May 29, 2012

Last minute cake

I'm calling this "Last Minute Cake" because it is, seriously, so easy to put together that you can make it at the last minute, on a whim, or whenever the need arises.  It's actually a lemony almond cake - a simple, casual, everyday cake you might just pick up and snack on or have with a cup of tea.
Making this cake really requires very little to no advance planning.  It helps to have a lemon and some sliced almonds on hand (and I very often do, luckily) but I think the recipe is adaptable and you could play around with what you have on hand.  As far as the batter goes, it gets mixed by hand within a matter of minutes.   I decided to make this one Saturday night recently when we decided to stay in for dinner.  It was already about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I started getting some tomatoes ready to roast for pasta and dessert was on my mind.

This was one of the easiest recipes I could think of and comes from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.  It's actually called Swedish Visiting Cake in the book, referring to the source of the recipe, a friend of Dorie's whose mom would whip this cake up when she saw guests arriving.  That made me consider calling this "Unexpected Company Cake" too.  But what really attracted me to this cake was the description of it as "soft, chewy, moist and reminiscent of cakes made with almond paste."  I love almond paste so I knew I had to try this recipe one day.
With just the 3 of us for dinner and plenty of dessert-making in my future, I divided the recipe in half and made a teeny 6-inch cake.  The cake is meant to be baked in a 9-inch cast iron skillet (that you can serve the cake directly in), which I don't have (need to work on that).  But you can also make this in a buttered cake or pie pan so again, it's quite versatile.  Without any chemical leaveners (i.e., baking powder/soda) in the recipe, the cake is fairly thin.  The texture is moist in the center, contrasted with a crisp top and edge thanks in part to a scattering of almond slices and some granulated sugar on the surface.  Lemon zest adds freshness to the buttery flavor and almond extract together with the almonds contribute the almond flavor.  It's not quite as moist and robust in flavor as a true almond paste cake but it is similar! 
You just can't beat how easy this cake is to make.  I had it done that Saturday night in well under an hour from beginning to end.  After we enjoyed our pasta with roasted tomatoes for dinner (I couldn't resist including a picture of it here), a small wedge of this cake was a nice way to end the dinner on a sweet note.
Another bonus point for this cake is it keeps well so you can wrap it tightly and enjoy it over the course of about 5 days.  I love cakes like that!

Here's how to put this simple cake batter together. 

I divided the recipe (at the end of the post) in half to make a 6-inch cake but bearing in mind the cake is thin and keeps for up to 5 days, you'll likely want to make a whole cake that you'd bake in a 9-inch skillet or cake/pie pan.

In my case, I used a cake pan, buttering it well.  I also lined the bottom with a round of parchment (just a little insurance that I'd be able to remove it since I wanted to set the cake on a serving plate), buttering the paper as well.

Begin by placing the sugar into a bowl.  Add lemon zest (I actually used some frozen zest I had in the freezer from making the lemon tart) and rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers.  Add the egg (or 2 in the case of the full recipe) and whisk together.

Whisk in salt, vanilla and almond extracts (which are actually optional flavorings but I love almond extract so I'll use it at any excuse; I actually dialed down the amount of vanilla extract since I wanted the almond flavor to be key).  Then add the flour and stir it in with a rubber spatula.
Lastly, gently stir in the cooled melted butter (I do it gradually in the microwave) until you have a smooth batter and it's ready to be poured into the cake pan.
Sprinkle the top of the cake batter with sliced almonds and a little bit of granulated sugar.  (If you're really making this on a whim and don't have sliced almonds, it wouldn't be the end of the world but the extra crunch is a nice element to the cake.) 
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes for a regular size cake.  My little 6-inch cake in the cake pan took almost 25 minutes.  You are looking for a light golden brown color (it would brown more if you're using a cast iron skillet) with some crispness on the surface.  Take the cake from the oven and let it cool 5 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the cake.  I flipped mine out and placed it onto a plate.  
I'd be happy to have a little piece of this cake to cap off dinner, as a midday snack, as a tea cake in the afternoon, or even as breakfast in the morning.


Last Minute Cake (Lemony Almond Cake)
From Baking: From My Home to Yours (I took a little liberty with the name but the only change I made is to use a little less vanilla extract)

- One 9-inch cake in a cast-iron skillet or cake/pie pan (You can divide the recipe in half like I did to make a small 6-inch cake) -

1 cup sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional; original recipe uses 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional but I love it)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack placed in the center.  Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9-inch cake or pie pan.  (I used a buttered cake pan lined with a round of parchment on the bottom, also greased).

Place sugar into a medium size bowl.  Add lemon zest and rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic.  Whisk in eggs, one at a time, until well blended.  Whisk in the salt and extracts, if using.  Switching to a rubber spatula, stir in the flour, followed by the melted butter.

Scrape the batter into the skillet or pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula.  Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle on a little bit of granulated sugar.  If using a cake or pie pan, place it over a baking sheet.

Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside (note it may be less golden if you are using a deeper cake pan rather than a cast-iron skillet) while the inside should be moist.  Remove cake from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before running a knife around the sides. 

You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet, or turn it out onto a serving plate.

The cake keeps, well wrapped, for about 5 days at room temperature.  It can be frozen for up to 2 months. 


  1. This looks absolutely amazing! I can't wait to try it! - Sarah

  2. Hi Sarah - this is an easy little cake to make. I love a cake batter you can just stir together and I actually generally prefer simple cakes like this that don't have frosting (unless it's chocolate ganache). :)



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