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Gluten-Free Spanish Almond Cake

When I first arrived to Paris, I remember looking at different recipes in cooking magazines and cookbooks, and it seemed like every cake or cookie recipe began with separating whites from the eggs, whisking them like crazy and then later folding them into the whatever the thing was.

Cakes with no baking powder, no soda? Everything could not be a soufflé.

Long before we had cheery boxes of Arm & Hammer and then baking powder, eggs gave desserts a lift.

Enter the Spanish Almond Cake. Gluten-free, no less — and certainly not because this cake is putting on airs and trying to fit in with what’s au courant. It’s actually a cake that’s best known in the region of Galacia in the northwest corner of the country, at the end of the famous pilgrimage route, el camino de Santiago. I like to imagine that this cake was made to congratulate those who completed the journey. Or maybe they made the journey for the cake.

It is a simple cake. Just ground almonds, eggs and sugar.

I was worried that this cake would be heavy, with a dry, mealy texture, but it isn’t either — the egg whites puff this cake up and the crumb itself is light.

There is no sense, when you take the first bite, and finish the first slice, and then the second and the third, even, that you are missing something, except more cake. I tell myself, “Almonds! Protein! Good for me. Eat more.”

See that Pac-Man size wedge that’s gone from the above photo? That would be mine.

Gluten-Free Spanish Almond Cake

Makes 1 (9-inch) round cake

Adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Rosen and epicurious.com

I found the recipe on Epicurious and I made this cake twice before I figured out the right cooking time, and  tweaked the recipe a bit, too, because I was afraid it might be blando blando. I reduced the sugar on the second test (the first one was too sweet), and added the zest of just one Clementine, plus vanilla and cinnamon to give it a personality.

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment and butter the parchment and sides generously.
  1. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar for 4 to 5 minutes, or until it’s a very pale creamy color. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla.
  1. Add the almond flour and cinnamon and beat until incorporated. Pour this into the largest mixing bowl you’ve got.
  1. Clean the mixing bowl well and add the egg whites. Beat on medium-low speed until they begin to become thick, then add the salt and crank up the speed to medium, then medium high. You want to allow the egg whites to come to soft peaks, then medium, then stiff peaks gradually. When you’ve got nice stiff peaks (party trick: you should be able to turn the bowl upside-down without the egg whites falling out), you’re there.
  1. Working in batches of three, fold one-third of the egg whites into the almond mixture until it’s very well incorporated — and yes, this is super-thick, so just be patient and you’ll get there. Add the other two thirds, then pour into your prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until firm to the touch in the middle. Let the cake cool completely on a rack before turning it out. Dust with powdered sugar. Eat.