Monday, April 21, 2008

almond cake with strawberry-rhubarb compote

gateau aux amandes

Remember those 17 flourless/Passover-friendly desserts? Did you wonder why one would make a list that numbered, say, 17 and not some easily identifiable round number such as 20? I mean, once you’ve gotten to 17, are those last three so difficult, so clearly going to push a blogger over the edge that it simply cannot be done? No, you don’t think about this? Well, lucky you.

But the list was indeed 20 to begin with, but I nixed* three because although they had very little flour in them and the odds were that it could be replaced with matzo meal with little melodrama, I didn’t want to wing it and accidentally ruin every one of your seders with my misplaced confidence. (So much for saving us all some melodrama.) Yet I’ve been staring down the Gâteau aux Amandes with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook for months now–a fairly simple cake with what I hoped would be a very intense almond flavor.

strawberry-rhubarb compote

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got some marzipan junkies in our family, so I like to use seeing them as an excuse to try out desserts like this, and it did not disappoint. If you like almonds/marzipan/almond paste/amaretto, you’re going to love this cake.

However, yours will in all likelihood look better than ours did: less dense (because you’ll be using flour) and taller (because you’ll not realize at the very last moment that you left your 8-inch cake pan at a friends several months ago during a flan flop and used a 9-inch pan instead). But even if it doesn’t, I think you’ll fall in love: the cake is intensely flavored but remarkably simple–six ingredients and some decoration on top.

The strawberry-rhubarb compote is fantastic; easy to make and a perfect balance to the sweetness of the almond paste base. You’ll have a bit of extra, perfect for cottage cheese, ice cream, pound or angel food cake, or, you know, your spoon. Oh come on, you know you’re gonna.

gateau aux amandes

* See honey? NIXED. You see, last night I attempted to overcome a Scrabulous game of all-vowels, all-the-time against Alex who was been on a rare three-bingos-per-game winning streak with the word NIX over a well-placed triple letter score and do you know what Alex said? “Nix? What kind of word is that? You never use that word.” And I said “only all the time.” So there you go. And no, in case you were worried, we do not, like, sit on the sofa next to each other with a laptop on each of our laps playing Scrabulous with each other. Of COURSE not. That would be lame.

** The other two desserts I was going to bring to your might-be-able-to-swap-the-flour-with-matzo-meal attention were the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake from last month (with only 1/3 cup of flour) that I am thrilled to learn that someone Kosher-ed with success and this Lemon-Strawberry Roll Cake (with only 1/4 cup of flour and cornstarch that can be seamlessly swapped with potato starch).

Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote [Gâteau aux Amandes]
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (via Leite’s Culinaria)

For the compote
1 pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed
1 lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar

For the almond cake
Butter and flour for the pan(s)
7 ounces almond paste
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 tablespoons honey
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons amaretto, plus additional for brushing
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted (we used matzo meal with success, though finely grinding it first would have been a better idea)
Kosher salt

1/3 to 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup crème fraîche, whipped to soft peaks

Make the compote
1. Select about 4 ounces of the smallest strawberries and cut lengthwise into quarters. These will be added raw to the cooked compote; set aside.

2. Cut the remaining larger berries in halves or quarters so that the pieces are about the same size. (You should have about 2 1/2 cups.) Place them in a medium saucepan.

3. With a paring knife, pull away and discard the strings that run the length of the rhubarb stalks. Cut the stalks into 3/4-inch pieces (you should have about 3 cups) and add to the saucepan.

4. Use a fine grater or a Microplane to zest the lemon. Add 1 teaspoon of the zest to the pan. Squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice and add it to the pan. Add the sugar and stir to coat the fruit.

5. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. By the time the sugar has dissolved, the fruit will have released a lot of juice. Boil for about 4 minutes to reduce the liquid somewhat, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 2 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft. Don’t worry if some of the rhubarb falls apart.

6. Take pan off the stove and stir in reserved strawberries. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate in a covered container until cold. (This makes about 4 cups of compote, but the extra will keep for a couple of weeks and is delicious for breakfast, especially with crème fraîche.)

Make the cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter and flour four 4-by-1 3/4-inch-high miniature springform pans or butter and flour the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan. If using the 8-inch pan, line its bottom with a circle of parchment paper; this isn’t necessary with the small pans.

2. Place the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a handheld mixer. 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.

3. Add the butter and mix for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light in color and airy; stop the machine and scrape down the sides as necessary. It is important to mix long enough or the cake will have a dense texture.

4. Mix in the honey, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the amaretto, flour, and a pinch of salt and mix just to combine.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan(s) and smooth the top. Bake the small cakes for about 15 minutes, the large one for about 25 minutes, or until the cake is golden and springs back when pressed. Transfer to a rack to cool.

6. Unmold the small cakes or invert the large cake onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and invert the cake again so that the top is once again facing upward. Brush the top of the cake(s) with amaretto and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. (The large and small cakes can be stored, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 2 days.) To serve, cut the small cakes in half or the large cake into wedges. Serve with a dollop of whipped crème fraîche and the strawberry-rhubarb compote.


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