I’ve never had a thing for almonds. Oh sure, an almond shortbread cookie is a welcome change from chocolate chip from time to time, but ask me what kind of sweets I love the most and almond desserts never make the list. I think this may be because too many almond cookies and candies are so heavy on the almond that it tastes like I’m eating a bottle of almond extract. Bakers be warned – some flavors are best served with a dash of subtlety.
But one of my coworkers is a huge fan of almonds, and I wanted to make her very favorite dessert to thank her for some recent help she gave me. And besides, I love a challenge, and I was very excited to see if I could make an almond dessert that everyone could love. After all, I loved the amaretto flavoring in Michelle Obama’s shortbread, so perhaps my poor opinion of almonds was unjustly founded on too many lousy almond danishes?
I decided on cupcakes because, well, I just can’t resist the opportunity to make them. I went back to my old standby – The Cake Bible – because I remembered making Rose Levy Beranbaum’s almond cake many years ago (possibly when I was still in high school) and being surprised how much I loved it (unrelated side note: sometimes I wonder if I sound too much like a Rose Levy Beranbaum groupie. Although, considering how much I love her books and recipes, I guess I kind of am).
For the frosting, I decided that there could be no better use for that huge bottle of amaretto I had sitting in my cupboard that was left over from making Michelle Obama’s shortbread. I modified the Magnolia Bakery’s vanilla frosting recipe, making a half batch and adding amaretto along with the vanilla extract.
You should note that Beranbaum’s recipe didn’t perfectly translate to cupcakes – I probably had enough batter left over to make two more cupcakes, if I was so inclined, but I didn’t want the bother. I also had frosting left over . . . although is that ever really a bad thing?
The almond cake was better than I remembered – roasting the almonds before adding them to the batter really brings out the flavor, and the almond extract is light enough that it gently enhances, but doesn’t overpower, the natural flavor of the nuts themselves. The frosting was sweet, and the amaretto adds an almond note that’s subtle and understated, which I just adored.
So almond haters take note – these lovely nuts may deserve a second look. Just keep a light hand with the almond extract.
Adapted from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Makes 12 (or possibly 14) cupcakes
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 2/3 cups sifted cake flour
1/3 cup, ground, unblanched sliced almonds, toasted and finely ground
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons softened butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line one 12-cup muffin tin (or one 12 cup muffin tin and two cups of an additional muffin tin, if you insist on using all the batter) with paper lines, and lightly grease the top of the tin.
In a medium bowl lightly combine the eggs, ¼ of the sour cream and the extracts. In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and remaining sour cream. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1¤½ minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides. Spoon the batter into the paper liners – each cup should be 2/3 full.
Bake 25 minutes or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, before gently transferring them to a rack to cool. Allow to cool completely before frosting with amaretto frosting.
Adapted from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs amaretto
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of the sugar and then the milk, vanilla, and amaretto. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.