To be fair, I'll print the recipe first and then put my failure story after it. That's being fair because, in retrospect, I changed the ingredients and the process enough to constitute a new recipe before I was done. I had a total failure with this cake, but then I didn't really make this cake. The soggy, gooey, almond-candy cake I made got eaten anyway, but it was not what I had in mind. I plan to try this cake again, and do it by the recipe. I found this recipe in Eat Cake, by Jeanne Ray. She credits its source as In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley.
Almond Apricot Pound Cake with Amaretto
Serves 16 to 20
- 1 1/2 cups blanched almonds, lightly toasted
- 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 oz. good-quality soft marzipan, at room temperature
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure almond extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup Amaretto or other almond liqueur
- 1/4 cup apricot or orange brandy
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cake flour, sifted
- 3/4 tablespoon salt (it does say "tablespoon" in Jeanne Ray's book!)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup full-fat sour cream
- 2/3 cup chopped dried apricots, preferably unsulphured
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan and tap out the excess flour, holding the center tube if it is a removable bottomed pan. Process the almonds and 3 tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor until finely ground, then set aside.
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and remaining 3 cups of sugar together for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mixture is very fluffy and pale. Add the marzipan and cream until well blended. There may be a few little pieces of marzipan that don't break up in the batter -- this wil add a little texture and pockets of flavor to the finished cake. (If the marzipan is not soft enough to cream, grind it in a food processor with the almonds and add it to the batter when the nuts are added.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl and do so frequently from now on -- this is a large batter, and you want to ensure everything is properly distributed. Add the eggs, one at a atime, beating well between each addition. Beat in the almond and vanilla extracts, Amaretto, and apricot brandy.
- Sift together the flours, salt, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the creamed batter in three additions, alternately with the sour cream in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients so the batter never gets too dry, causing the flour to become overworked. Fold in the chopped apricots and ground nuts and scrape the butter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with a rubber spatula.
- Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 1 1/2 hours to 1 3/4 hours, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife around the outside of the cake and the center tube. If the pan has a removable bottom, lift the tube out, freeing the cake. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and pull out the tube and bottom. if the pan does not have a removable bottom, simply invert the cake onto the rack. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving or storing. It keeps very well at room temperature for up to 4 days, stored in an airtight cake dome or well-wrapped in plastic, and it may also be frozen for up to 2 months, wrapped securely, and thawed, without disturing the wrapping, at room temperature. This wonderful cake really doesn't need any embellishment.
Welllll, I did try to embellish it. That was one of the things I did to it.
Background: Just before friends gathered at our house for our 2006 New Year's Eve champagne and sparkling wine tasting, I read a cake recipe in Jeanne Ray's light novel titled, appropriately, Eat Cake. Actually, I read several recipes at the end of Jeanne Ray's book.
Because I am on a years-long quest for a perfect version of a particular family pound cake recipe, I often try out pound cake recipes to see what makes them tick. During the day of New Year's Eve, a Sunday, I made this cake for the evening gathering.
I had most of the ingredients in the house. I thought, "The cake will be large and grand, like a real pound cake. I love the "triple A" flavor array: almond-amaretto-apricot. My friends will know all over again, even if they already know, how much I love them. The cake will add to the celebration."
Actually, I had MOST of the ingredients in the house.
- I had 1/2 cup apricots instead of 2/3. Not a problem with the cake mechanically, I figured.
- I had Grand Marnier, an orange liqueur that I thought would suffice for the "1/4 cup apricot or orange brandy." But doesn't apricot brandy sound good??
- I had no "good quality soft marzipan."
- I had only 1 cup blanched almonds, and I needed 1 1/2 cups.
- I have organic cane sugar, which is all I use now, and I always wonder if cake recipes are developed for the all-white kind that has a bunch of acrid smelling chemicals still clinging to it.
- I had Weisenberger All-Purpose Flour from our wonderful mill in Woodford County. I wonder how its protein profile and other characteristics compare to the Pillsbury or Gold Medal that should have been used to develop the pound cake for a widely published recipe.
- I had spectacular Danish unsalted butter, but I wondered how different its moisture content is from the supermarket types that should have been used to develop the recipe.
So what? How bad could it be? I know from experience that when good ingredient go into things, people eat the results even when the foods are not perfect.
I also knew from experience that it would not be easy to find marzipan in Lexington on a Sunday, and I knew marzipan was crucial. I went to Kroger and bought a seven ounce box of almond paste. I read online about the differences between almond paste and marzipan and concluded the main practical difference that might affect the cake's chemistry was that marzipan probably has even more sugar worked into it than the extremely sweet almond paste. (It turns out, after further research, that this is not true of premium marzipans from Germany and Spain, where a 70 percent almond-30 percent sugar is considered excellent.) I decided I would throw 3 more tablespoons of sugar into the first step, along with the extra three ounces of almond paste, which would make up for the missing 1/2 cup of almonds. [Please note: I went to Kroger for almond paste, but it did not occur to me to (1) buy more almonds or (2) buy more apricots....]
So I toasted, cooled, and ground the blanched almonds and 3 tablespoons sugar in my trusty Braun Five-in-One food processor. Then I threw in the seven ounces of almond paste and 3 additional tablespoons sugar and ground some more. The result looked like pale, coarse sand, or, actually, like coarse organic cane sugar. Despite the instructions, I decided I would use the Rose Beranbaum cake making technique: stir together dry ingredients for a few seconds, add butter and about half the combined wet ingredients and beat for a minute; add remaining wet ingredients in two additions, beating for 20 seconds after each. Ahem. Rather different, rather unlike the traditional cream-the-sugar-and-butter method.
I had to decide whether the moist almond-sugar-almond paste crumbs were dry or wet ingredients in this approach. I designated them dry, and mixed them with the flours, sugars, salt, and soda. The finely chopped apricots, though, I decided would benefit from a soak in the two liqueurs, after which I dumped both 'cots and 'quers into the liquid assemblage. Oh yes, and I decided that six eggs would make the cake much too liquid. (I'm pretty sure, still, that I'm right about this, though I WILL try all six when I give the recipe its proper 100 percent accurate test.) I had just read that too many eggs make pound cakes hard -- what good is that? -- so I reduced the eggs to four extra large organics from somewhere that must use artificial lights. We aren't getting organic eggs from small Kentucky suppliers in winter. T'aint natural. The cake batter nearly over-filled my Braun machine's mixing bowl. The batter smelled and tasted good. It seemed just about the right consistency - thick but not stiff. I congratulated myself on deleting those two eggs. Into the oven, which is new, apparently set about right, based on other uses. I checked after 75 minutes, removed for crumb test at 90 minutes - and it looked, acted done.
Beautiful, actually, if not quite as tall as I had hoped.
About a minute later, the beautiful crack in the top folded in on itself. The caked sighed and settled low, lower, lowest. Lower even than the batter had been. I didn't know that was possible!
After the required cooling periods in the pan and out, I decided to add a glaze to the sorry two-inch high brown circle, even though one was not supposed to be needed. I mixed confectioners sugar with more Amaretto and brushed it on.
The cake was the closest thing to baked marzipan in a crust that I can imagine. My guests said, "Surely it doesn't have flour in it, does it?" Too bad, I had to say - it does! Where, I don't know, but it's in there.
They ate it anyway. That's how friends are.