Funny how what goes around comes around…even in cake making! This Apricot Almond Cake has its origins decades ago when I was living in the countryside of Tuscany and the fruit trees on our property had an unexpected bumper crop one year and I found myself with bushels of apricots to make use of. Some were preserved in vanilla syrup, like I shared on my previous post. Others were transformed into shiny jams, luscious tarts, a lovely liqueur and more. But lastly, I decided to make this apricot and almond cake which, at the time, was baked in a loaf pan for a breakfast cake that could be easily frozen for the autumn months. Apricots and almonds make one of my favorite flavor combinations, so it was a no brainer that a cake-like almond bread filled with bits of sweet, intensely flavored apricots would be a welcome treat. It was a good call and, after a little experimentation, this recipe was created and was a great success. So, I filed away my hand-scribbled recipe and it came with me when we moved from Italy to California but was never used again…until now.
Call it déjà vu but, this year, I had the opportunity to pick my own apricots at a fruit farm in California and found myself, again, with too many apricots (a lucky problem) and the same dilemma as decades earlier of what to do with them (must be my apricot karma : ). I dug out my decades-old recipe, reworked it into this glorious cake version and am thrilled with the results. It’s now a regal looking apricot almond cake with golden crown of slivered almonds outside and surprise inside of moist almond cake studded with bright, jewel-like pieces of apricots. The combination of flavors is irresistible in a not-too-sweet cake that can double for a breakfast loaf pan cake like my original version.
This cake recipe works well with other fruits too. The important thing is to cut the ripe-yet-firm fruit into small dice so the cake is studded with little bits of lovely fruit that don’t sink to the bottom during baking. A light toss in flour helps suspend the fruit in the batter too. Peaches and plums are lovely summer substitutes, as are figs, and berries. Again, any fruit that pairs well with the aromatic, sensual flavor of almonds (most fruits do). The making of the cake is rather simple and a one-bowl process (or two if you count the one to mix the flour with leavening agents). I usually warm the milk and add the butter to it while I measure out other ingredients so the butter starts to melt and mellow in the milk. This time around I use almond milk that adds to the nutty flavor of the cake, but whole milk works well too. The addition of either almond extract (for more almond flavor) or vanilla is up to you and my instinctive go-to sugar is cane sugar instead of white, but you can use either with success. Cane sugar is less refined and adds a caramel flavor to the cake but needs more time and patience to melt in the liquids.
A word about almond flour, a very important ingredient in this recipe. Use best-quality store bought or make your own like I do. I blanch raw almonds in boiling water for a minute then drain and slip the skins off using my fingers before spreading on a baking sheet and drying in a 350F/180C oven for 7 to 10 minutes. Once the almonds are cool, I toss them in a food processor with a couple tablespoons of the sugar from the recipe and pulse until finely ground to my desired consistency without over processing that would draw out unwanted nut oils. Voila’…almond flour! This is added to the liquid ingredients without fear of over mixing since there are no glutens to overdevelop. Adding the all-purpose flour is another story and should be added by folding gently into the batter until just incorporated but without over working the glutens that results in a tough, rubbery cake. For a gluten-free cake, simply substitute gluten-free flour for the all-purpose or make you own with a combination of oat flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour.
The moral of this post is that some things in life are worth keeping to make even better in time, and I think this cake is one of those! I hope you make it and think of me under apricot trees in both Tuscany and California…after all, it seems to be my destiny.
APRICOT ALMOND CAKE – Torta di Mandorle e Albicocche
This regal looking apricot almond cake boasts a golden crown of slivered almonds outside and surprise inside of moist crumb studded with bright jewel-like bits of ripe apricots. Though simple to make in one bowl, the results are show-stopping and satisfying in a delectable cake recipe that is a keeper for endless summers to come.
2 cups/200g/7 ounces almond flour (or 200g/7ounces blanched almonds ground finely with 2 tablespoons of the sugar)
2 cups/240g unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more to flour pan if needed
1 teaspoon/4g baking powder
¼ teaspoon/1.2g baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup/240g almond milk (or whole milk), warm
4 tablespoons/57g softened unsalted butter, plus more to grease pan
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or ½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup/200g cane sugar (or granulated)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup/200 diced apricots
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour to toss apricots
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons/20g slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C and position rack in center.
Butter an 8-inch/20cm x 3-inch/7.6cm round cake pan then line sides and bottom with parchment paper or dust with flour, tapping out excess. Alternatively, you can use an 11 x 4 x 3 inch loaf pan instead.
Measure the almond flour (if store bought) or pulse the blanched almonds in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until finely ground. In a separate bowl, blend together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a wire whisk. Set flours aside.
Place the warm milk, softened butter, and extract in a mixing bowl and whisk until butter is melted. Add the sugar gradually while whisking then beat well until sugar has melted. Add the eggs one at a time and continue beating until thick and creamy. Sprinkle the almond flour into the batter and stir well to combine.
Add the all-purpose flour mixture to the batter, folding in gently with a spatula just until smoothly incorporated but without overworking.
Toss the diced apricots with 2 tablespoons flour to coat uniformly. This will prevent the apricots from sinking to the bottom of the cake when baked. Fold the apricots into the batter until evenly distributed.
Pour the batter into prepared pan and level surface. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar evenly over top then scatter the slivered almonds around the edge to form a decorative border.
Place the cake pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in center of hot oven for 55 to 60 minutes until golden and tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cake cool for 20 minutes before removing from pan and placing on a wire rack to cool completely before serving. Serve cut into slices as a breakfast cake, teatime cake or dessert.