Every now and then you just might need a little bit of a chocolate fix. Not a super-rich-knock-you-out mega-dose, but a nice friendly reminder that chocolate exists in this world. You know, something that satisfies your longing without sending you to the couch.
I happened to have half of a log of Odense almond paste left over from another project so I thought I should put it to good use. Since I think chocolate and almonds are soul mates, I made this loaf cake using dark Dutched cocoa for a wonderful deep flavor to match the delicious concentration of almonds in the almond paste.
If you’re wondering what the “Dutched” in Dutched cocoa is all about, it’s a process invented in the mid-1800s by Dutch chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten where the cocoa nibs are treated with an alkaline solution (usually alkaline salts like potassium or sodium carbonates) before they’re pulverized and dried. This neutralizes the acidity of natural cocoa and removes its harshness and bitterness while still retaining its complex flavor profile. Since the alkalinity is different, it's important to note when a recipe calls for natural or Dutched cocoa because the leavening will be calibrated to account for this. In some recipes it makes a big difference, in others not so much, depending on the balance of ingredients.
In this recipe, the Dutched cocoa powder is bloomed in a little bit of strong hot coffee and there is also a little touch of cinnamon to add to the complexity without overwhelming the other flavors. The resulting cake has a beautiful aroma and is very tender with a fine soft crumb that melts in your mouth. The almond and cocoa are in fine balance, so it’s really delicious without being too heavy or too rich. It also makes a nice gift to anyone who loves the beautiful conspiracy of chocolate and almonds. So brew up a cup of your favorite dark roast coffee beans and settle into a bite of this reminder of the exquisite pleasures of fine cocoa.
- Almond paste is not marzipan, which is almond paste that is made much sweeter with a lot of additional sugar. Almond paste has a higher ratio of almonds. I used Odense brand, which can be found in most markets in the baking section. Odense almond paste comes in a box containing a 7 oz log, so you can either double the recipe to use it all or you can wrap the remaining half a log in plastic wrap, place in an airtight container or ziplock bag and refrigerate it. It will keep for quite a while and there are lots of recipes available that use almond paste. Bring it to room temperature before using.
- Valrhona is probably the best Dutched cocoa powder available, but it’s quite expensive. If you use cocoa powder often and want to buy another decent brand in bulk at a cheaper price, I suggest Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder (Cacao Barry is the French division of Barry Callebaut). Chocosphere sells 1 Kg (2.2 lb) bags for $13.95.
- If you don’t have a food processor, you can break the almond paste into small clumps and using the paddle on a stand mixer, beat it with the sugar until it is blended into very fine granules. This will take awhile.
- If you don't have buttermilk, measure out 1/2 cup of milk and add 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice.
Makes 1 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/4 C Dutch process cocoa powder
1/4 C strong hot coffee
1/2 C buttermilk @ room temperature
1 t vanilla
3 1/2 oz almond paste
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C dark brown sugar
4 oz butter @ room temperature
2 eggs @ room temperature
1/3 C sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pan and line with a wide strip of parchment paper, leaving a couple of inches of overhang on the long sides of the pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and salt and set aside.
Mix the cocoa powder into the hot coffee and whisk until smooth.
Combine the buttermilk and vanilla.
Cut the almond paste into thin slices and place in the bowl of a food processor along with the 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Process for a couple of minutes until the paste is broken into fine granules and blended with the sugar. Pour this mixture into the bowl of a mixer, add the 1/2 cup of brown sugar and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the butter and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Scrape down the bowl.
Add the chocolate mixture and beat until just combined.
Lower the speed and add flour in three batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Mix until it just about comes together. Finish blending the ingredients off the mixer, using a rubber spatula to fold by hand until there are no streaks of flour or butter.
Pour into the prepared pan and smooth out evenly. Distribute the sliced almonds over the batter and press gently into the surface.
Bake for about 55 minutes minutes or until a tester inserted comes out fairly clean with just a few crumbs attached.
Cool completely on a wire rack. Gently lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment paper as handles. Remove the parchment and serve.