Friday, March 4, 2011

Chocolate Almond Cake

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.

Bench notes:

- 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.

Chocolate Almond Cake
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.


Alex G said...

This looks beautiful - and I think it'd be perfect with a tall glass of cold milk as well!

I've never actually worked with almond paste, it's a bit harder to find in the UK!

Unknown said...

greetings :P!
wow, this cake's texture and crumb looks beautiful.
this is going in the baking queue this weekend!
--may finally be time to put my new acquisition of Dutched cocoa to good use.

any thoughts about whether this batter/cake would hold up in a round pan?
is your decision to use a loaf pan merely aesthetic, or based on something else? no big, just curious.

happy weekend!

Victoria said...

As usual, a tempting morsel. I was going to ask what the difference between almond paste and marzipan was, but there was the answer just waiting for me.

And, once again, all things I can get. But I know that stone fruits are lurking in your future and I will soon be green with envy.

pastry studio said...

Alex G, yes a glass of cold milk would also work!

Bryan, I guess I was thinking of this as a tea cake when I was originally working on it but it would also be very nice as a round cake. I would probably use an 8" cake pan and raise the baking temperature to 350 degrees and bake it for about 27 - 29 minutes or so. It might also take a few more sliced almonds to cover the surface.

Victoria, I am hoping our crazy weather this year won't hinder any of the anticipated crops of spring fruit. Soon!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is very interesting, I showed it to my teacher and she liked it. Can you please post the recipe for Creme Brulee?

dining tables said...

What a very nice cake this is. I love the combination. So impressive.

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Had no idea about the subtleties between almond paste and marzipan! I love almonds--in all forms--so I'll have to give this a go.

Paris Pâtisseries said...

Chocolate...almonds...yum. Looks scrumtrulescent!

Anonymous said...

This looks delicious...chocolate and almonds are a great combination!

pastry studio said...

Thanks so much for all your kind comments!

Paris Patisseries, I just saw your blog and having worked in a French patisserie here for a few years, I see you've captured some of the most iconic. Great job!

Cathy said...

Wow. Looks so amazing! I think I'm going to try to make a heart-healthy version of this with whole wheat pastry flour, and organic canola oil instead of butter.

Eileen @ Passions to Pastry said...

Looks fantastic, and it has to be with those ingredients.

Bryan said...

Hi :PS,
made this cake yesterday (finally) during the rainy monsoon passing through SF.

i was surprised how much batter it makes, and decided to go with the loaf pan after all.

the flavor is on the subtle side, but it's delicious. i added a small amount of almond extract with the vanilla.
the flavor will probably develop more tomorrow.

it's super moist and has a wonderful tender texture.

Sharon T said...

Hi! I'm new to your blog and love it. I made this cake last night with only a few tweaks for altitude (I live at 6500') It came out beautifully. My almonds were a little darker than I'd like, but other than that it is fantastic. Thank you!

pastry studio said...

Welcome, Sharon T! Glad your tweaks worked out for you. I really like this cake, too!

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm new here ^_^ Could you tell me if Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate & Cocoa powder = Dutched cocoa powder? Thanks!

pastry studio said...

Hello and welcome, Anonymous!

Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate & Cocoa powder is Dutched but you should also note that it's sweetened. I've never used this product but I Googled it to see if I could find out the sugar content level. I didn't have any luck but I did see someone post something she says is on the packaging:

"Unsweetened Cocoa Substitution: For each 1/2 C Unsweetened Cocoa, use 1 cup of Sweet Ground Cocoa and decrease the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by 1/2 C."

If that's the case, that would make it very sweet. So it then would apply to this recipe like so:

For the 1/4 C cocoa, use 1/2 C Sweet Ground Cocoa and eliminate the 1/4 C granulated sugar.

ALTHOUGH since I've never worked with or tested this particular product and the recipe calls for unsweetened Dutched cocoa powder, I really hesitate to recommend it and say you'll get the same results because everyone has their own level of taste for sugar. And the almond paste also has sugar content.

I hope this helps. Let me know how it turns out if you try it!!