Today’s dessert is for almond lovers only, but isn’t that pretty much everyone? As it is, few people have a greater affinity for almond than do the Spanish, who not only grow the nut in orchards throughout the country, but who also started California’s championship almond industry when they settled the territory. It’s only fitting, then, that Spaniards invented a beautifully fragrant cake, Torta de Santiago, that celebrates all that is almond.
The recipe made it into the September/October 2018 Milk Street magazine, and not only is the top layered with a generous serving of almonds, but the cake itself is made from almond flour, not wheat flour. Not only does this amplify the sweet almond-y profile, but it makes this gluten-free, which concerns more than one of you. Finally came the personal decision to add a splash or two of Disaronno, which accented all the other almonds and makes the cake even moister.
Not to worry. Though the liqueur is from neighboring Italy, Spain reclaims its honor with a fresh dollop of sherry-infused whipped cream. Nice enough on its own, but taken together with a bite of cake, it’s superb. The sherry’s sweetness accompanies the almonds’ haunting melody. So much so, that it seems to have been invented just for that purpose.
Then there’s the crust. As the cake bakes, the turbinado sugar and the sliced almonds that top the dessert merge together to form a thin layer that’s simultaneously crunchy and chewy. It’s almost a paper-thin almond brittle, which toasted almonds make all the more satisfying. This also provides a pleasing textural contrast with the tender cake and the smooth dollop of sherry cream.
It comes together to create a confection that subtly plays off the almond’s sweetness. This is a dessert for adults. The sweetness is nuanced and sophisticated, going perfectly with the sherry-infused cream. Almond cake, almond britle and almond liqeure prove that the more almonds, the better.
Torta de Santiago
(Spanish Almond Cake)
- 1 cup, plus two tablespoons sugar
- 3 large eggs, plus 3 large egg whites
- 1/2 taspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (*1)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 and 1/2 cups almond flour
- 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds (*2)
Place a rack at middle height in the oven and preheat to 350°. Lin a 9-inch round baking pan with parchment paper and spritz it all with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, vigorously whisk the white sugar, eggs, salt and both extracts until well-combined, about thirty seconds. Add the almond flour and whisk to combine. Pour the batter into the cake pan you prepared.
Sprinkle the top evenly with almonds and turbinado sugar, and bake for 50 minutes.
Let cool on a wire rack for fifteen minutes, then remove cake from pan, discard the parchment paper, slice and serve with Sherry Whipped Cream (recipe below).
1 – Instead, I use a couple teaspoons of Disaronno. After all, almond extract is mainly alcohol anyway, and the cordial adds a nice flavor.
2 – The original recipe specifies the sliced almonds be chopped. Less work to leave them whole, and it gives the topping a nicer, more unified texture.
Sherry Whipped Cream
- 1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon sherry
Put a mixer bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer. After fifteen minutes, attach the bowl and the whisk to the mixer and pour the cream into the bowl. Pour in the powdered sugar and mix at low speed, until the two combine. With motor still running, pour in the sherry. Gradually increase motor speed to high an whip until cream is light and fluffy, and stiff peaks form, about ten minutes. Spoon a dollop onto each plate, or use a pastry bag.