cookbooks. Its taste was as wonderful as the picture of it is awful.
One last thing: this cheesecake was phenomenal. If you’re in San Francisco, please consider visiting the one-man-show/shop/phenom that is Zanze’s Cheesecake. You have to use fishing wire to cute each cake — that is how unbelievably fluffy it is.
Anyway — on to the recipe!
Chez Panisse’s almond cake
Chez Panisse’s former pastry chef, David Lebovitz, decreased the amount of butter from the original recipe, though I took it one step further. I didn’t miss that extra butter whatsoever, as the cake came out splendidly rich, and would even consider baking it next time with only 4 ounces. David Lebovitz includes tons of extra tips and advice on making this cake on his website.
- 1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar
- 7 ounces (200g) almond paste; I used Odense brand, available at Safeway
- 3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour
- 6 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Grease a 9 or 10″ pan with butter, dust with flour, and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup (35g) of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand. I used a Magic Bullet and found it useful to do this in small batches.
- Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the butter, vanilla and almond extracts. Process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy. At this point, I switched over to using a hand mixer on “low,” although David Lebovitz recommends making the recipe entirely in a food processor.
- Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before each addition. You may wish to scrape down the sides of your bowl throughout the process.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup (105g) of flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add half the flour mixture into the food processor and pulse a few times. Add the rest and pulse until the ingredients are just incorporated. Be careful not to overmix. You may also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in it, to ensure that you do not overbeat it.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 65 minutes or until the top is deep, dark brown and feels set when you press in the center. I used a 9″ cake pan and laid a piece of parchment underneath it to catch any drippings; be aware that you might get a bit of overflow! The cake also gets quite the toasty-colored top, but don’t worry — that’s normal.
- Remove the cake and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter., loosening the cake from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely in the pan.
- Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan onto the serving plate and remove the parchment paper. If the cake doesn’t come out easily, you can warm the bottom of the pan directly on the stovetop to help it release. Serve immediately, warm or at room temperature, or wrap well and keep at room temperature. The cake stores very well, and only improves with a few days’ rest.
French caramelized apples