“I brought you a cake!” Is there ever a time when that isn’t a nice thing to hear? This cake is that offering, for your friends and loved ones and hosts and hostesses. It’s something of a “little black dress” (LBD) cake, but in my case more of a “slick little sport coat” (SLSC) cake: perfect for any occasion, quick to throw together, and effortlessly flattering. Think Amanda Hesser’s mother-in-law’s almond cake, which I love as much as the rest of the internet—but quicker, and without ingredients like almond paste and sour cream, which I rarely have on hand. It’s rich and buttery, with prominent almond flavor, a deep caramelized crust, and sturdy structure so that you can eat it out of your hand. It also keeps for several days (is even better by day two or three) and travels well.
The recipe comes from my most favorite desserts cookbook, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich. I realize now that no one on the internet needs another gift guide, but for the cook in your life, this cookbook is the one to give them. I’ve been an evangelist for Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts since I bought it a few years ago. It contains no duds—it’s full of SLSC recipes. One of my favorite things about throwing a dinner party is that I get to pick something to make from this book. It’s a title that I refuse to loan out—you need to get your own copy, I say.
I’ve made this cake exactly as written and it’s terrific. I’ve also made the hazelnut variation, which is terrific, too. The last couple times I tweaked the original recipe as instructed below—I like sliced almonds better than whole ones because they grind up more nicely, and toasting the nuts deepens the flavor, as does swapping some brown sugar for some of the white (as well as shaving off just a little sugar…). Serve it with a little whipped cream, creme fraiche, Greek yogurt whipped cream, or tart fruit compote—or plain, because it really doesn’t need any accessorizing.
Adapted from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich
I recommend using a scale for this—it’s easier, more precise. And since the amount of flour is relatively small, I imagine this would be an easy one to make gluten-free. Please let me know if you do!
Serves 10 to 12
1-3/4 cup sliced almonds (124 grams), plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
2/3 cup sugar (130 grams)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar (70 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams), cut into cubes and slightly softened
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (40 grams)
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Spread 1-3/4 cup of the almonds on a baking sheet and cook until lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes, gently shaking the pan periodically. Cool completely.
Raise the oven temperature to 350° F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan, and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
Combine the toasted almonds, sugars, salt, and extracts in a food processor and pulse many times, until the nuts are finely ground and the texture sandy. Add the butter and pulse a few times more, until combined and the mixture just begins to cohere in rifts along the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and process thoroughly, scraping the sides once. Finally add the flour, and pulse 3 or 4 times, until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, then sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons almonds. Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until golden on top and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. It will dome in the center, but then level off into a nice, flat cake as it cools. Cool completely.
Scrape around the side of the pan with a thin knife, then unmold by flipping over onto a baking sheet or platter, then invert onto whatever you’d like to serve the cake from (cake pans with removable bottoms eliminate this bit of gymnastics). Wrapped in plastic, it’ll keep for several days.