Other people’s recipes: Sarah Mullins’s almond cake for Cook’s Illustrated

And now the second post in this series of things I did last weekend. I have a few more photos this time around, and I can actually present nutrition data. If the chicken stew was an example of the Test Kitchen’s cooks pulling out the stops to amp up the flavor, this is an example of the other side of the Test Kitchen’s repertoire: take a classic European pastry, decide that Americans won’t like it, and change it into something else. It’s not bad — but it’s not really the “elegant European dessert” the display type advertises, either. To Mullins’s credit, the body text actually admits this, but I’ll be wanting to try actual European (or at least European-style) recipes before drawing any conclusions as to which is better. (I have a suspicion I’ll prefer the denser European ones, just because “denser” is usually a good guess when it comes to my own cake preferences — more like tortes than anything else.)

Down to the details. The recipe, “Best Almond Cake” ($) appeared in the January, 2014, issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and was featured on America’s Test Kitchen episode 1502, “Almond Cake and British Scones” — although in this case regular TV cook Bridget Lancaster (the only regular on the TV show who doesn’t also appear on the magazine’s masthead) presents the recipe rather than the magazine article’s author, Assistant Test Cook Sarah Mullins.

The recipe starts out by toasting blanched sliced almonds, which are used in two ways: first, they are ground and mixed with the other dry ingredients of the cake batter, and then later, more toasted almonds are used to top the cake.

Most of the mise (one step done)
In this photo, I’ve already toasted and ground the almonds that form part of the flour mixture (seen in the foreground). The second step is to whip four eggs together with sugar and additional flavorings — still in the food processor. (Both the magazine article and the TV show explain how whipping the eggs in the food processor changes their structure in a way that leads to a flatter, denser cake.)

After preparing the batter in the food processor
The fats — a mixture of vegetable oil and melted butter — are added to the egg-sugar mixture, with the processor running, to create an emulsion, and then the almond-flour mixture is pulsed in until just combined. The resulting batter comes just up to the capacity line in my food processor, as shown in the photo above. This is then poured into a greased and lined cake pan — I used a springform pan for ease of extraction — and topped with more toasted almonds and a mixture of sugar and lemon zest. This is then baked about an hour at a fairly low temperature (only 300°F).

Top of fully baked cake
After cooling in the pan for a quarter of an hour, the cake is extracted (again, using a springform pan made this easy) and allowed to cool for another couple of hours on a wire rack.

Side of baked cake
The cake formed a lovely browned crust on the side…

Half of cake
…while the crumb was moist and golden. (I cut the cake in half to take these photos, but neglected to get a picture of a single slice!)

Close-up of topping
I did not care for the sugary topping, which (as shown in this photo) remained fairly loose and granular even after baking.

Close-up of cake showing crumb texture
In this close-up you can see that the cake was slightly underdone — I think that’s actually the puncture from where I put my tester in — and could perhaps have used five more minutes of baking time. No complaints, though — as mentioned above, I prefer cakes on the fudgy side anyway!

Blood-orange supremes
The recipe comes with a suggested sauce, really just flavored and sweetened crème fraîche. It starts with supremes of two oranges; the first oranges I grabbed when I looked in my fridge happened to be blood oranges, which give a lovely color to the sauce. Supreming oranges is a pain, though. The recipe also uses some grated orange zest, sugar, salt, and of course the crème fraîche (a cup of it). The result:

Finished sauce
It was very, very tasty indeed, and a great simple sauce; the only thing to keep it from being an everyday sweet sauce is the crème fraîche itself — which although it’s readily available in the supermarket these days is not commonly found in people’s refrigerators. (Of course, you can also make your own, as I discussed last spring, but that requires as much advance planning as it does to just buy it with your regular groceries.) I’ll probably be doing more with crème fraîche later this year as I work through some of Joanne Chang’s recipes where it’s an important ingredient.

I brought the cake into work and it was very well received, although a few of my coworkers were a bit dubious about the sauce. That said, I still had a quarter cake left over, which I put out on our tasters mailing-list (a slightly more limited circulation than vultures), and by the time I got out of my after-lunch meeting, it was nearly gone — pretty good for the last week of winter break.


I cut the cake into eight slices for service, but once people insisted on further cutting up the slices, I cut the remaining slices in half. I’ve based this calculation on eight slices.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/8 cake
Servings per recipe: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 486 Calories from fat 261
% Daily Value
Total Fat 29g 45%
 Saturated Fat 7g 34%
 Monounsaturated Fat 5g
 Polyunsaturated Fat 5g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 108mg 36%
Sodium 292mg 12%
Potassium 37mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 49g 16%
 Dietary fiber 3g 10%
 Sugars 36g
Proteins 9g 18%
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 6%
Iron 8%

For the orange crème fraîche, I based the calculation on navel oranges (rather than the smaller blood oranges I used) and figured on two tablespoons of sauce per serving (thus 16 servings per recipe). When I brought this into work, I had a significant amount of the sauce left over (which unfortunately I had to toss).

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 2 tbsp (exclusive of orange segments)
Servings per recipe: about 16
Amount per serving
Calories 70 Calories from fat 54
% Daily Value
Total Fat 6g 9%
 Saturated Fat 4g 18%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 13mg 4%
Sodium 21mg 1%
Potassium 29mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 4g 1%
 Dietary fiber <1g 2%
 Sugars 3g
Proteins 0g 0%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 17%
Calcium 2%
Iron 0%
This entry was posted in Food and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.