Did I ever tell you the story of the best dessert I had in my entire life? No? Last summer during my trip to California wine country, a friend and I stopped in for lunch at Chez Panisse, the famous Alice Waters restaurant in Berkley, CA. We sipped Ms. Waters’ favorite rosé while working our way through a few courses. The food was great, but the dessert was outstanding: an almond-crusted cornmeal cake. It was simple but brilliant – a moist but light cornmeal cake crusted with sliced almonds, finished with a little powdered sugar and accompanied by mixed berries.
I asked our waiter if the pastry chef would be willing to part with their recipe; our waiter laughed and said no.
So began a quest to recreate the now infamous Almond Crusted Cornmeal Cake of Chez Panisse. I haven’t been able to do it … yet. But this cake, what I call a Simple Almond Cake, is inspired by the quest. It’s a true almond cake full of sweet almond paste, with a touch of cornmeal added for texture. And I call it simple because it is simple; there aren’t many ingredients, but they are whipped together into an airy batter that bakes into a dense-but-not-too-dense, sweet cake with a slight crunch from the cornmeal and a deep almond flavor.
I may not have a version of the Chez Panisse cake just yet, but I did create a darn good almond cake recipe. My coworkers (who are also frequently my taste testers) loved it – the cake disappeared from the kitchen in minutes. One even admitted to immediately going back for seconds and slicing off a quarter of the cake for himself. If you are looking for simple, great tasting, and elegant dessert for yourself or to serve a crowd, please try this cake!
One year ago: Hot Cross Buns
Simple Almond Cake
Recipe by Pâte à Chew
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Makes 1 9-inch cake
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 10-ounce can of almond paste (not marzipan)*
8 ounces unsalted butter , at room temperature
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and position the rack to the center of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan or spring-form pan (I used the latter) with a round of parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour, tapping out any excess. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: baking non-stick spray, such as Pam for Baking, is the best invention ever. I spray the bottom and sides of my pan with the baking spray, put a round of parchment down, and then spray the parchment.
2. With a standing or hand mixer, beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up. Let it run for about 5 minutes.
3. Add the butter, then and beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Again, let it go for about 5 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl with a spatula half-way through.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl or a measuring cup with a spout, stir together the eggs with a fork or whisk. When the butter/sugar/almond paste mixture is done beating and looks light and fluffy, dribble the mixed eggs into the batter as you beat. Once incorporated, add the vanilla.
5. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt with a whisk, then gradually add the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low/stir speed until just incorporated (do not overmix!).
6. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Mine took 1 hour exactly, but start checking at 50 minutes. I could have pulled my cake out a few minutes early, as the edges got ever-so-slightly overdone.
Cool the cake on a rack before serving. This cake is extremely moist and will keep well for up to a week if well-wrapped.