I know what you’re thinking: finally, a recipe with some substance! Haha. It’s true, I’ve been busy lately and have been attracted more and more to quick (but delicious!) snacks and treats. With school starting in a week I find myself running around town, nervously trying to tie up loose ends, square away a clear financial plan, and smoothly transition from “real world” work back to academia. The start of a new school year is busy for everyone, but I think it’s especially exciting and terrifying for me because I’ve been out of the game for so long.
By some miracle (and countless all-night study sessions) I graduated with my B.Sc. in Physics in 2006. I had planned on taking a year off to rest my muddled brain and travel, but – as you all know – time accelerates exponentially as you age and suddenly I find myself four years out of the field. I’m very happy to finally be working towards my graduate degree, I’m just nervous at discovering just how rusty my school-skills have become. There’s also more to it than my ability to cram. If years away weren’t bad enough, I’m also jumping subjects: from my Physics background I’m hoping to bridge the way to a Biochemistry future. It could be worse I suppose; they’re both science concentrations. I haven’t had a Chemistry course since my undergrad freshman year, though, so we’re looking at eight years since any real experience. It’s going to be tough.
Cooking, baking, and – of course – eating are always good stress relievers and when I read about Sugar High Fridays on 17 and Baking I really wanted to participate. The theme ingredient this time is Browned Butter, something I had never made before but have always thought it sounded delicious. Apparently, browned butter is known in France as beurre noisette and is described as being nutty, toasy, and/or slightly caramel-like.
I immediately reached for my favorite dessert book: Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. Inside I found the perfect recipe, one that combined the key ingredient with almonds for a dense but not terribly rich cake – the kind that goes well with nearly anything you can imagine. Being an almond fan I had to try it.
Browned Butter Almond Cake (from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor)
1 C unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 3/4 t baking powder
½ t salt
½ C sliced almonds, finely ground*
7 oz. almond paste (1 roll)
1 C sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
½ C powdered sugar, for dusting
* Note: When I initially read this ingredient, I understood it to mean ½ C of almonds finally ground (as in, once ground, measure out ½ a Cup). Because I love almonds almost as much as I love cheese, I measured out a full Cup of ground almonds – which required nearly 2 Cups of sliced almonds to make. Now that I’m rereading this, it turns out that I used about four times as much ground almonds as called for! Oops! The cake was delicious despite my mistake (see Beezer’s Notes below), but if you aren’t such a fan of almonds or prefer to stick to the source recipe make sure to measure out only ½ C of sliced almonds to grind.
- Read How To Brown Butter on Simply Recipes. I didn’t and wish I did.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over low heat. When melted, increase the heat to medium and whisk gently but constantly.
- Continue cooking and whisking the butter until the solids at the bottom of the pan begin to brown. As these solids begin to caramelize, the butter will begin to smell nutty and sweet. As soon as you smell this delightful aroma, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. The butter will continue to cook and brown off-heat so it is important to remove it from the burner as soon as the process begins. Let the butter cool completely.
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Grease a 9″ round cake pan and line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper.
- In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the ground almonds and set aside.
- Break the almond paste into small pieces and, in a second bowl, toss with the sugar. Now, here the source recipe calls for an electric beater but, let me tell you folks, I tried that and it was a MESS! Even after microwaving the combined sugar/paste mixture for a few seconds to help soften the pieces my electric beater was unable to blend the two together. Instead, I highly recommend using a food processor if you have one. Just a few pulses on low and bam: beautiful sandy mixture. Even a pastry cutter would probably be more affective than electric beaters here, in my opinion.
- Once you have blended the almond paste and sugar together to form a crumbly, sandy mix you may go back to your electric beaters. Use them to beat in the vanilla and then the whole eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating one before moving on to the next. Beat in the egg yolks, again one at a time, beating well between each addition.
- Carefully fold the flour mix into the batter until just incorporated.
- By now your browned butter should be room temperature*…
- *Note: traditional “browned butter” should require no straining. If you accidentally cook it too long – as I did – and have small dark brown particles in your butter you’ve probably made buerre noir instead. You then have a choice: you can either strain the particles out and use the butter anyway – as long as it’s not too badly burnt it will still be delicious – or you can save it for a pasta dish and attempt the brown butter again. Elise, the author of the “How to Brown Butter ” article says she dumps it! Either she has very seriously blackened her butter in the past or I’m thriftier than I realized, haha.
- …gently fold your browned (or darkly browned – as I’m going to call mine) butter into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepped cake pan and spread evenly.
- Bake the cake for 10 minutes before reducing the heat down to 350°F. Continue baking until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean – about 30 minutes.
- Once the cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and allow to completely cool (I know it’s hard) before removing it from the pan.
- Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.
This cake – while possibly made with butter a tad bit too brown – was delicious! As I usually mention with every recipe of this sort that I am not really a cake fan. I’ll pick a pie or tart over cake most of the time and it’s only the more unique and non-traditional ones that grab my attention (see my Irish Cream Pound Cake, Sticky Pear and Walnut Upside Down Gingerbread, or Blueberry Almond Cake). Well, I’m proud to add this yummy dessert to my list!
My only regrets with this recipe are as follows: first, I really wish I had had some sort of a side to compliment the cake, especially because there are so many tasty possibilities. Vanilla ice cream is an obvious choice, but also berries, a compote, whipped cream, maybe even a light pudding would all be fabulous. I quickly put together this dessert in between trips, though, and simply wasn’t prepared (on the bright side, I can truly say this cake freezes very well!).
Regret #2 is only that I would like to try this cake with perfectly browned butter next time. My butter did smell exactly as described – deliciously nutty and sweet – but the fact that I had to strain away darkened bits makes me think I accidentally made buerre noir instead and I’d like to taste the difference.
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