Tag Archives: almonds

It’s a mistake to rush through this cake.

My friend Timothy told me yesterday that the only people he knows who can truly multi-task are mothers of young children. It’s true, when you are a mother, you often are solving their problems, teaching them, or nurturing their souls more generally even while sweeping the floor or cooking, etc.

But if like me you are often alone and can fully focus on one thing at a time, that is best. One of my favorite quotes on this subject has long been from St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Whatever you do, do it gently and unhurriedly, because virtue is not a pear to be eaten in one bite.” And this morning I read on Lisa’s blog this good word from Fr. Jacques Philippe:

“To live today well we also should remember that God only asks for one thing at a time, never two. It doesn’t matter whether the job we have in hand is sweeping the kitchen floor or giving a speech to forty thousand people. We must put our hearts into it, simply and calmly, and not try to solve more than one problem at a time. Even when what we’re doing is genuinely trifling, it’s a mistake to rush through it as though we felt we were wasting our time. If something, no matter how ordinary, needs to be done and is part of our lives, it’s worth doing for its own sake, and worth putting our hearts into.”

When I read that, I had just finished eating a piece of the most delectable cake — while reading at the computer. Everyone knows that is a bad thing for an overeater to do! But the other unfortunate thing is, I missed the full experience of this cake, which I don’t exactly want to put my heart into, but which I do want to receive “gently and unhurriedly,” in a way that promotes the greatest thankfulness and encourages virtue.

I’d been wanting to try this cake to make use of my fig harvest; I think of it as an autumn cake because it is now that the figs really come in. The recipe is from Martha Stewart, but I combined the figs with dried apricots instead of fresh plums, because I had just bought the wonderfully rich Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s, and did not have plums on hand. The apricots were both more flavorful and colorful than plums would have been. Also I cut down on the sugar.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more buttery cake, but the flavor of butter was even lovelier — is that possible? — by being in combination with the almonds and fruit. As it turns out, the fruit and nuts and eggs are all products of California farms or gardens, and perhaps the butter as well? So mine is a California Cake, but yours might be otherwise.

You start with a cookie-like crust that gets pre-baked, an eggy almond-flour paste spread on top, then the fruit over all, before it goes in the oven again for a long time. I added a little water to the fruit to make up for the apricots being dried. I definitely had to give the whole process my full attention.

AUTUMN FIG CAKE

Trying to warm the butter a bit.

2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temperature, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
1 pound fresh figs, halved or quartered
6 oz dried apricots, preferably Blenheim variety, sliced
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
Almost 1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup finely ground almond flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan; line with 2 wide pieces of parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Butter parchment. Toss fruit with 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. If you are using dried fruit add the 1/4 cup water; set aside and stir occasionally.

In a food processor, pulse 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to combine. Add half of butter and pulse until fine crumbs form. Transfer to prepared cake pan and use floured fingers to press dough evenly into bottom of pan. (If too soft to easily press in, refrigerate 10 minutes.)

Bake until crust is light golden in color, about 20 minutes; transfer to a wire rack and let cool 15 minutes.

In food processor, pulse remaining half of butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt with baking powder until combined. Add almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, eggs, and almond extract; process until smooth.

Spread batter evenly over crust. Gently stir fruit to reincorporate sugar mixture and arrange on top of batter (cut-side up). Bake until fruit is bubbling and filling is firm, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (Mine took 10 minutes longer). Let cool in pan 15 minutes, then use parchment overhang to lift cake out of pan and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool 1 hour and serve. Cake can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Wouldn’t the base of this cake be good with just about any fruit topping? I think it would.

Whatever you make of it, when you do partake,
I hope you can do it with attentive thanksgiving. 🙂

Almond Chocolate Macaroons

Of Christmas cookies, one of our family’s recent favorites — that is, in the last ten years — is this intense chewy marzipany one, the recipe for which I found on the website of the Odense company. When I use a different brand of paste that comes in an 8 oz. package, I just nibble a little to make it come out even.

ALMOND CHOCOLATE MACAROONS

1-7 oz box almond paste, grated
1 cup confectioners sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup cocoa, firmly packed [I don’t how one might pack cocoa]
2 tablespoons flour
Pinch salt
2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For topping: 1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment.

Combine almond paste, 1 cup of the sugar, cocoa, flour and salt in a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer beat on a low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.

Add egg whites and vanilla. Beat on a high speed for 2-3 minutes, or until a smooth, shiny paste. *Cover and chill dough for one hour.

Add remaining confectioners sugar to a small bowl. Drop dough into sugar by a level tablespoon measure (not flatware) [I use flatware], or a lightly oiled cookie scoop. Quickly turn dough (it is sticky) to cover with sugar. Roll into a ball between palms and drop onto cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake for 16-18 minutes or until firm on top. Cool on wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Best if eaten within 3 days.  [Stored in the freezer or our cold garage they keep well for longer than this.]

The recipe says it makes 18 cookies, so I always mix up a double batch.

*Dough can be chilled for up to 24 hours. [I have saved it for days] Make sure it is covered well to avoid picking up refrigerator odors.

Merry Christmas Cookies to YOU!

They rise against their rootedness.

February is one of my favorite months for driving up and down the center of our very agricultural state. I won’t have that pleasure this year, but a few Februarys when I managed to visit family and the land where I grew up, the expanses of almond orchards were to be seen out my window for at least as many miles as it took me to drive one of the hours through what is called the West Side of the Central Valley. They are especially pretty on stormy days when the clouds are also playing their melodrama in the skies above.

The landscape along Highway 5 is never static, and not just because the seasons change. Our drought, and the loss of aquifer, mean that some farms will have to change what they grow, or downsize, or go out of business. One grower recently announced that they will be taking 10,000 acres of almonds out of production this year.

So I will enjoy the orchards I see, and not presume on their future. Richard Wilbur in this poem helps me to see aspects of fruit trees that I might not consider on my own, such as lifespans. Is it old orchards that are being “taken out,” or young trees that will never have the chance to be fully grown? What are the West Side bees meditating about this year?

gl w-side alm nurs closer

YOUNG ORCHARD

These trees came to stay. w-side alm med close
Planted at intervals of
Thirty feet each way,

Each one stands alone
Where it is to live and die.
Still, when they are grown

To full size, these trees
Will blend their crowns, and hum with
Meditating bees.almond-tree-flower

Meanwhile, see how they
Rise against their rootedness
On a gusty day,

Nodding one and all
To one another, as they
Rise again and fall,

Swept by flutterings
So that they appear a great
Consort of sweet strings.

~ Richard Wilbur

gl w-side alm orch clouds