You know what’s even better than a friend with a houseboat? A friend with a houseboat who likes to throw parties. Long leisurely sunny-afternoon parties, let’s-take-the-kayak-for-a-spin parties, parties where everyone crowds onto the deck to eat crab and corn with their hands and rinses the butter off in the water, then watches the sun set over the marina, between the sailboat masts (upcoming post on all this, I promise). The only way I could think of to be worthy of this kind of party was to bring dessert – a cake of some kind, one that we could all eat with without fuss, that would slip in among the partygoers and provide a sweet coda to conversation.
Today’s pantry-inspired dish came from a lonesome tube of almond paste nestled in my “baking etc” storage tin alongside forlorn toothpicks, dusty sprinkles bottles, and gummed-up icing tips. In the summer I am a big fan of making free-form galettes with an almond paste base and stone fruit topping – not the prettiest of desserts, but never unwelcome at a party. As a result, I try to keep almond paste on hand – and you know how that can go (ahem, shelf o’ Cholula bottles).
Given that I also need to polish off many boxes of flour and various kinds of sugar (not to mention an inexplicable three canisters of baking powder), I’ve been floury-elbow-deep in baking projects lately – including a chocolate lava cake that I’ll share soon. But first I came upon David Leibovitz’s almond cake recipe, which he calls his “desert island cake”. As you can see from the photo above in which I am plowing it into my facehole, Cookie Monster-style, I agree. It comes together quickly, doesn’t require any wacky ingredients beyond the almond paste, and is a crowdpleaser.
For this cake, you grind sugar, flour and almond paste into a grittily delicious powder. You add butter, vanilla and almond extract, and whip it into a fluffy batter. I ad libbed by adding some lemon zest, both because I had a lemon on hand and because I love the combination of lemon and almond. Plop in eggs, barely fold in flour, baking powder and salt, and bake until the cake is dark golden and set.
Because it was almost Valentine’s Day and I was bringing the cake to a party – fancytimes! – I cut a heart out of a paper towel and used it to make a powdered-sugar design on the cake.
Come party time, I got a little overexcited and added squiggles of Nutella and some strawberries to the top, and it turns out cake decorating is not my strong suit. Shockingly, no one seemed to mind. I served the cake with a dollop of homemade whipped cream as well, for which the cake served as an excellent scoop. One guy, holding his distended belly, soundly cursed me after eating three pieces; I took it as a compliment.
Despite its humble appearance, it’s a pretty sexy beast, with a light crumb, pleasant but not overpowering almond flavor, and the slightly lemony scent (zest, I love you!). The houseboat party was not the last time this cake will be making an appearance.