The genius of this cake is two-fold; it is not too sweet, even though it is rich; especially if you make the ganache with a little bittersweet chocolate. Additionally, the ganache icing, which gives the cake a sophisticated, shiny and smooth finish, is super easy to make and is simply poured over the cake to finish it...so there is no fuss over having to “frost” a cake.
I got the idea for this cake from a decadent lunch I recently had with my sister and brother-in-law at a restaurant called "Navarre" in Portland. Navarre is absolutely wonderful; I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area; they serve small plates, family-style, of food influenced by Catalan / Southern France & Spain. The lunch that day, which included a coarse pate with prunes, lamb "lollipop" chops with sautéed mediterranean olives, and finished with this decadent not-too-sweet almond cake and a cup of good Portland coffee has now gone down in my dinner hall of fame memory book. It was a special day that inspired me to develop this special recipe (which, incidentally, can be made dairy-free). My sister's birthday is in a few days, and I think she is going to make it for herself to mark the occasion.
Easily serves 8-10
7 oz (1 tube) almond paste, cut into 1 in pieces
1 1/4 cup sugar
16 TBS (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room-temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk (substitute unsweetened soy or other non-dairy milk if you like)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups (10-12 oz) cake flour
8 oz semi-sweet and/or bittersweet chocolate (I like to use 75% semi-sweet chocolate chips and 25% bittersweet chocolate)
Scant 1 cup heavy cream (substitute coconut cream if you want to make it non-dairy)
To Make the Cake:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 in round cake pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment; butter the parchment. (You can also use a 9 in round cake pan if you like).
In a food processor, pulse the almond paste, sugar, butter, and vanilla for about 10 seconds. Add the eggs, milk, salt, and baking powder and process for 10 more seconds. Add the flour and process for another 5-10 seconds or until smooth.
Pour the cake batter into the pan and bake for 45-55 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean). Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 5 minutes; then, turn out onto a rack and remove parchment paper; allow to cool completely before icing.
Note: while the cake is baking, start the icing, as it will need sufficient time to cool!
To Make the Ganache:
Bring cream to a simmer in heavy-bottom sauce pan. Add chocolate (if bar form instead of chips, rough chop it before adding it to the cream). Turn off the heat and let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes; then stir until glossy. Let the ganache cool completely to room temperature, so it will pour “thickly” over the cake when you are ready to frost it!
When you are ready to frost the cake, put the rack with the cake over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the ganache over the top of the cake starting in the middle; wait for it to run down the sides of the cake. If needed, pour extra ganache close to the edge of the cake to ensure the cake is completely coated.
Note: If you want a thicker frosting, put the cake in the fridge for a few minutes (rack and all) until the first ganache sets. Then pour a second layer of ganache over the cake. (Note: if doing two layers, you may want to double the ganache recipe). When the icing has set, carefully use a spatula to remove the cake from the rack and place on a decorative plate! This cake is great served with a cup of coffee!
Alternative Garnish to Chocolate Ganache: If you are not a chocolate fan, this cake can also be lightly brushed with a simple syrup (made of 3 tbs water, 3 tbs whisky (or rum or cognac) and 1/4 cup sugar simmered together and cooled). Once syrup is brushed on, garnish the top of the cake with 1 1/2 pounds of berries (slice any big pieces of strawberries, if using), then spoon 1/2 cup good apricot jam diluted with 2/3 cup boiling water over the top of the fruit and cake to glaze it. Serve each slice of cake and fruit with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream or crème fraiche.