If you’ve ever heard me spew my opinions about fruit, you probably know that I’m a bit of a purist. Okay, more than just a bit. I’ll choose fruit over chocolate any day. And because I have that purist bent, I like to protect the integrity of the fruit.
I’ve been struck lately with all of the lovely citrus fruit that is in season. (Although I love pears and apples, it’s a nice break to get away from them for awhile.) I’ve always been a fan of anything tangy and citrus is one of my favorite treats. The other day at PCC Natural Market, I counted six different types of citrus, not including limes and lemons. It inspired me to cook with them, so I took home a selection of Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges, satsumas and Texas grapefruit to create a simple and seasonal dessert. The citrus in this recipe uses very little additional sugar. I added thyme which imparts just a hint of earthiness to the tart citrus and rich, sweet almond cake.
The almond cake is actually a variation on frangipane, the traditional French almond filling often used in tarts. When I was creating desserts at Salish Lodge, I took to using the almond frangipane as a free-standing cake. I’ve paired it with many fruits including plums, pears, apples and here, citrus. It’s wonderful glazed with a chocolate ganache. But even more wonderful is that this cake stands on its own as a decadent pastry – moist and rich enough to be eaten without any dressing up.
Mixing this cake is simple, but a few tips will help you get a perfect result. Before starting, have all of your ingredients at room temperature. It’s important that the almond paste, butter and eggs are not cold so that they combine well. Make sure the almond paste and sugar are mixed until broken up into small pieces. This avoids lumps later in the mix. I’ve described in an earlier post about over mixing. This is not one of those times! Once the butter is added, the batter should be creamed heavily until it’s light and fluffy. You can’t over cream this one. Finally, as with any mixing, make sure you scrape regularly and often to get a consistent batter. Sometimes I add the pulp of one-half of a vanilla bean which complements the almond.
Serves 6 (makes one 8 inch cake)
7 ounces almond paste, room temperature
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 each eggs, room temperature
¼ cup bread flour
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray the bottom of the cake pan and line the pan with a circle of parchment that just fits the bottom. Set aside.
Combine the almond paste and sugar in a mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix the almond paste and sugar until well combined. (The almond paste should be in small pieces.) Add the butter and cream the mixture until light and fluffy and no pieces of the almond paste are visible. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well and scraping the bowl after each addition. Add the bread flour and mix until just combined.
Transfer the batter to the cake pan, smoothing the top of the batter. Bake the cake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes, until the cake is golden and springs back to the touch.
Cool the cake completely before removing it from the pan. The cake can be chilled for easier pan removal and cutting. For best flavor and texture, serve the cake at room temperature. Freeze the cake, well-wrapped, up to 1 month.
Recipe adapted from Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft (Culinary Institute of America)
While the cake is baking, prepare the fruit. For six servings, use:
2 Cara Cara oranges
3 blood oranges
3-4 satumas or seedless tangerines
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2-3 tablespoons sugar or honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
To segment the grapefruit and oranges: Cut off the ends of each fruit. Then with a sharp knife, cut off the skin and pith starting at the top of the orange and moving downward. Do this in one inch sections until all of the skin and pith have been removed and only the flesh is showing. Use a sharp paring knife to cut out the segments over a bowl so that you catch all of the juice. (Save the citrus membranes to squeeze for juice.) To prepare the satsumas, peel them and pick off most of the extraneous pith. Don’t worry about getting them too clean. Once cooked, the membranes will turn translucent.
Cut the cake into 6 pieces and place the pieces on individual plates. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet on high heat. When the skillet is hot, add all of the orange segments and the juice. Cook quickly, stirring a few times until the citrus is heated through – about 3 minutes. Add the butter, sugar and thyme and cook until the butter is melted – 1-2 minutes. Using a large spoon, divide the citrus among the six plates, spooning it over the cake. If there is a lot of leftover juice, put the pan back on the heat and let the juice reduce – about 2 minutes. Spoon reduced juice over the cake. Serve the dessert while the citrus is still warm.