Saturday, August 1, 2009

An Almond cake for my mother's birthday

My first couple of Jane Austen cooking experiments didn't go so well. There was a marmalade that took many hours but is still languishing in the fridge door, untouched where I deposited shortly after I made it. It's just too chunky, bitter and difficult to spread to be something I reach for. Then I made a Soup De Santee or a Dish of Fish of all sorts from the Complete Housewife. Again, hours of work, not a huge hit with the family and to be honest, I wasn't too keen on it myself. Also my hands reeked of fish for days no matter how much I scrubbed them. So for my mother's birthday cake, I was determined to compromise a bit. This was, after all, a birthday. I wanted people to enjoy themselves.

I took the recipe for an almond cake from the Complete Housewife and then I began scouring the internet to find a cake recipe that was similar but modern enough that I could follow it. Most importantly I wanted something I could complete in an hour and be done with it.

Here's the Complete Housewife recipe:

Take a pound of almonds, blanch and beat them exceeding fine with a little rose water. This step I did in the blender. Robert helped me hull the papery shells off the almonds which was fun. He likes to watch the blender too. The cake was supposed to be a surprise but he told Grandma about it the minute she walked in the door. "I made you a cake!" This whole step took about ten minutes. I shudder to think how long it would have taken with a mortar and pestle. The rose water which I obtained from a mid-eastern market smelled amazing mixed with almonds. It's really neat to find out that improving the smell of something is almost as effective as dumping sugar into it. If something smells sweet, it almost tricks your palette into thinking there's sugar there.

Then beat three eggs, but two whites and put to them a pound of sugar sifted. I used a cup of honey instead because I'm boycotting sugar with this diet. I then added two cups of unbleached flour and six eggs. I increased the eggs because of the flour. It would also be possible (and fairly authentic) to use white breadcrumbs instead of flour. I just didn't have any white bread on hand. I added the flour because I had 6 people to feed with this cake and I didn't think almonds alone would make enough volume.

Then put in your almonds, and beat all together very well. I did this with the hand mixer in about two minutes, making sure that there were no almond chunks or clumps of paste. Again this would be incredibly tedious and slow to do by hand.

Put sheets of white paper and lay the cakes in what form you please. It's amazing that several of the modern almond cake recipes I found recommended parchment as well. I opted to use a spring form pan that I greased and floured before adding the batter. I would say an eight inch pan would be ideal.

Bake them in a cool oven. I baked my almond cake for 60 minutes at 300 degrees. It came out perfectly, not too dry or to moist, with a nice subtle sweet almond flavor.

You can perfume them if you like. I topped it with a whipped cream flavored with a drop or two more rosewater and a sweet sherry. I decorated with a few of my mom's favorite flowers, daisies. It was really a perfect cake for a summer tea party, which was how we enjoyed it. Total prep time for the cake was about a half an hour. I spent 10 minutes on the decorating and making the flavored cream. It took an hour to bake, but I don't really count that time, since I spent it sitting on the couch, reading cookbooks.

Given the success of this recipe, I think that from now on I'm going to pretend its always someone's birthday on this diet. I need to compromise a bit more, I think and look out for recipes that don't take three hours or more to make.