Here’s another test recipe from The Dinner Party That Wasn’t Meant To Be… At least I’ll be prepared when we’re able to reschedule.
Several years ago, I was a bit less resilient in the kitchen than I am now. If a recipe failed, I’d be likely to toss it aside rather that make adjustments and try again. I just wasn’t an experienced enough cook to know how to do a better job the next time.
When I first tried the Almond Torte recipe from the January/February 2004 issue of Everyday Food (actually back in 2004, I believe), it was a spectacular failure. The cake was dry, and I think I managed to peel off the entire almond layer when I removed piece of parchment that had lined the bottom of the pan. Somehow, though, this recipe stuck with me through the years. I would think back on it because I had wanted it to work so badly (it’s a gorgeous, potentially delicious cake with only four Weight Watchers points per serving – seriously!), but I was never really motivated to give it another shot.
I have a very dear friend here in Denver who doesn’t eat wheat or dairy, and I’ve had her over for dinner and such several times since we moved back to Colorado. As I’ve said before, she never expects any kind of special treatment, but I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with delicious dishes that everyone at the table can enjoy when she comes over. In the beginning, I was more focused on taking “regular” dishes and making them gluten and dairy free by omitting certain ingredients or using things like gluten-free flour or specific brands of rice or soy milk. I’ve discovered, though, that I much prefer making dishes that are naturally gluten and dairy free.
I was scanning my dessert recipe spreadsheet for options when I realized that the Almond Torte was exactly what I needed. It had a short list of naturally gluten- and dairy-free ingredients: almonds, powdered sugar, egg whites, salt, and almond extract. I just needed to be brave enough to give the recipe a second try. The most recent Daring Bakers’ challenge actually helped me feel more prepared; I know way more now about what almond flour and/or meal should look like. Five more years in the kitchen have also exponentially increased my comfort level when working with egg whites. I was ready to kick this one in the tail.
There are some very important differences between the recipe as it is printed in the magazine and as it is posted online, so I’m going to provide you with the printed version. Afterwards, I’ll discuss the techniques I used for getting it right this time.
Prep time: 20 minutes | Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Note: Cut the paper liner before making the batter, but do not spray and line the pan until the batter is ready; this will prevent the spray from pooling in the bottom of the pan.
1 1/2 cups plus 1/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
Nonstick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 325F. Cut a piece of wax or parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch round nonstick cake pan; set aside.
Process 1 1/2 cups almonds with 3/4 cup sugar in a food processor until finely ground; set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; beat until peaks are stiff and glossy. Beat in extract. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in almond mixture in two additions.
Coat cake pan with cooking spray; line with reserved paper round. Spray lined pan; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 cup almonds. Gently spread batter in pan; tap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until golden brown and firm in the center, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan; invert onto rack. (Gently remove parchment before serving.)
Source: Everyday Food, January/February 2004
Here are my tips for perfect results:
- I’m not sure if it makes a difference, but I used parchment paper – not wax paper – to line my pan.
- The printed recipe says to use “sliced almonds,” while the online recipe says to use “sliced blanched almonds.” I didn’t want the almond skins in my homemade almond meal, but I could only find slivered blanched almonds, not sliced. My compromise was to use 1 1/2 cups of slivered blanched almonds to make the batter, while I used regular sliced almonds for the top layer of the cake. Everything worked out beautifully.
- I actually processed my almonds in three batches to get almond meal that I thought was ground finely enough. I processed 1/2 cup of almonds with 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, pulsing until the mixture was pretty finely ground. Using a fine-mesh sieve, I sifted the almond meal into a medium bowl and then put any chunks that didn’t make it through the sieve back into the food processor with the next batch of almonds and sugar. In the end, there were still some bits that were too big to be sieved, but a large percentage of the meal was as fine as flour. Just don’t get overzealous with your processing or attempt to process any almonds without powdered sugar; you’ll end up with almond butter.
- Neither recipe mentions this, but I always bring my egg whites to room temperature before beating them for better volume. Letting them sit (covered) on the counter for about 30 minutes will do it. (If you’re short on time, nest the container of egg whites in a larger container of warm – not hot! – water, but don’t get any water in the whites.) Eggs separate better when they’re cold, though, so separate them before bringing them to room temperature. Also, be sure to use a copper, stainless steel, or glass bowl when you beat your egg whites. Plastic bowls can hang onto residual fats, which will interfere with your egg whites reaching maximum volume.
- I didn’t even realize I had done this until now, but I actually used 2 tablespoons of superfine baking sugar when I beat my egg whites instead of 2 more tablespoons of powdered sugar. Since I was happy with my results, I would do this again next time.
- The printed recipe says to use 3/4 teaspoon of almond extract, while the online recipe cuts it back to 1/2 teaspoon. If you like a strong almond flavor, use the full 3/4 teaspoon of extract. I’ll probably try the 1/2 teaspoon the next time I make the torte to see if we enjoy a more subtle flavor.
- Both the printed and online recipes have suggested baking times of 40 to 45 minutes, but my cake was done in 35.
If you love almond flavor, this torte is straight from heaven. And despite the fact that it doesn’t contain any flour, oil, or butter, the recipe actually does make cake! It’s really moist with a delicate crumb, and the crunch from the top layer of almonds is a terrific textural accent. This recipe is a winner, especially for those looking for a light treat (only 184 calories per slice!) or a gluten- and dairy-free treat.
TIPS: Many of you already know this, but if you’re going to cook or bake for someone with gluten or dairy allergies (or any kind of allergy for that matter), double-check the packaging of your ingredients to make sure the ingredient has not been exposed to trace amounts of the allergen. Bob’s Red Mill, for example, sells a variety of products that are certified gluten free.
Recipe link: Almond Torte