A Little Cake with a Lot of Almond: Upside-Down Apple and Almond Cakes

I received a copy of Sweet by Valerie Gordon for Christmas, and the first recipe I decided to try was her "Upside-Down Apple and Almond Cakes." I love almonds, and the recipe yield of 12 individual cakes was just right when I needed a light snack to serve to a friend visiting from out of town.

The recipe calls for both ground almonds and almond paste. Normally I would just use store-bought almond paste, but I decided to try making my own for the very first time. The cookbook includes a very easy almond paste recipe and using prepared paste would create a lot of waste; the cake recipe requires 5.5 ounces of almond paste but I had only 10-ounce cans on hand.

To make the paste, you combine almond flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor, and pulse while adding water until the paste comes together in a ball. The recipe is written to produce three cups of paste; I made one-fourth of a batch and ended up with what I needed for the cake recipe, plus a few extra spoonfuls. The paste did stick together into a ball, but it was much softer than the store-bought version, which is typically rock hard and can require the use of a grater to break it into small pieces.

Once I had the paste ready, it was very easy to make the cake batter. You cream softened butter with sugar, and then add in the almond paste. The recipe says that you should "crumble" in the paste and mix until the paste has broken down into very small bits; my homemade paste was too soft to crumble, and it incorporated smoothly into the butter-sugar mixture so that no discrete bits of paste remained. After the almond paste was incorporated, I added in the remaining wet ingredients (eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, amaretto, and almond extract), followed by the dry ingredients (flour, almond flour, and salt).

I used snack cake pans for this recipe. I buttered the pans, sprinkled dark brown sugar on the bottom of each cup, arranged slices of pink lady apple on top of the sugar, and poured the cake batter on top.
After baking, I cooled the cakes slightly before unmolding them. They released cleanly, with the exception of a couple slices of apple that stuck to the pans; I simply peeled them off of the pan, arranged them back on top of the cakes, and no one was the wiser.  

I liked the cute hockey puck shape and size of the cakes. And I loved the way they tasted. They were intensely almond-y, and the texture was dense but not heavy at all. The cakes stayed moist and delicious for days when I stored them under a cake dome at room temperature. The only shortcoming I would note is that you could hardly taste the apple. I might have sliced the apples a bit too thin, but the cake tasted like an almond cake as opposed to an apple and almond cake.

The recipe notes that you can replace the apples with slices of pear, fig, or banana -- and I might try one of those variations, or perhaps add a bit of cinnamon to the brown sugar that you sprinkle into the buttered pan before adding the fruit... But then again, I might not, because I adore almond and I was delighted to have this cake exactly as is.

Recipe: "Upside-Down Apple and Almond Cakes" from Sweet by Valerie Gordon.