Baby,  Cooking

Almond Cake for the Needy

I make this almond cake for women who’ve just had babies. The food you eat after you’ve had a baby tastes like food after you’ve been sick for a long time and eaten dry toast with nubs of butter for a week. I remember being in the hospital with Lux and they would bring me these rather sad McMuffin-style egg sandwiches and I thought they were amazing. After we came home someone brought me marinated steak, arugula salad, and orzo salad with sun dried tomatoes and I almost wept with happiness.

But even though a new mom might have low standards for what you bring her I think if you bring her the good stuff, it will really count. For life. I’ll probably be calling in favors, five years from now, and say, “remember when I brought you that almond cake? Ok, now will you please come pick me up on the side of a highway?”

I know I’m not grandly delusional too, because then I get the Thank You Notes that exclusively gush about the almond cake (“no need for a thank you note!” I proclaim. New moms don’t listen to nobody.).

But of course, you can bring this to anyone who needs a little extra affection, a paper-wrapped golden reminder on their kitchen counter that the world hearts them. It ages really nicely (I think the one photographed here was a week old), but it probably won’t age because it doesn’t take people long to figure out that it tastes good with eggs for breakfast, salad for lunch, or just after dinner. It also ships nicely. I once packed up a box for my brother in Florida and it arrived perfectly intact, only to be devoured within the day.

But perhaps my favorite thing about it is how humble it appears. The center invariably falls in and at first sight it looks like a FAIL cake. It doesn’t have frosting, and the color is rather simple. It could be anything, from the outside. I think of it like a little time bomb. I say bye!, and leave them with this innocuous package, maybe they ignore it for a day, and try it later. AND THEN THEY REALIZE. On the inside it’s deeply deeply almondly and with “good crumb” as the bakers say. And so hefty that all slices come out as wedges which is really how one eats cake when in need.

I originally tried it because my Aunt Anne told me about it. The recipe is from The New York Times cookbook edited by Amanda Hesser and it was contributed by Amanda Hesser. She’s the best. And that cookbook is amazing. It’s a culinary history class with a sexy cover. The best thing to do is think of making it a few hours before and pull the butter, eggs and cup of sour cream from the fridge. The batter is mixed in the food processor (a normal mixer would also work). The most tedious part is pulling apart the tube of Almond Paste, but that really only takes 3 minutes. As far as going to the store just for the almond paste, don’t bother. Just make it a habit to always have a tube at the ready in your cupboard. Most groceries stock the Odense brand in the baking aisle, by the spices.

Ok, here it is. Make it yours.

2 sticks butter, more for buttering pan

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (measured after sifting)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

7-ounce tube almond paste

4 egg yolks, room temperature

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon baking soda

Powdered sugar, for sifting over cake

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter sides and bottoms of one 8-inch springform pan; line sides and bottom with parchment paper. Butter paper.

2.Sift flour and salt into a small bowl. Set aside. In a food processor, beat butter and granulated sugar at high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add almond paste, a little at a time at medium speed, and beat 8 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, and almond extract. Mix sour cream and baking soda and add to butter mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, just until blended.

3. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake about 1 1/4 hours, until top is golden and springs back when lightly pressed and the cake shrinks from sides of the pan. Cool in pan on wire rack. Remove sides of pan and remove paper. Store in a covered tin in or out of the fridge. It improves with age and can be made 1 to 2 weeks ahead. When ready to serve, sift powdered sugar on top and slice like pie.

you can read the original at the New York Times, or buy the book!




  • Hannah

    Loved this post! My sisters and I are all obsessed with desserts showcasing almond flavor. We are known to sneak a little almond extract in everything we bake, especially for family functions. One of us always falls for it- “WHAT did you put in this? It’s extra good!” Then the baker beams and says, “Almond extract.” And you are so right about post-partum food. Must be something about no longer having an 8 pound (or 10 pound, if you’re you) person shoving your stomach into your chest, plus your revved up lactating metabolism. I am on a rotation at the hospital where I gave birth, and I kept telling my patients how amazing the food is here, and how lucky they are to have it delivered to their room. Then I went to the cafeteria, and realized that the food is, in fact, just ok.

    • Rachael Ringenberg

      haha, that is hilarious. They are probably like, this lady is extra cheerful about the situation here! I guess it’s pretty good….I know Joe wasn’t that into it, that’s how I figured out the food wasn’t so amazing. Also I need an email update from you about your life these days!

  • Erin

    Beautiful post, Rach. I can’t wait to try the cake. One for me, one for them, at the first opportunity. On a second attempt I may try to sub some of the butter with duck fat. Yum.

      • Erin

        After my most recent trip to the US, I realized it isn’t as easy to find there as it is here (blank stare from D&W manager upon my request). The nice grocery stores have it here by the tub.

  • Abbie

    I just realized that I never finished commenting on this post! I love everything about this idea- the humble but amazing cake, having a go-to treat to bring new moms, a cake that you can ship anywhere. Yum yum yum.

  • Erin

    Made this, now three times over.

    The third one was made not for a specific person or event, but with the confidence that, before long, the unidentified need would present itself—and that I would be there to greet it with cake (which happened in the end).

    Thank you for sharing such a gem!

  • Blaze

    This post randomly caught my eye at the bottom of the page because I Love anything almond. I literally laughed out loud at the dry toast comment. The guava coconut water I drank minutes after my son was born will forever be the most delicious thing I have ever tasted! Along with the fresh cinnamon raisin bread my mother in law brought over shortly after. I’m not a big raisin bread person but it was SO good, I made sure she brought more when my second son was born, I was craving it so badly at the end. I’ll have to try it sometime when I’m not dropping crumbs of it onto a newborns head & see if it passes the test.
    Can’t wait to try the recipe, although we don’t really eat white sugar so I’ll try coconut sugar I think!

  • emma

    it’s so true. we are beyond lucky to have several professional chefs as friends and I have an unreasonable, hormonal insistence that one of their restaurants re-name a salmon and port soaked cherry dish after me because of the blissful minutes after my first birth when someone (I don’t even remember who) spoon fed it to me in bed.
    I despise a spring-form. is there any other way? will it ruin it?

  • emma

    I could just be so tired that I missed it but it looks like you say to put all the batter in one cake while the original recipe says this amount is for two cakes which would explain why mine was wet in the center!

    • Rachael Ringenberg

      Hi! Hmm….I always use one cake pan, and when it was printed in the New York Times cookbook, it was for one! It always falls in the center after you take it out of the oven, which they say applies to the 2 pan recipe as well. How many people have TWO springform pans??
      But it shouldn’t be “wet” when you cut into it—just needed a few more minutes in there maybe?

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