One year ago today I published my first blog post. I didn't know if I would like blogging, so I wasn't too sure that I would keep it going. I have found, somewhat to my surprise, that I enjoy it quite a lot. I have always been a cook who keeps pretty extensive notes of the things that I cook—how it was, how it could be better, what made it work (or not), what I served it with (and to whom) etc. etc. Blogging has given me a place to put at least some of this stuff. It has also provided great support for my classes. Furthermore, it has encouraged me in my pursuit of excellence—to keep working to make something even better when I might have otherwise been tempted to just let it be. But the thing I have loved about it the most is that it motivates me to stay inspired and to keep trying new things.
Today seems like a good time to thank some of the people who have encouraged me over this past year. Thank you Katrina (Baking and Boys) for all of your tips and pointers, for taking the time to answer all of my questions and for telling me that if I started a blog, you would read it. Thanks also to everyone who reads (dear friends as well as new acquaintances and people I have never met), to those who comment and to those who tell me in person that they love my blog. I'm so pleased that people are reading, enjoying, learning and cooking! And thanks to my good friend (he knows who he is) who harassed me until I actually started writing, insisted I start posting pictures and who threatened me with bodily harm when I recently made some noise about the possibility of quitting (blogging has also turned out to be a lot of work...).
To mark the day, I made a cake (no surprise there). Because tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, it is a green cake. Don't worry, I have not made a cake that is dyed green. It is green because it is loaded with pistachios...so it is a gorgeous, natural green.
One of my all time favorite cakes is the Danish Holiday Almond Cake in Madeleine Kamman's The New Making of a Cook. There are actually many versions of this recipe floating around—I have seen one in Chez Panisse Desserts and another in Star's Desserts—but I think Madeleine's version is the best.
In the sidebar to the recipe, she mentions that there is a pistachio version of this cake in her book Madeleine Kamman's Savoie. I thought I remembered Madeleine saying that that particular book was one of her favorites, so a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy—when a cookbook author tells you which of their books they like the best, you pay attention. But what I really wanted when I bought the book was to taste the pistachio version of the almond cake.
Madeleine uses an unusual mixing method for the pistachio version of the cake that is quite different from the method she uses for the original Danish Holiday Almond cake. I have used a mixing method for the pistachio version that is closer to what she uses for the original almond cake.
In the almond version of the cake, finely grated almond paste is creamed with the butter and sugar until the whole mixture is very light and fluffy. The pistachio version doesn't use almond paste—it uses half ground almonds and half ground pistachios plus additional sugar to make up for the sugar lost when almond paste is replaced with ground nuts. It made sense to me to cream the nuts into the butter-sugar mixture (as with the almond paste version). Since nuts don't contain gluten, continued mixing after they have been added won't toughen the cake. For people who are used to making cakes with ground nuts (or "nut flours") this method will seem a bit strange since nut flours are usually folded in at the end with the regular flour. Because this early addition of nuts adds bulk to the butter-sugar mixture, I think it helps the eggs emulsify into the creamed butter and sugar mixture more easily (without curdling). This in turn gives the final cake a finer, lighter and more even crumb.
I can't say enough good things about this cake. It is so moist that it is good without any frosting at all. It is also very good when simply garnished with a dollop of whipped cream and some berries. If you love the combination of chocolate and pistachio together (I do), it can be frosted with a dark chocolate ganache.
When I made this cake for my book group a year ago, I served it that way, with a small scoop of honey-orange ice cream alongside. I also think it would be good with a simple vanilla buttercream or some cream cheese frosting.
No matter how you choose to frost or garnish this cake, be warned that it is decadently rich and should be served in small portions. Your guests may look at the tiny sliver that you serve them and wonder what possessed you to give them such a paltry slice. But the smaller slice will encourage them to savor every bite. And when they are finished, they will be well satisfied.
80 g. cake flour
1/8 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
180 g. unsalted butter
225 g. granulated sugar
85 g. blanched almonds, lightly toasted and finely ground (see note)
90 g. shelled pistachios, lightly toasted and finely ground (see note)
1 tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and line with a round of parchment. Butter the parchment. Dust the pan with cake flour and knock out the excess.
Combine the cake flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl and whisk to distribute the salt and baking powder. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar continue to beat until fluffy and white again, 2 to 3 minutes on medium-high speed.
Turning the speed down to low, add the vanilla and nut flours. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is again fluffy—another three minutes or so.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating again on medium-high speed after each addition until the batter returns to fluffiness and scraping down the sides before each next addition.
Finally, sift the dry ingredients directly over the batter and fold in. Turn into the prepared pan
and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The cake is done when it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Unmold immediately onto a plate (not onto a rack—which will leave a permanent imprint on the top of the cake). Invert onto a rack to let the cake cool right side up. Cool completely.
The cake may be frosted or simply dusted with powdered sugar and served plain, with whipped cream or with berries. Serves 12 to 16.
(Recipe adapted from The New Making of a Cook and Madeleine Kamman's Savoie, both by Madeleine Kamman)
Note: You can of course purchase nut flours instead of whole nuts. Use the same weight as you would use of nuts. Just as with the whole nuts, the nut flour may be spread on a baking sheet and lightly toasted. I grind whole nuts to a flour with a mircroplane rotary grater fitted with the fine drum. This grater is of course wonderful for hard cheeses, but I use mine almost exclusively for nuts.