Not your standard birthday cake: Flourless Almond Poppy Torte

My parents came all the way “back east” (as Oregonians say it) this weekend for a quick visit in honor of my mother’s birthday. We packed as much New York into two days as you can, really, hiking across town to see an amazing show of Picasso’s late work at the Gagosian gallery, wandering through the West Village (and popping into a sample sale), and enjoying the patches of sun between buildings. We traversed Chinatown and looked in fancy boutiques on the Lower East Side. When my mom suggested we split up for a break in late afternoon, I snatched the opportunity to do a little surprise birthday-cake baking.

I’ve been eyeing this recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini for a long time—it seemed the perfect halfway point between light poppy seed loaf cakes and the dense poppy filling of hammentachen. Exotic, yet humble. My mother doesn’t like desserts to be too sweet, so I knew she’d appreciate this one. I threw it together before we left for dinner, realizing I had nowhere near the original amount of poppyseeds called for. Luckily, I had plenty of almond meal to make up the difference. I emailed my father and let him in on the plan, scheming to skip dessert at the restaurant and take a casual walk after dinner that would just happen to end up at our apartment. Matt even went out to buy birthday candles.

The plan went off without a hitch. When I suggested we pause in our post-dinner walk “to use the bathroom” at the apartment, no one blinked. Upstairs, the candle-studded cake was a total surprise. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone baked her a birthday cake.

And it was good. Sophisticated and deeply scented with almond and citrus, this torte was just barely sweet and quite satisfying. It was actually even better a few days later as a snack in the afternoon with Orange Pekoe tea. The proportion of poppy to almond was pretty perfect as written below, Clotilde’s original might even be too many poppy seeds for many people. I would serve this at a brunch or after a light meal, and certainly would make it at least a few hours or even a day ahead. It was lovely topped with cherries, though you could fancy it up with some almond-scented whipped cream or maybe a citrus compote. Just make sure you are among friends, or sneak out and check for seeds between your teeth.

Flourless Almond Poppy Torte
adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

For the cake
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup unsalted almond butter
1/2 cup plus 2 T  light brown raw cane sugar
the zest of an organic orange and the zest of half a lemon, finely grated
4 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups + 2 T almond meal (available at Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup poppy seeds
pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder

for the citrus glaze
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
about 1 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a 8-inch springform cake pan.

Combine the butter, almond butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and the orange zest in a large bowl. Cream together with handheld electric mixer (or in a stand mixer) for 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and mix until fluffy.

Combine the almond meal and poppy seeds in a medium bowl.

In a clean, grease-free bowl, combine the egg whites with the salt and baking powder. Using an electric mixer, beat until the egg whites are fluffy. Add the remaining 2 T of sugar, and keep beating until the egg whites form a smooth and glossy mass.

Working with a light hand, add one third of the egg whites to the first mixture and stir with a spatula to lighten. Fold in half of the poppy seed mixture. Add another third of the egg whites, folding it in gently with a spatula. Fold in the remaining poppy seed mixture, and add the last of the egg whites, working very gently to keep as much air as possible in the egg whites, until the egg whites are completely incorporated. Don’t worry if the mixture is a little lumpy.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, until puffy and lightly brown. Turn the oven off and leave the cake inside to set for another 10 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack, let cool for 10 more minutes. Run a knife around the cake to loosen, then remove sides of pan. Let cool completely before glazing, if possible.

If you choose to glaze the cake, put the confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl, pour in a teaspoon of lemon juice, and whisk it in with a fork to form a smooth paste. Whisk in orange juice, drop by drop, until the mixture is thin enough to be easily spreadable, but not yet runny. Pour the glaze on the cake and let it set somewhere cool.

Cake keeps well, wrapped tightly in cellophane and placed in an airtight bag, for at least two days. Sprinkle with powdered sugar for a pretty presentation.

In almond, baking, cake, dessert

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