Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Almond layer cake

There's nothing better than a cake to celebrate a special occasion.  But what about two special occasions: a quarter century birthday and graduation from law school?  That kind of double milestone requires an extra special cake.  You know, something that says, "Hey, world, we're grown-ups now!" (Do grown-ups say those sorts of things?)

The quarter-century lady let her soon-to-be lawyer half of this also soon-to-be-married couple (congrats!!) choose an almond cake with chocolate frosting.  And what good timing did he have.  Not only had I made a chocolate frosting recently that I was just bursting to share with you, but the family and I enjoyed an adorably petite almond cake for Mother's Day that I was dying to attempt myself.  The chocolate frosting was first made to go with those dynamite peanut butter cupcakes, but I scaled down the recipe so much that I wanted to make a big batch to ensure correct proportions.  And the almond cake... ohhhhhh, the almond cake.  After much Googling (don't you love how that's a verb?), I'd seen this recipe from the Sky High cake book pop up a few times, so I took a risk with it.  What's that line about great risks and even greater rewards?  I don't know, nor do I feel like Googling it.  The bottom line here is that this cake was so rich, so fragrant, and bursting with almond flavor that I truly forgot it was the first time I'd made it.

Almond Layer Cake
(adapted from Sky High)
-makes three 9-inch cake layers OR two 9-inch cakes and one 6-inch mini cake

4 1/2 cups cake flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup prepared almond paste (look for an 8-ounce can in the baking aisle)
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon almond extract
10 egg whites
1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans (or two 9-inch and one 6-inch).  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment and butter the paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together (or use a whisk to break up the large clumps) the cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  Place the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Begin to cream the mixture on low speed to break up the almond paste, then increase the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until the paste is broken into fine particles.  (see pictures above for visual cues)

Add the butter and almond extract and beat it well, then the egg whites, two or three at a time, beating just long enough to incorperate after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times to make sure it is evenly mixed.

Dust about a third of the dry ingredients over the batter and fold in with a large rubber spatula until just combined.  Fold in about half the milk.  Gently fold in half the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk. Finally, fold in the last of the dry ingredients just until no streaks of white remain. Use a light hand and do not overmix.  Divide the batter among the three prepared cake pans.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (for my slightly more full two 9-inch cakes, it took about 35 minutes; for the 6-inch, roughly 30 minutes) or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out on to wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners and let them cool completely, about one hour.

Layer cakes and top with desired frosting.  Might I not-so-humbly suggest this chocolate frosting, complete with an instructional video at the bottom for assembly.

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