While all nuts have their place in my nut bowl, my favorite all-purpose nut has to be an almond. Whole almonds are tasty to sautée in a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil — just ask the Spaniards, who love to do exactly that with those flattish, rounded marcona almonds that have lately started creeping into U.S. markets — while sliced almonds are a snap to dry-toast in a skillet to use as garnish or even a major flavoring for many a dish. And then of course there’s my favorite use for almonds: grind them up and use them in cakes, muffins, cookies, and whatever else I might want to bake. Sliced almonds are soft enough to grind in a standard coffee grinder (for a small batch) or food processor (for a large batch). They also make great breading — in fact, they’re much tastier than bread crumbs! Ground almonds + grated Parmesan = instant hit. Breading something with that combo is almost as instantly enchanting as putting bacon on it.
Lately, I’ve come up with another fun way to use almonds, and that is to make use of almond butter. Since it’s soft enough to spread easily right out of the fridge — and you do want to keep nut butters in the fridge to prevent them from turning rancid — once you mix the butter with a dash of maple syrup for sweetness and a little spoon of coconut oil for richness, you can make nearly instant almond icing for your almond (and non-almond) creations. The fact that coconut oil sets and hardens when its ambient temperature drops below 75F means that all you need to do to firmly set your icing is briefly pop your iced cake/cupcake/cookie into the fridge. Much easier, flavorful, and healthier than traditional icings based on refined powdered sugar.
Almond Cake with No-Cook Almond Icing
For the cake:
8 oz. sliced almonds
4 eggs, separately, preferably from pastured hens
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional, but go for it if you want the triple-almond factor)
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
For the icing:
1/4 cup almond butter (I prefer the taste of raw almond butter, but you might prefer roasted)
Juice of 1/4 lemon
1 T. unrefined coconut oil
1 T. maple syrup OR honey
Preheat oven to 350F and thoroughly grease an 11″ springform pan. Place almonds in a food processor and grind just until you have a uniformly fine powder. You might want to do the final few seconds of grinding in spurts so as not to overgrind the almonds and wind up with a clumpy quasi-paste.
Break egg whites into a large mixing bowl. Slip yolks into another large bowl. Beat yolks for at least 1 full minute to make them foamy and pale yellow, then beat in honey, cinnamon, and the extracts. Beat in ground almonds.
Switch out your beaters for a fresh set and whip the whites with the cream of tartar until you have nice billowy peaks. (You don’t want the whites whipped to such a stiffness that they feel like they’re about to crack and topple.) Use a broad spatula to gently fold the whites into the yolks. Don’t bang any utensils on the side of the bowl — that would pop the air bubbles you’ve gone to such lengths to create. Gentleness is key!
Gently scoop the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes or until the top is turning golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cake sit until it’s completely cool to the touch before unsnapping the sides of the pan and removing the ring.
To make the icing, mash all icing ingredients together with a fork, then stir until smooth. If the icing seems too thick to spread, add more coconut oil. Spread on completely cooled cake with a small spatula or knife. If you want to enjoy your cake with a soft icing, simply serve right away. If you’d rather have a harder icing, refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes before serving.
Leftover cake should be stored in the refrigerator, although if you make this cake in the winter time and you’re thrifty about turning on the heat, your house might be chilly enough to leave the cake sit out without running the risk of it gathering mold. But I say better safe than sorry: keep it in the fridge. That way you can enjoy it for your breakfasts all week long! (It’s mostly nuts and eggs, both of which are satisfying, protein-rich ingredients to kick-start your day.)
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