Tuesday, February 15, 2011
I'm a bit of a pastry snob. If I crave a particular sweet, say, a cookie, or chocolate cake, I'll make it myself instead of going out and buying something from the grocery store. There's one pastry shop near me that I go to when I am really craving a cupcake and don't want to make any myself because they're good. This snobbery keeps me from eating a lot of sweets just because I'm having a craving and can get my hands on anything out there. I figure if I really want it, I'll get up off my lazy butt, get what I need and make it myself. That's acceptable, right?
So today I finally gave into a sugar craving by making almond cake. What started out as a simple snack has turned into a small plated dessert. Made with almond paste, this cake has a richness that is balanced by a light crumb. No more dense than a pound cake, it is quite easy to eat a lot of-especially if you're hungry and having baked a 6 x 6 cake, you have batter left over for, say, 5 muffin-sized cakes. It can also be dressed up for company with various sauces and fruit accompaniments.
With the larger cake out of the oven I started whipping cream and thought about the brandied cherries in my fridge. From that thought I made a sauce using the liquor from cherries I'd brandied last summer. I wanted something with body, but not syrupy, just simple and quick, maybe even a little tart to offset the sweet cake and whipped cream. As the cakes cooled I gave myself time to think about what I wanted to do.
As technical as pastry is, I tend to think like a savory cook sometimes. I will not argue that a macaron recipe should never be tinkered with, along with cakes, cookies, etc., but when it comes to other aspects of pastry, I think you could fudge a few things. Sauces, for instance. S. taught me how to make a beurre blanc (to the detriment of my waistline), without a recipe. I learned by looking, tasting, listening and getting to know the process behind the cooking what to do and when. One day at work I needed a quick chocolate sauce and I didn't have a recipe, but recalled ingredients for a sauce I did for a job almost 5 years ago and whipped up something quite close to the original. I drew from my experiences in the kitchen to created this sauce.
I poured some of the brandy/cherry liquor into a pot with a small amount of cornstarch and a couple of pinches of turbinado sugar. I stirred it up, brought it to a boil, then lowered it to a simmer and let it thicken. Next, I added a few cherries to warm and coat them. I spooned some of the sauce into the bottom of the bowl, placed one of the small cakes in the center, made a loose quenelle of whipped cream on top, and three cherries around. It was a perfect bite. The sauce was thick enough that it wasn't immediately soaked into the cake, warm, tart. Everything melded together and was heavenly for the few minutes it took to eat it. I felt a little sad that I had scarfed down two other cakes before I could savor them the same way.
Sorry I don't have the sauce recipe for you, but maybe you'll feel adventurous enough to use my description and try it out yourself. I am including a recipe from David Lebovitz's blog, along with a link to the original recipe. Here, I've listed the ingredients from his recipe with instructions for using a mixer instead of a food processor. My recipe from work needs to be scaled down to a 9-inch cake pan, and, well, I'm feeling kinda lazy.
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) sugar
8 oz (225 grams) almond paste
1 cup (140 grams) flour
1 cup (225 grams) butter, cut in tbsp., room temp.
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
6 large eggs, room temp.
Beat the almond paste with a paddle to loosen the texture. Add sugar and cream until light. Add butter, piece-by-piece and cream mixture. Add eggs, incorporating before adding the next. Scrape the sides often. Add sifted dries and mix just until combined.
Pour into prepared pans (I used parchment to line mine). Bake 325ºF oven for about 50-60 minutes or until done (will require less time if using a smaller pan). Check by inserting a skewer into the center of the cake. It should come out clean.