COOKING ADVENTURE #18: Flourless Lemon Almond Cake
I’m beginning to think that certain creators of recipes are duping me into thinking that they are easy. For one, they say right under the title of the recipe that they are “simple” and “easy to make”. Such could be said about this recipe for Flourless Lemon Almond Cake. It’s a Spanish/Mediterranean dish that is also gluten-free because it doesn’t use any flour. Of course, I probably should have been tipped off right away that there would be some rather demanding instructions for this cake. The first line of the flourless cake recipe is “Butter and flour a 9 inch baking pan.”
…Really? I suppose they couldn’t call it “Mostly Flourless Lemon Almond Cake” either. Sounds less decadent, I suppose.
Some backstory now, in case anyone was curious to know where my mindset was this evening. I started the day with my hypochondriac assumption that I’d somehow inadvertently dislocated my jaw. I set out to prove this by going to the doctor’s office during work only to have him tell me that I’d “strained” it. And in order to make it all better, I have to ice the jaw muscles for the next two weeks and “limit my chewing and talking.” So… what do you think, guys? Should I take up miming? Anyway, my jaw was (and still is) is a ton of pain by the time I got home from work. Now, we begin our baking story…
I started out the recipe by putting my attention on the batter. The first order of business concerns 1 and 1/3 cups of slivered blanched almonds and two tablespoons of sugar. I hauled out the Magic Bullet from my cupboard and set it up on the counter. In to the twist in container, I put the sugar and then turned to the almonds. I bought one package of them, assuming that it would be enough. And… I came out with about 1 and 1/8th cup of almonds. I added it all to the container, twisted the blade attachment into it and pressed it into the processor. The Magic Bullet fired up, grinding the almonds and sugar into a very fine ground mix, all the while making enough noise to rival a fan-boat. When I was finally done, I tapped the blade attachment on the bottom to loosen the almonds that had gotten stuck there and promptly unscrewed it. And much to my chagrin, a ton of ground almond fell out anyway, covering my kitchen counter and part of the stove.
After cleaning it up and transferring everything to a smaller bowl, I turned to the second part of the mix; the grated lemon peel. I was going to do it right this time, honest. I was going to pull out my mandolin, set it up with the grating blade and grate each lemon with precision. Well, it was already 8:30 by this time. I knew it would take me at least another hour to do everything (which is pretty usual for me… I’m not the best in the kitchen, after all). So, I resorted to use Matilda instead.
To her credit, Matilda performed quite well. She didn’t give me any backtalk and she didn’t try to slice my fingers open… too much. I grated two and a half lemons onto a plate, steadily working out the muscles in my arms as I did so. Soon enough, my kitchen smelled of wonderful fresh lemon, the plate (and some of the counter around it) was covered in lemon peel, and I had a couple naked lemons sitting before me. Matilda’s grating dress was completely covered in lemon. There was a moment where we stopped and regarded one another and I swear there was a millisecond of understanding between the two of us. Then, I cut myself on her while trying to get one last piece of the lemon grated. So, I threw her in the sink and went on with the recipe.
I ended up grating too much lemon peel, as I only needed 5 tbsp. for the recipe. I added 6. I like my cake lemony. The rest I stored in the freezer… not sure if that was a good idea or not. I’ll find out. I added 2 more tbsp. of sugar to the bowl, 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Then, the next step: adding egg whites.
If there is anything that I was born to do in the kitchen, it is to separate egg yolks from egg whites. Even though this process is gooey and rather slimy, I had absolutely no trouble in doing it and have to admit, I’m glad. I’d rather have not had to clean up egg mess from my kitchen floor. I added the four egg yolks to the lemon concoction and mixed them with a whisk. The directions said to use an electric mixer. I didn’t want to have to pull it out because it was about 9 by this time… and I have neighbors. And I’m sure they didn’t want to have to hear that. After that looked smooth, I added in the almond and sugar mixture until that was blended. Then, after whisking, I looked at the directions. I wanted to hit myself. I had to use an electric mixer on the egg whites. So much for being considerate.
