26 April 2010

Tartine's Almond-Lemon Tea Cake

Almond-Lemon Tea Cake (with title)
I've written a new Photoshop/Elements tutorial: using Levels to make highlights brighter, shadows darker, play with the contrast, and remove color casts.
I don't have foodnetworkhumor.com on my feed reader, but during an idle moment when I might need a food-related chuckle, I head on over and get my fill. It's not super-interesting to me because we get a much-condensed version of The Food Network here: no Sandra Lee, no Anne Burrell, no Guy Fieri. Anyway, one of the running gags they have there is, of course, Ina Garten and her insistence on only using "good vanilla," which, to be fair to Garten, is pretty valid (even though I still use the not-good kind for some applications).

Almond-Lemon Tea Cake (cut)
The thing is, I'm not made of money. When it comes to custards and ice creams and desserts where vanilla is the only flavor and it's a matter of life and yecch, I break out the bean (we have some very nice locally grown varieties), or crack open my Nielsen-Massey paste (still have plenty in my bottle, yay).

Just the other day I saw an episode of Penn and Teller Bullshit where they duped a bunch of wanker diners into believing an expensive meal was made with "the best" ingredients when in fact they used microwave meals, cheap wine, sour cream in the place of clotted cream (erroneously pronounced by the dumb-waiter as from "Devo (nasal)" instead of Devon), and, in the words of Penn, "cheap-ass monkfish" in the place of lobster tail (who's bullshitting us now, Penn and Teller?). There were plenty of instances where the diners were so into their fake meals for all the wrong reasons, but come on. Do you think we could still be duped? I know I couldn't be, at least for dessert (I know my cocoa butter from my partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, if you know what I mean...).

credit to Duncan for introducing me to "Posh Nosh".
The thing is, "the best" doesn't always impress me. My tasting experience is still growing and so limited. I don't know what aged balsamic is like and I've only ever used the cheap one that came out of a Christmas basket. Ditto olive oil. I've only ever seen a truffle with a glass case separating us. But I love how knowing food, working with food, and experimenting has given me the power to transform simple ingredients into a unique experience.


This is going to be a little ironic. Because this is by far one of the most expensive "simple" cakes I've made. If not in monetary value, it is in caloric value: it has the equivalent of 450g (a pound) of sugar and 225g of butter, but the truly expensive ingredient is the almond paste. But I promise, that's it. I was a little skeptical because of the paucity of flour and the sheer volume of eggs, sugar and butter (I'm not used to making nut-based cakes). But I swear to you, it is the BEST lemon cake I've ever tasted. EVER. That's the combined magic of Tartine and Flo Braker (one of my first television-teachers when it came to baking) for you. No wonder I've heard quite a lot of raves about it from customers of the bakery.

Almond-Lemon Tea Cake adapted from Tartine (also available in The Simple Art of Perfect Baking)
The cake is much better - the sweetness tamed and the texture firm and toothsome - after it has been chilled in the fridge. Don't worry, it's so ridiculously moist and keeps this way even straight out of the fridge: perfect for midnight snacking. Read my full-length review of Tartine here at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf.

  • 95g (3/4 cup) cake flour or pastry flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200g (7 ounces or 3/4 cup) almond paste (43-50% almonds by weight), at room temperature and cut into small chunks
  • 200g (1 cup) sugar
  • 225g (1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Spray and line with parchment cut to fit exactly two 20x8cm (8x3 inch) loaf pans OR one 23x13cm (9x5 inch) loaf pan.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, then sift together. In another small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla just to combine. In a large mixing bowl (ideally of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment), beat the almond paste on low speed until broken down, then add the sugar very gradually while still mixing and beat till well-combined. It's important to get the almond paste as broken down and smooth as possible so the cake is nicely textured.

Cut the butter up into about 16 pieces and with the mixer still running on low, add the pieces one at a time in the span of a minute. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, then turn the mixer on to medium and beat for about 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs in a slow, steady stream (as if adding oil to make mayonnaise) with the mixer running. Stop the mixer again to scrape, then add the zests and beat at medium speed for 30 more seconds. Sift the flour mixture over this and stir in just until incorporated. Fold in the poppy seeds until well-distributed.

Pour into the prepared pans and smooth surface. Bake for 40-50 minutes for the two pans (45-50 minutes if using a single 9x5 inch loaf pan). Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes while you make the glaze. The cake has to be glazed while still warm.

Citrus Glaze
  • 45g (3 tablespoons) lemon juice
  • 45g (3 tablespoons) orange juice
  • 150g (3/4 cup) sugar
Stir everything together in a small bowl -- not everything will be well-dissolved, but just do your best. Carefully lift the cakes out of the pans using the parchment (they will be very delicate and might break, so take care), and put them on a wire rack over something to catch the drips of the glaze. Brush them with the glaze, paying attention to the sides and edges as well as the center. You should be able to use up ALL the glaze. If it looks like the cake might be getting too saturated, just give it a few seconds to settle and keep going. The cake will look water-logged afterward, but it will be just fine when it cools completely. When it has cooled, you can lift them into the pans again using the parchment and store in the fridge well-wrapped. The authors suggest room temperature, but I prefer it cold.

blog comments powered by Disqus