This cake is a treat. What's more, being flourless, it is perfect for both gluten free eaters and the coming Passover week.
As a fan of marzipan this cake feels like a fluffy, smooth, tasty piece of marzipan that has turned into a cake to become a bigger, lighter and longer lasting version of itself. It can be served as a dessert, with some whipped cream on top. If you are lucky to have some leftover, it makes for a decadent breakfast with a side of berries and some hot coffee or tea.
The recipe comes from the Mexican convent of San Jerónimo, where Mexico's most famous nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was settled. It dates to the late 1600's. Spanish nuns who came to help establish the different convents, had an indomitable sweet tooth, which paired with Mexico's exotic ingredients, made for some of the country's dearest and sweetest desserts. Centuries later, these desserts are staples in Mexico's kitchens.
There are many kinds of nut cakes or tortes in Mexican cooking, with pinenuts, pecans, and hazelnuts amongst some. They can be sweetened with sugar or in some cases with sweetened condensed milk. I find that when trying and testing desserts inherited from convents or nuns, I need to pump down the sugar a bit. So if you want the original flavor, add an extra 1/3 cup sugar to the recipe below...
For this cake, almonds are used, and a couple other ingredients. It is a snap to make in the food processor or blender.
Just grind the already slivered almonds and sugar, less than a minute. Once ground, add the butter at room temperature, the eggs, vanilla and if you want a hint of alcohol, like the nuns from San Jerónimo, add some Porto wine.
Pulse again, until well combined. Less than a minute too...
Pour the batter over a buttered pan with its bottom lined with parchment paper.
The batter will look rather thin, barely filling the pan, but that is ok... Put it in the oven...
Take it out about 30 minutes later. Once it has a nicely tanned top and a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool a bit and turn it onto a plate. Remove the parchment paper and turn onto another plate, just to have it right side up.
Mix some apricot marmalade with lime juice (the nuns from San Jerónimo only used apricot marmalade, but I wanted to pump up the acidity... up to you) in a sauce pan and let it heat for a couple minutes. Until it dissolves.
Brush the glaze, wherever you want to decorate with some lightly toasted sliced almonds... Here is a photo of the decoration process, halfway through...
And away you go!
No doubt, one of the tastiest parts of my job, as I research through the history of Mexico's cuisine, is to test centuries' old recipes in my kitchen. In this case, the flavors of the convent of the Jerónimas traveled directly to Washington DC, helping me taste a bit of their history. You can get a taste of it in your own kitchen too...
FLOURLESS ALMOND AND PORTO CAKE
Adapted from the Convent of San Jerónimo
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups slivered almonds
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Porto wine, optional or more to taste
1/4 cup apricot marmalade
1 tablespoon lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Whipped cream, optional
Butter a round 9 to 10 inch spring-form pan, and cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the almonds and sugar into a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Crack the eggs on top of the mixture. Stir in the vanilla extract and Porto wine, if you will use it. Drop in the butter chunks, and process until smooth and thoroughly combined.
Pour the batter into the mold. Place on a rack in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. The top will be nicely tanned, and the cake will feel springy to the touch and a toothpick should come out clean if inserted in the cake.
Remove from the oven and let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Unmold the cake, invert onto a platter and remove the parchment paper. Invert the cake again onto another platter to have the top of the cake right side up.
In a small saucepan, mix the apricot glaze with the lime juice. Set over medium heat and simmer for a couple minute.
With a brush, spread the apricot glaze on the outer circumference, about 1 to 2 inches, on the top of the cake. Sprinkle the glazed area with the toasted sliced almonds. You may serve the cake with whipped cream on the side, or on the top of the cake.