Classic Cake Day: Caramelized Almond Cake with Spiced Poached Pears

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[Classic Cake Day revisits some of our favorite cakes from the first year or so, before the blog. We made this cake in November 2017.]

Jordan: We spent the entire process of making this cake convinced that it was going to be terrible.

Kitra: The process of this cake is a little bonkers to start with, and then you bake it until done, up the temperature, and bake it for another 10 minutes so it should be dry and sad. But it’s not.

Honestly, this is possibly my favorite cake we’ve ever made. Definitely in the top few. I did not share.

Neither did I. This makes a great dessert, snack, breakfast, lunch, etc. It’s a perfect cake for every occasion except for a nut allergy convention.

The cake is light and pleasant, but the real star here is the topping. Don’t be afraid of the caramel—you’re not actually caramelizing anything on the stove, just heating it all up and letting the oven do the work.

Because this is a fairly simple cake, we also decided to add some fruit! Poached pears make your apartment smell great, and they taste even better. One note though: if you try to decorate the cake with just two pears, they look like a butt. This was a really hard cake to photograph.

The cake and pears are both great on their own, but together they’re even better. If the words “caramelized almonds” didn’t sell you from the start, though, I’m not sure what else we can say.

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Caramelized Almond Cake

From David Lebovitz

Notes

TRUST THE RECIPE. You’re going to feel like this cake is all wrong and like you’re definitely messing it up, but just roll with it. It’ll all come out fine, and if it doesn’t, it’ll still be good crumbled into yogurt.

You’ll want to lightly toast your almonds before you start on the cake and set them aside to cool while you make the batter.

As with all cakes made in springform pans, it’s a good idea to put a baking sheet on the rack underneath the cake to catch any drips.

Finally, you can top this cake with anything you like. Pears were in season when we first made it, but it would also be great with fresh citrus in winter or berries in the summer. You can also eat it plain without feeling like you’re missing anything at all.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 5 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (150g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the topping

  • 1 1/2 cups (150g) sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 stick (½ cup, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup packed (125g) brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk, preferably whole
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325º. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the milk and vinegar or lemon juice and set aside until needed.

In a small saucepan or the microwave, heat 5 tablespoons butter until mostly melted and set aside. You want it to be still liquid but fairly cool by the time you add it to the batter.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer or a large bowl and electric beater, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until it holds a soft peak, about 5 minutes.

Use a flexible spatula to fold one third of the dry ingredients into the eggs, followed by half the milk, another third of the dry ingredients, the remaining milk, and finally the last third of the dry ingredients. Try to be gentle and deflate the mixture as little as possible, but recognize that you’re going to lose a little volume. It’s okay.

Once the butter is no longer warm, pour it into the batter and carefully fold until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Once you remove the cake from the oven, increase the heat to 390º. (Yes, 390º.)

While the cake is in the oven, make the topping. Melt ½ cup butter, brown sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes, until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds. Set the mixture aside until the cake is out of the oven.

Once the cake comes out of the oven, pour the almond mixture over top and gently spread it out as best as possible. You want it to come all the way to the edges, but avoid breaking the cake itself.

Return the cake to the (now 390º) oven and bake 8-10 minutes, until the caramel is bubbling. Cool the cake completely before serving; running a knife around the edge after about 5 minutes will make it easier to remove from the pan.

Spiced Poached Pears

From Serious Eats

Notes

You can adjust the spices slightly if, for example, you’d like to add some cardamom or replace the anise with cloves. Don’t toss the leftover syrup when you’re done; it’s great stirred into tea.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup white wine, preferably dry
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 vanilla bean pod (or a partial or scraped pod if you have one left over rom something else)
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole peeled pears, slightly under-ripe is best

Combine all ingredients except for pears in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Add the pears.

Cut a parchment circle slightly larger than the pot. Cut a 1-inch hole in the center (it should look like a giant paper donut) and press the parchment on top of the liquid. The goal here is to keep the pears submerged and the liquid from evaporating too much.

Simmer until pears are tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the liquid before serving alongside cake.

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