It is 45 degrees here this morning. The sky is clear and big and bright blue, and the last of the snow is melting. Even the spot where the plows had pushed up a good eight feet at the end of the driveway has nearly disappeared. There is the smell of dirt and life in the air, and the first green shoots are pushing up as the earth thaws and warms. It seems like a nice day, then, to celebrate the end of winter. I spied the last of the winter citrus jelly I made in March in my refrigerator this morning and decided to make a little cake to say farewell to winter and welcome to spring. So I baked a brown butter almond cake, and smeared the layers with the jelly, and topped it with the last of the slices of candied citrus from last month, too. I had preserved them in some vanilla syrup, and they are just as pretty as can be, tiny slices of kumquat, small slices of meyer lemon and tangerine, and big moons of cara cara orange and grapefruit, all flecked with vanilla seeds. And the cake, well, it’s as pretty as can be, too: lofty egg whites with browned butter, deeply toasted almonds, and nothing to interfere with these pure flavors. Oh my. It’s somehow both light and rich, and the bittersweet honey of the jelly and the candied citrus are a nice counterpoint. I baked this into a three-layer miniature cake and put the rest of the batter into a two-cup bundt pan. I covered it with cellophane and will bring it to room temperature tomorrow before I bake it off and then dust it with confectioners’ sugar or drape it in a glaze, probably bitter chocolate. You could use any baking pan you’d like, or even a muffin tin. Just adjust the baking time, checking the cakes every few minutes until they are done. When it’s just the three of us, I like to bake like this so that we have two modest desserts with a variation on a theme, rather than one big dessert that gets sad looking and eventually tossed. It’s no more fuss, really, just a few more peeks in the oven, and such a delicious reward.
Brown Butter Almond Cake
Yield: one four-inch, three-layer cake plus one two-cup bundt cake
½ c. unsalted butter
1 ¼ c. confectioners’ sugar
¾ c. whole almonds
½ t. baking powder
¾ c. all purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur.)
6 egg whites
1/3 c. sugar
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Butter 3 four-inch cake pans and a 2-cup bundt pan. Or butter any baking pan you’d like to use, or even a muffin tin. You will just need to adjust the baking time if you use another pan, checking the cake or cakes every few minutes until they are done.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake them for 10 minutes, giving the tray a shake halfway through the baking time.
- Lower your oven heat to 350 degrees F.
- In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Cook the butter until it is a deep brown. Watch it carefully as it progresses, as it may burn quickly. Remove it from the heat and set it aside until it is tepid.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the almonds, flour, confectioners’ sugar, and baking powder. Process until the almonds are finely ground, about one minute.
- In a medium bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they are quite stiff, about three minutes.
- Ever so slowly add the sugar. Beat for one additional minute.
- Add the tepid brown butter and beat gently to combine.
- Add the almond and flour mixture in two batches and mix gently only until combined. Do not overmix.
- Divide the batter into the pans and bake the small cakes for 18-23 minutes, or until they take on just a bit of pale golden brown and they spring back when pressed lightly in the center. Bake the bundt cake separately until it is done. If you wish to bake it another day, cover it and store it in the refrigerator. Then bring it to room temperature and bake it at 350 dgrees F until it is light golden and springs back when pressed lightly in the center. I would start with 15 minutes and then begin checking the cake every few minutes.
- To assemble the cake, tip out the cake layers by inverting them and giving them a little tap.
- Trim the cake layers using a serrated knife to level their tops.
- Place a layer on a cake plate, smear it with jelly, continue until you have all three layers laced with jelly, and top it with candied citrus slices, if you wish. You could dust the cake with a little confectioners’ sugar if you don’t have candied citrus.