Friday, September 30, 2005

Dried Cherry and Almond Paste Cake

An almond paste cake has been on my desserts-to-make list ever since I set my eyes on the picture of Trianon Montmorency in The Art of Cake, a gorgeous-looking almond genoise gateau filled with French buttercream and kirsch-soaked dried cherries, and then draped in pink tinted almond paste. Yesterday, when I finally got to make it, I did not really follow the recipe in the book. Instead, I borrowed the concept and used components from different sources to build my own dried cherry and almond paste cake. I made many mistakes on the way, too, not the least of which was to use yellow food coloring (instead of red) to tint the almond paste. Later I tried to remedy this; but the color I achieved was a reddish orange rather than a subtle pink, making this a perfect dessert choice for Halloween. When it comes to food coloring, a drop really goes a long way. Also, after I positioned the round of rolled almond paste on the crumb-coated cake, the sides split in some places, and I reluctantly had to pipe decorations to cover this up.

The cake was an almond butter cake made with unblanched almond meal. This culminated in darker color and rich flavor. It was delicious by itself but I think that a genoise lighter in color and taste would have looked and tasted better in this already complex dessert. Skimping on the 2-hour soaking of the dry cherries did not help, either. I briefly boiled them in water to plump them up, but they were still on the drier side when I tasted the cake yesterday.

In spite of all of the above, this dessert was delicious, if a tad too rich for me. If I make it another time and heed my own advice, I believe that I will have a much better result...

  • 9-inch Almond Cake (recipe below)
  • 1 recipe Classic Buttercream flavored with Kirsch or other cherry-flavored syrup
  • Sugar syrup with Kirsch or other cherry-flavored syrup to sprinkle on cake layers
  • 8-oz almond paste (tinted with food flavoring if desired)
  • 2 handfuls of dried, tart cherries
Steam the cherries for a couple of minutes until they just begin to soften. Then pour a few tablespoonfuls of Kirsch or other cherry syrup on them, cover and let steep for at least two hours. Drain the syrup and dry the cherries.

Cut the almond cake into 3 even layers. Place the first layer bottom-side-down on your serving plate and sprinkle with sugar syrup. Spread a thin layer of buttercream on it and scatter the cherries on top. Now spread just enough buttercream on top to fill in the gaps between the cherries. Top this with the second layer of cake and repeat, ending with the third layer of cake turned right side up. Brush the outside of the cake with syrup. Cover the cake with a thin layer of buttercream to lock in the crumbs and refrigerate until it is firm.

Meanwhile, work your almond paste with your hands to a smooth ball. Roll it into a disc large enough to cover your cake. You may find it easier to do so if you roll the paste between two sheets of plastic wrap; this makes it easier to transfer it to the cake, too. After the disc is in place, carefully and gently press it on the cake, and trim off the excess using scissors or a sharp kitchen knife. (The book suggested dusting almond paste with powdered sugar to prevent sticking during rolling, and impressing some texture on it as decoration.) Decorate with more almond paste, buttercream and/or candied cherries as desired.

Almond Cake (from Cake Bible)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 c sour cream (I used labne-sour cream combination)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 c sifted cake flour
  • 1/3 c almond meal
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 tbs softened butter (I used a little more than a stick)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9" springform pan, line its bottom with parchment, grease again and dust it with flour. Lightly whip the eggs, 1/4 of sour cream and the extracts. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the rest of the sour cream, blend first and then mix on medium to high speed for about 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down sides and add the egg mixture in 3 installments, mixing for about 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the center tests done. Cool for 10 minutes, remove sides and cool completely on rack.