I have been thinking about my mother a lot these past few weeks. She is never far from my thoughts actually but as I have been experiencing my life through a new lens and traveling to far away places, it’s my mother with whom I’d like to share my stories.
I miss her wisdom and her guidance. I miss coming home and finding her here to recount the tales of our travels. Our recent trip to Europe to visit our daughter brought back some wonderful memories of when my parents came to visit me in France 30 years ago. It would have been so fun to reminisce about that trip with her.
I wish I could see my memories through her eyes once again. This shot was taken in 1985 in Strasbourg, France. Can you stand my pink Naf Naf coat?
There are so many things I could tell you about my mother, but I just cannot bring myself to write an entire post about her with several pictures as I did with my father in my post about his Jumbo Shrimp with Lemon and Garlic. Some might say it’s time for me to get on with it and move through to the other side of grieving, but I don’t know if I will ever truly get over my mother’s passing. What I would rather do is include her in my writing on the blog from time to time. Maybe we’ll just pretend you knew of her and her extraordinary life. Sound ok?
My mother loved to read. I never, ever remember her sitting in front of a television when I was growing up. No soaps, no game shows, but always the evening news. If she had free time at home, she would read. Even as she grew older, returned to school and eventually to work, she always found the energy to read books in her free time. The last book she read was a Christmas gift from my husband about the life of Jane Fonda. She had completed it by dinner time on the 26th. She was a life long learner and her books expanded her mind, her vocabulary and her life.
As for me, I have grown to enjoy reading more so as an adult than I did as a child which is funny because of my love for libraries. When I first moved to the suburbs, I joined a book group which at the time was a euphemism for ladies getting together to drink wine and talk about home renovations. Hmmm. That group didn’t last and I sadly never found another book group to join.
But then last year I was out with my friend Alicia who, like me, was a book group orphan. Together we decided we would start our own, each of us inviting a few friends who hopefully didn’t know each other too well. We figured that would lead to engaging discussion.
I am so happy to have found myself among these women who are all incredibly bright, funny and interesting. I am reading more than ever and look forward to our gatherings. We recently read the book, Stir by Jessica Fechtor that I mentioned in a previous post. It was suggested by my friend, Francine who made an appearance in Broccoli Salad with Peanut Sauce and Armenian Rice Pilaf.
Jessica was just 28 and a Harvard graduate student when she suffered an aneurysm that nearly killed her. Stir tells her story of recovery, a journey to wellness that pivots on Jessica’s ability to return to the kitchen to prepare the dishes that bring her the most comfort. Stir is not a cookbook, but does include 27 of the recipes that helped Jessica find her way through an incredibly difficult time.
When our book group met to discuss Stir, our newest member Pam offered to bring the Butter Almond Cake from an early chapter. It was a recipe that caught my eye as well because I just love almonds and almond flavoring in baked goods. And baking leads me back to my mother whose cakes and especially her pies were always so delicious. She would have loved this confection too.
If you need a dessert for Thanksgiving that is a sure-fire hit or just a little treat to go with a cup of tea in the afternoon, then I think this cake has you covered. Our book group devoured Pam’s and I subsequently made one to bring to some friends last weekend and it was equally well received.
The list of ingredients is simple and the only one you may not have in your pantry is a good quality pure almond extract. Otherwise, it is a snap to whip up and it keeps for several days at room temperature.
The recipe I included is almost word for word from Jessica, although I have added more sliced almonds and suggested an alternative finishing salt (yes, salt!) for the top. The cake is made in a tart pan with a removable bottom and has a crispy top and a creamy center, much like an almond macaroon.
Stir is a quick read and everyone enjoyed the book which led to some lively conversation about all kinds of things including injectables! Jessica is now writing a food blog called Sweet Amandine and I encourage you to check it out (after you’ve made her cake of course which was the inspiration for her blog’s name!). PS – if you read the book, I have also made her Buttermilk Biscuits and they are delish!
I wanted to try out different sized pans for this cake, but I ran out of time. I think you could try a rectangular tart pan if you wanted.
The recipe calls for a 9 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom which are easy to find. Prepare the pan using softened butter and flour. Once the pan is buttered, sprinkle the flour over the bottom of the pan as shown below. You can also sift it over the pan…
Then tip the pan on its side. The flour will coat the bottom and any leftover will fall into a clump on the inside edge as shown below…
Over the sink, turn the pan slowly (like a steering wheel), being careful to keep the flour in the pan so that it can coat all of the fluted edges. Once you’ve turned the pan a full 360 degrees, it will look like this and is ready to fill with your cake batter…
Sliced, blanched almonds are placed on a pan and lightly toasted. My version calls for 1/2 cup versus the original 3 heaping Tablespoons. More almond love and covers the cake more completely…
The batter is prepared using unsalted butter, sugar, eggs, almond and vanilla extracts and flour. The thick batter is spread into the pan…
Before baking, the batter is topped with all of the sliced almonds, 1 tablespoon of sugar and optional Flaked Sea Salt or Fleur de Sel. Even though the recipe says the salt is optional, you should add it because the salt balances out the sweetness of the cake…
Bake for 35 minutes and allow to cool…
The picture below shows the creamy texture of the cake’s exterior…
Enjoy and I will see you next week…
One Year Ago: Cauliflower Bacon Gratin
This cake is adapted slightly from the book Stir by Jessica Fechtor. The original recipe came from The Columbus Dispatch and was written by a woman named Marcella Sarne who entered it in a baking contest sponsored by C&H sugar and won the grand prize - a custom kitchen.
- Butter and flour for the pan
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- A pinch of fleur de sel or sea salt flakes, optional
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
- Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in the preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. They should color only lightly.
- Whisk together the melted butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until fully incorporated. Add the almond extract, vanilla extract, and salt, and whisk until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.
- Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan, and scatter the toasted almonds, fleur de sel or sea salt flakes, if using, and 1 Tablespoon sugar over the top.
- Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake peeking through the almonds takes on a faintly rosy color and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool on a rack until nearly room temperature, then ease the cake out of the pan and cool the rest of the way.
Tips from The Kitchen Scout
Because almond extract can be such a strong flavor, it's best to measure your 1 1/2 teaspoons first into a small clean bowl to insure proper measuring before adding into your cake batter.
This cake is so delicious and super easy! I used an 11″ fluted tart pan and it came out perfect. Thank you, Valerie!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Annie. Good to know it worked well in a larger pan as well!
Hi Val – I always look forward to your posts and you never disappoint. This recipe “reads” deliciously and I look forward to trying it. Also, just purchased “Stir” and looking forward to that, too.
Thank you, Karen! I think you will enjoy the book and the cake!
Hi Valerie, The recipe looks delicious, I too love all things almond. I shall try it soon. My mother died 32 years ago (1983) and I still miss her. The grieving only softens, it doesn’t completely leave you. So glad to know you had such a great mother, it must be why you are so great a mom yourself!
Thank you for sharing that, Sarah. You are so nice! I hope you love the cake too!