Here's a fact that I’m slightly embarrassed to admit: I never actually took the time to really read through Dorie Greenspan’s newest book, Baking Chez Moi. I’ve had it for months sitting on my shelf, and while I made a batch of rugelach using her recipe, I just never got around/made the time to peruse through its contents. A fact that I’m even MORE embarrassed to admit is that this is my ONLY Dorie cookbook. Seriously. I know she’s a goddess when it comes to flour and chocolate and sugar in the kitchen, and yet the only thing I’ve ever baked using her wisdom are her rugelach (which, by the way, are the best rugelach I’ve ever tried). This past weekend though, in searching for a new “thing” to bake, I picked up my brand new, hardly used copy of Baking Chez Moi, and became aware of this incredible resource that I had been neglecting for all these months. There were so many recipes that I wanted to try, and she even has an entire chapter dedicated to simple cakes! It’s easy to say that this was the chapter that inspired me the most, and while I had a hard time selecting my first cake to bake, in the end, the choice was pretty clear. “Plain and Simple Almond Cake.” Can’t argue with a title like that, now can you?
As much as “plain and simple” grabbed me, my real reason for choosing it over her TK cake with salted dark chocolate chunks is that it’s a flourless cake. Made only with almond flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla this cake is not only completely gluten-free, but it’s also dairy-free. My mom has been completely gluten-free for about 6 months now, and the changes in her health and well-being have been remarkable. She’s less tired, has very minimal stomach discomfort, and fewer headaches. She’s eliminated almost all dairy from her diet as well, save for when it’s baked into a gluten-free treat, and while she hasn’t completely given up on dairy, limiting it to the extent she has has also had a positive effect on her health. She’ll sometimes experience some slight discomfort, but not enough to keep her away from her favorite gluten-free cornbread, for instance. When I realized that his cake was free of gluten and dairy, I just had to make it. I really hate leaving my mom out of the loop when it comes to the treats I bake at home, so I try to bake gluten-free versions as much as possible. Getting used to working with new flours, blends, and techniques has been a ton of fun (and work!), but sometimes I just want to be able to prepare a GF treat to share with everyone in my family that’s made with regular old ingredients that I have on hand. Something that feels a little more familiar, and that’s why this simple cake seemed so attractive (aside from the fact that my mom and I both happen to love almonds!).
For a simple cake, this is one that’s not exactly a one-bowl/one-tool affair. It requires a bit more precision than simply dumping and stirring, and more than a flexible rubber spatula. For the GF component, you'll need almond flour, for which you may actually have to make a special grocery trip to buy. However, if you're ok with making a trip to the store and dirtying up more than a single bowl, this is the cake for you. Despite the fact that's it's not as simple as most simple cakes go, this cake still fits the bill, nevertheless. It has only five ingredients (excluding the jam, which is completely optional), and can still be mixed in just a few minutes. If you have a stand mixer, it's a cinch to prepare, and even if you only have a hand mixer, this cake will be no trouble at all.
Start off with 5 large eggs that have been separated. It's extremely important that the eggs are perfectly separated, meaning that no there is absolutely no yolk present in the egg whites; if there's even the slightest trace of yolk in the whites, then the whites won't whip up into nice peaks. If separating eggs is something that you're not completely comfortable with and you don't have a nifty separating tool (or you've just lost yours, like I did), then the easiest way to ensure perfectly separated eggs is to use your clean hands. Simply crack an egg open, and with your hand set over a clean bowl, let the egg pool out into your open hand, just by your fingers. The whites will fall into the bowl below, and then the yolk can be added to a separate bowl. It’s the easiest way to go about it!
Now that our eggs have been perfectly separated, we can proceed. The yolks are beaten with sugar until they are thick, smooth, and a pale, pale yellow, and then a touch of vanilla extract is mixed in. The whites are beaten separately, either with a hand mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, until they reach medium peaks. About a fourth of the whites are stirred into the yolks (literally, there's no need to be gentle at this point). The remaining egg whites and about half of the almond flour are then gently folded into the yolk mixture. Once it's almost completely mixed together, the remaining almond flour is folded in, until a homogeneous batter is reached. It's poured into a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan and baked for 35 minutes. Once cool, the cake can be finished off with either a simple dusting of powdered sugar, or sliced in half and filled with raspberry preserves...or both!
I filled the cake with raspberry preserves because I thought it would help ensure that the cake would be really moist. While the preserves did keep the moist factor in check, it honestly wasn’t necessary. The cake itself was incredibly moist, which was surprising, given that there’s no butter or oil in the cake. The nuts worked well in two ways, this means. They served their purpose in providing some very necessary structure to the cake as well as keeping the cake moist (since nuts are high in fat on their own). The almond flavor in this cake is fantastic. It comes across so nicely, and the almond flour gives the cake such a great texture. It has a rustic look and feel, being a single layer round cake, slightly imperfect along the top and dusted with a thin veil of powdered sugars. It's amazing that a cake this simple, made with the most basic of all ingredients, is actually this good. The kind of good where you'll just want to eat slice after slice, every time you walk past it in the kitchen. I liked the raspberry preserves in the middle of the cake, but it's honestly wonderful without it. The only change I made to the original recipe was lowering the amount of sugar from 1 cup to 3/4 cup, because otherwise it would be too sweet for my taste (and my mom's). Other than that, this recipe is perfect as it is. It's an easy and wonderful cake that just so happens to also be gluten-free. Enjoy!
Simple Almond Cake (GF)
recipe adapted slightly from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan
5 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup raspberry preserves (optional)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper, and flour (use almond meal or a gluten-free all purpose flour blend to keep the cake gluten-free).
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and all but 2 tbsp of the sugar. Whisk until the yolks become thick and pale in color, about 1 minute. Whisk in the vanilla extract, and set aside. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a bowl with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites on medium speed until they become opaque, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and continue to beat the egg whites until they hold medium peaks.
With a flexible rubber spatula, stir in about 1/4 of the egg whites to the egg yolk mixture (no need to be gentle here). Scrape the remaining egg whites over the yolks, and about half of the almond flour. Gently fold them into the yolks, but only partially. While the mixture still has a few steaks of white left, add the remaining almond flour and fold in, folding until you have a homogeneous batter. Be gentle! Pour the batter into the prepared pan and shimmy until the batter is level.
Bake the cake for about 35 minutes, turning the cake after 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and springy to the touch. Let the hot cake cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then run a butter knife along the edges of the cake pan. Invert the cake pan onto the rack, remove the sides and bottom, and peel away the parchment paper. Turn the cake right side up and allow to cool completely.
To fill the cake, simply slice across the cake halfway with a serrated knife once it's cooled completely. Spread the raspberry preserves over the bottom half of the cake, and then top with the top half. Dust with powdered sugar, and enjoy!
Makes 1 9-inch cake