by Jeffrey Yankellow
Although the almond's ancestry is not known, popular opinion traces it back to central and southwest Asia. It is here that the almond developed into the modern cultivated variety. Almonds are in the Prunus family, which includes stone fruits, such as peaches, apricots and plums. The Bible mentions the almond, and ancient civilizations were using them as far back as 4000 B.C. Nomadic travelers prized the almond as a nourishing staple food as they traveled trade routes.
The almond tree eventually made its way to the United States in the 18th century when Father Junipero Serra brought them from Spain while setting up a string of missions from southern to northern California. But, the trees did not do well in the coastal weather near the missions. One hundred years later, commercial plantings were attempted in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, and a few in the South and Midwest.
The beginnings of what is now California's largest tree crop got its start in the 19th century, when the pioneers planted trees around the Central Valley and near Los Angeles, areas where the climate matched that of the Mediterranean. The almond trees thrived, plantings spread, and a major industry was born.
In addition to being eaten in its natural form, almonds play a significant role in a variety of baked items. In powdered form, they are used frequently in pastries ranging from cookies to cakes. They also are sliced, slivered and diced to use for decorative and textural purposes. When ground with sugar they form almond paste, a versatile product used in baking. Increase the amount of sugar to create marzipan, which is often colored and used for decorative figurines or fruit and eaten as a snack.
It is the paste that forms the base of almond flavor for the rustic almond cake. In this simple but elegant cake, adding vanilla, lemon zest and orange zest highlights the pure flavor of the almonds.
Prepare pans first
This formula yields twelve 8-in. cakes. Baker's percents are given to ease the conversion to smaller or larger amounts.
Before starting the mixing process, prepare the cake pans by coating them well with butter or nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and coat the paper with additional butter or spray. Then, cover the bottom of each pan with a single layer of raw, sliced almonds.
To prepare the cake, place the butter, almond paste, sugar, lemon zest and orange zest in the bowl of a vertical mixer. Mix with a paddle attachment in second speed until well creamed. Because there is no chemical leavener in this formula, it is important to cream the butter and sugar well to avoid a cake that is dense and heavy. Using cold butter makes it easier to eliminate the lumps of almond paste. A few small pieces of almond paste will not hurt the final product, but the goal is to have a completely smooth batter.
Once the mixture is light and soft, add the eggs gradually. The bowl should be scraped well between each addition of eggs to get an even distribution and good mix. Add the vanilla bean seeds or the vanilla extract, and mix until incorporated. Then, add the flour, and mix in first speed until the batter is smooth.
Using a pastry bag, pipe an even amount of batter into each pan. Pipe about 1 lb. 8 ozs. (675 g) of batter into each pan. It is not necessary to use the bag, but it disturbs the sliced almonds less than other methods, such as using a spoon or spatula. Smooth out the top of the cake, and place the pans on a sheet pan. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and is dry in the center. Be careful not to under bake or the cake will be dense and gummy.
Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Then, invert them onto a cooling rack. When the cakes have cooled completely, dust the tops with confectioners' sugar, using a stencil if you wish.
Cake offers long shelf life
The beauty of this cake is its long shelf life and versatility. It stays moist and fresh for three to four days at room temperature if wrapped properly. The long shelf life is a result of the almond paste and the high percentage of sugar and eggs. The versatility of the rustic almond cake allows you to bake a variety of sizes and shapes using the same formula.
The cake's flavor is ideal for sales any time of day. You can sell it whole or in individual sizes, or even offer it as a muffin. Its elegant simplicity makes it an attractive item for fine hotels or coffee shops. Offer individual portions to wholesale and retail customers as a breakfast pastry. Offer a larger version to restaurants or coffee houses for slicing, to be served as a simple, yet impressive dessert.
The flavors in the cake pair well with fresh fruit sauce and almost any flavor of ice cream. You also may want to try this formula for a wedding cake. Because it stays moist, it allows more time for preparation without sacrificing quality. The cake is firm, but not heavy and goes well with a simple filling or buttercream, such as chocolate, orange, almond or lemon. This cake will quickly become a favorite of all who try it.
Rustic almond cake
|Ingredients||Metric|| ||Ozs.||Baker's %|
|Bread flour||1.207 kg|| ||12||100|
|Almond paste||1.610 kg|| ||11||133.33|
|Granulated sugar||1.610 kg|| ||11||133.33|
|Butter||1.610 kg|| ||11||133.33|
|Eggs||1.782 kg|| ||147.62|
|Lemon, zest only||60 g||2||5|
|Orange, zest only||60 g||2||5|
|Vanilla beans (5)or vanilla extract||60 g||2 1/4||5|
|Total appr. weight||8 kg|| ||3||662.61|
|Instructions: Prepare according to article. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Allow cakes to cool for 10 minutes, and invert them onto cooling racks. Cool completely, and top with confectioners' sugar.|
|Jeffrey Yankellow is an instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute. He holds a Culinary Arts and Food Service Management degree from Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I. Yankellow worked as a cook and sous chef at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, before pursuing a career in baking. After working as a baker in Baltimore and Minneapolis, he completed a six-month internship at the former National Baking Center. He joined the staff at SFBI in November 2001. Last month, Yankellow earned a place on the Bread Baker's Guild's Baking Team USA 2005. For more information about the San Francisco Baking Institute, call 650/589-5784, or visit www.sfbi.com.|| |