These are blanched almonds and while you can buy them in this form, doing it yourself isn't that hard. Just take raw almonds, put them into a bowl and cover with boiling water - let them sit for a minute and then drain. You should then just be able to pop the almond from the skin - just like you do with broad beans.
I'll be using these blanched almonds to make a cake from the island of Capri - Torta Caprese. This isn't what I'd class as a traditional recipe - it dates only from the 1920's to 50's and its origins are a bit hazy. Depending on the source - it was invented by widowed, shipwrecked Austrians or a chef that cooked for Al Capone's goons or a befuddled baker. Whatever the true story, the common factor is that the cook in question forgot to add the flour to the cake they were baking - as a result, this cake is gluten free!
It's a pretty straight forward recipe - creamed butter and sugar, egg yolk, melted chocolate, crushed almonds and to give lift, whipped egg whites.
One of the issues I've had with anglicised versions is that they use almond meal, which makes it texturally a bit one dimensional - here I've lightly toasted the almonds and then blitzed them in a processor to give it a more random result, a mix of meal and little almond nuggets. I've also used soft brown sugar as its deep molasses notes adds an extra level of richness.
It's best to make this cake the day before you want to serve it and since tomorrow is my birthday, I think it's safe to say that it has my name on it!
150 grams dark chocolate, roughly chopped
150 grams softened butter
100 grams soft dark brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
vanilla bean paste
150 grams blanched almonds, lightly toasted
Prepare the chocolate:
Place the chocolate in a bowl and rest over a pot of gently simmering water - make sure the water does not touch of the bowl. When the chocolate starts melting, give it a stir and move the pot from the heat - the residual heat should be enough to melt the rest of the chocolate. Stir until smooth and then let it rest to cool until tepid.
Prepare the almonds:
I toasted the almonds in a non-stick skillet over a gentle heat, tossing all the time as they will catch quite quickly and burn. I just want a light golden colour just to intensify the flavour as blanched almonds can be bland. Let them cool before putting in a processor and blitzing until you get a rough crumble - you want a mix of fine meal and little pieces of nut.
Make the cake:
Beat the butter and brown sugar until light and creamy - add in a spoonful of vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract, along with the three egg yolks. Beat briefly to combine.
On a low speed, pour in the cooled, melted chocolate, followed by the nuts - stop beating as soon as they are roughly mixed in. Take a spatula and stir the mixture using a figure eight motion to make sure the mixture is homogenous.
Whip the egg whites to stiff peak.
Take a spoonful of eggwhite and fold it through the batter - once amalgamated, take another spoonful and fold through. Repeat the process two more times until all the eggwhite has been used.
This is a much stiffer mixture than say a sponge so the batter won't really slacken until you've added that last spoonful of eggwhite.
Scoop the batter into a lined 22cm springform cake pan - make sure you have generously buttered the base and the sides of the pan and dusted it with almond meal - smooth the surface with the back of a spoon and place into a preheated 170°C oven for about 35 to 45 minutes.
It's a bit difficult to judge when this cake is done because if you wait until it's completely firm, once it cools it will be too dry. Feel the top of the cake, the edges should be firmer than the center - you want a bit of give in the center. If it's started to pull away from the sides you should probably take it out of the oven. It's not unusual to have cracks on the surface - that's one of the reasons why it's always dusted with icing sugar.
Once you remove it from the oven - let it cool for a few minutes and then run a flat scraper around the sides of the cake pan - this will just break the seal between pan and cake. Then let it cool completely in the pan before removing - the chocolate needs to get cold so it sets and as I mentioned earlier, it's best to cook this the day before - it's just really hard, once your kitchen is full of its lovely aroma, not to just immediately dig in.
I suppose you could say it's a bit like a brownie - the brown sugar gives a crust a wonderful caramel chewiness yet the core of the cake is incredibly moist and those little bites of almond just round it off nicely.