I fell in love with my mother’s cream-colored Kitchen Aid stand mixer at a very young age. I have photographic proof that its storage cupboard beneath the counter-top was my favorite place to hide. Watching the paddle attachment mix up cookie dough was better than cartoons, and there was nothing I loved more than swiping my little chubby finger across the arms of the paddle to scrape off cookie dough that remained long after she scraped the bowl.
It was so easy to fall in love with the mixer because baking was a big deal in our house; all of our birthday cakes were homemade from scratch. My mother had scads of cookie recipes she knew by heart and she kept them in a little green photo album that looked more like a scrapbook of keepsakes than it did a recipe book. Somewhere in there was the recipe she would use to make gingerbread boxes to wrap gifts IN, when she had the time. Needless to say that holiday cookie baking was a tremendous production; we had recipes that we made year after year, and always a few that we were trying for the first time, and we’d spread out the process + production over a couple of weeks surrounding the Christmas holiday so that there were plates upon plates of cookies for guests, friends, loved ones, and visitors to take home when they left after a visit.
I was just getting ready to turn 12 years old on the Christmas when my mother discovered she was gluten-intolerant. Unlike others with the condition, my mother’s dis-ease didn’t present as digestive distress; instead, she’d get systemic rashes over her body that wouldn’t heal for weeks. At that time, we didn’t even know what gluten was, what it was in, how you became intolerant to it. What we did quickly learn was that gluten was in EVERYTHING. Our breads, breakfast cereals, and favorite snacks – yes – but also in our salad dressings, soups, favorite beverages (!!) and all sorts of other places that protein from grains didn’t seem to belong. I can’t even begin to describe how challenging transitioning away from gluten was for her; it was heartbreaking to watch someone who so loved to cook for others struggle to find things she could cook to eat for herself. This said, it was even more heartbreaking to realize that our cookie traditions were going to have to change, and for good.
I was determined that holiday, and pulled the Kitchen Aid mixer attempting to replace all the gluten flours in our traditional recipes with alternative flours that my mother could enjoy. Most of my attempts were rudimentary, and uninformed, and so many of them were unsuccessful, but a seed of curiosity was planted and I kept trying in the years to come, we discovered a few things that filled that holiday gap, and some things that could just never be the same without gluten. Slowly, surely, we all learned to navigate my mothers’ alternative diet and slowly, surely, products came on the market and more information became available for those with conditions similar to hers. Either way, that mixer became a symbol of curiosity, perseverance in a way. When I went to college a few years later, I didn’t want a computer, I wanted a Kitchen Aid. I didn’t actually know how I would function without the occasional “click + whir” of that sound that meant home.
In the years since, she’s learned that not only can she not eat gluten, but many other grains as well. And in my years since, I did finally get a Kitchen Aid mixer, and I’ve developed quite a few recipes that she, too, can enjoy, and have found a whole slew of others that I’ll continue to tackle. This weekend, I pulled together really special; a birthday cake made especially for my mom, whipped up in my very own Kitchen Aid, and baked in my very own Boulder kitchen.
This flourless almond cake was my mother’s birthday gift from me, and its a gift that will keep on giving to us for years to come, I just know. It’s a completely simple recipe that doesn’t take long to bake, and was loved by all the food/butter/gluten-loving guests at her small, but boisterous birthday party. It’s completely flour-free, and features eggs and almond paste to set it up. I do use 1.5 Tbsp granulated sugar here (because you make a meringue and that requires granulated sugar for best results,) so it’s not technically “paleo” for those of you working to avoid processed sugars, this is a pretty good recipe to keep in your back pocket.
So, a few notes on the preparation here. The fussiest part about this recipe is that you have to make a meringue. You can do this by hand with a whisk if you like (as I did this time around – see above!), but I recommend using your stand mixer or a hand mixer because you’ll get better volume on the meringue (which makes for a more lovely finished cake.) This means you have to consider some logistics before you mix up the cake: if you just have a stand mixer, you’ll want to make the almond batter then transfer it to a bowl so you can wash it, and make the meringue inside. If you have an immersion with a whisk attachment, you can use any old deep bowl to make your meringue which will save you time and energy. If you don’t yet have an immersion blender, I highly recommend getting one — you won’t be sorry!
So, once you have the meringue, you’re going to need to fold it into the almond batter without deflating it. You’ll want to use a proper folding technique (like the one that I show in this little video on how to “Fold Batter Like a Boss.” As far as the ingredients, buy the best almond paste you can find. The cheap stuff tastes exactly like what it is….cheap and fake. It’s very important that you place parchment in the bottom of the cake pan here, so that the cake releases. So important that you’ll actually get a little tutorial from me on the importance of parchment paper (and how to cut perfect rounds) this upcoming Saturday.
Let me know what you think about this one, and whom you’re eating it with. Is it celebrating other birthdays? Other avid eaters whom are learning to navigate special diets? I hope so — it would take me over the moon to know that alternative diets, and the wonderful people everywhere whom are impacted by them — are being celebrated. 🙂 -xo L
- 9 ounces pure almond paste
- 2 large eggs
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
- ice cream, raspberries or sweetened whipped cream, for serving
- *makes one 8 inch cake*
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray an 8-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste with 1 of the eggs until smooth. Add the remaining egg and beat until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. You'll know the batter is ready because if you remove the paddle and drizzle the batter over the bowl, it will take a few seconds for the drizzled batter to disappear into the batter in the bottom. Add the melted butter, cornstarch and baking powder and beat until incorporated. Scrape the almond mixture into a large bowl.
- In another large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer or immersion blender fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until opaque and foamy. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar at high speed and continue beating until medium-stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes longer.
- Using a rubber spatula, very gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture until no streaks remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the sliced almonds on top. Bake the cake for about 35 minutes, until lightly browned and firm. Let cool completely.
- Unmold the cake and peel off the parchment paper. Transfer the cake to a serving platter, right side up. Dust with confectioners’ sugar if you wish, cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream.
- MAKE AHEAD The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.