My electric mixer was a gift. It performs well but it is quite loud and the “low” setting is almost more like the “medium” setting. I’ve never done the turbo setting on this mixer… a friend did once and I’m pretty sure the sound was equivalent to a dolphin’s shriek. I kept the mixer on low in order to do the egg whites. I placed the beaters into the bowl with the egg whites and turned on the power to the lowest setting. The glass bowl vibrated on the counter so I had to hold it against me with one hand and blend with the other. It lessened the noise a little but it was still pretty loud. And I stood there, and blended… and blended… and blended.
After probably a good ten minutes of that, I turned off the mixer, and ejected the beaters into the sink full of dishes. I was supposed to fold in one large spoonful of egg white into the lemon/almond mix. I did so, and immediately noticed that something was not right. Bubbles formed along the top and everything got kind of watery. I checked the directions again. Crap. I was supposed to have added 4 tbsp. sugar to the egg whites while I was blending them. I turned to the sink and washed off the beaters that I’d jettisoned there.
At this point, I took the electric mixer, the sugar, and the glass bowl into my living room to mix them there so that my neighbors wouldn’t have to be tortured anymore. There, I mixed everything until it was “stiff, but not dry”. I’m sorry but… “Stiff but not dry?” Those egg whites thickened quite well but I definitely wouldn’t have called them “stiff” at any point. And I was there blending for probably another 10 to 15 minutes! At some point, I just said “Screw it” and returned to the kitchen. There, I mixed the fluffy egg whites in with the rest of the almond/lemon mixture. It still seemed a bit more liquidy to me than necessary and I cringed with a large bubble rose to the surface and popped… like something one might see at a hot spring or in a volcano.
Now, the pan. I turned up the oven to 375 to preheat and pulled out my 9 inch circular baking pan. The directions wanted me to butter and flour the bottom of this pan. I took several pieces of butter and used my fingers to smear them all over the bottom of the pan and up around the sides. Then, I took a little flour and tapped it around the bottom of the pan to coat it evenly.
Next, the directions wanted me to cut a piece of wax paper to sit on top of that. I had to look at the directions a few times. Is it just me or does that seem like… overkill? If you butter and flour the bottom of the pan, shouldn’t the cake come out easier anyway? What is the deal with using the wax paper in addition to that? I wasn’t going to argue though. I pulled out a sheet of wax paper and laid it down. I had to cut a perfect 9 inch circle to fit in the bottom of the baking pan. So I took up a pencil and went about tracing one out. I felt like I was back in high school geometry class. I was waiting for the directions to ask me to measure radii and diameters and multiply them by pi. After I’d cut out the circle, I smooshed it into the pan and said, “Good enough!” I poured the batter into the pan and quickly shoved it in the oven.
The directions said that it would take 35 minutes for this thing to cook. I did the dishes. When there was 15 minutes left to cook, I hazarded a look at the cake in the oven. Good thing I did. It was all done and ready to come out. I’m not sure why the person thought it needed so much time to cook… 20 minutes was just fine. The cake had shrunk away from the sides of the pan but thankfully, it hadn’t collapsed or anything. I checked it through with toothpicks just to be sure. All clean.
Traditionally, this cake is meant to be eaten with Almond Icecream. Fresh out, I’m afraid. I had to make due with plain ole vanilla and I added a slice of naked lemon for garnish. The cake had a very interesting texture, still kind of crunchy because of the almonds but very lemony as well. I think the crunchiness is because I didn’t use the electric mixer on the almond mixture to smooth it out. Still, very tasty. If someone added frosting to it, it would be a very sweet little cake for a tea party or a birthday celebration.
Next week on Cooking Adventures will be a special one indeed. It will be my first cooking co-op with my friend, Celena. We’ll be making sugar cookies… but they will be no ordinary sugar cookies. I’d like to keep it as much of a surprise as possible for you! Stay-tuned!
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