July 17, 2011

Gluten-Free Burnt Almond Torte

I concocted this recipe from a few different sources, putting my own spin on things a bit. The Italian buttercream and pastry cream recipes are from Joe Pastry, who I trust in all things pastry-related. I cannot begin to express how amazing Italian buttercream is if you've never had it. It's simultaneously very light and very rich, and tastes like a cloud that just melts in your mouth. This frosting recipe makes a bit extra for this cake, although you could use it in place of pastry cream in one of the layers.

My recommendation is to make the pastry cream at least a day in advance, then the cakes (the day of, or the day before you plan to assemble the cake), toast the almonds after you've baked the cakes, cut the cakes after they've cooled, assemble them with the pastry cream, make the buttercream, frost the cake, then make the almond topping and put it on the cake. I know, it's a lot of steps, but the end result is certainly a show stopper! It is a massive cake meant for a crowd, for special occasions. (I made it for my partner's birthday.) Keep that in mind as you scroll through the ingredients and realize you need seven sticks of butter, ten eggs, and more than four cups of sugar!

By the way, if you don't need to bake gluten-free, you can make this recipe more easily (and cheaply) by simply using 3 cups of cake flour instead of a GF flour mix and xanthan gum.

Burnt Almond Torte
serves at least 16

Amaretto Pastry Cream
  • 1 cup cream*
  • 1 cup whole milk* 
    • *(or 2 cups half-and-half)
  • 4oz. white sugar (about 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
  • 1.12oz. cornstarch (4.5 tablespoons
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 egg yolks (save the 5 egg yolks for the buttercream)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons Amaretto
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine dairy and half the sugar and bring to a simmer.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar, cornstarch, salt, and egg yolks.
  3. When milk has reached a simmer, turn off heat and temper about 1/2 to 1 cup of it into the egg yolks. Pour mixture back into saucepan, turn the heat back on, and whisk until thickened.
  4. Pour into a shallow pan and refrigerate until cool, about 30 minutes. Add vanilla and Amaretto and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to assemble cake.

Almond Cake
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter (3/4 pound) at room temperature
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3 cups gluten-free cake flour mixture**
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole milk

**You can use a store-bought GF flour mix if you like, but my preference is to use a 2:1 ratio of "starchy" GF flours (like rice, corn, millet) to starches (cornstarch, potato starch). I used 1/2 cup each of: white rice flour, brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, millet flour, cornstarch, and potato starch. Avoid strong-tasting flours like corn flour, soy, or bean. I think heartier flours like almond and sorghum are too heavy for a cake like this.

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment or wax paper rounds, spray the top of the paper with nonstick spray, and lightly dust with flour (white rice or sweet rice works best).
  2. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, about five minutes in a mixer.
  3. Add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add extracts.
  4. Sift together dry ingredients (flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, soda, and salt).
  5. With mixer running on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk, 1/3 flour, the other half of the milk, and finally the remaining 1/3 of the flour. Mix until just combined.
  6. Divide evenly between the two cake pans. (I weighed mine; it came out to 30oz. per pan.) Bake at 325F until browned and set, about 30-45 minutes. (This cake seems to brown more quickly and fully than a non-GF cake, but it shouldn't burn at this temperature and timeframe.)
  7. Let cool a bit in pans (10-30 minutes) then turn cakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to assemble cake.

Italian Buttercream
  • 5 eggs whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1.75oz. (1/4 cup) plus 7oz. (1 cup) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • Seeds from one vanilla bean
  • More vanilla extract, if desired
  1. Bring water 1 cup sugar to a boil over high heat. Goal temperature: 245F.
  2. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip eggs whites, cream of tartar, and salt to soft peaks, then sprinkle in sugar slowly with mixer running and whip to stiff peaks.
  3. When syrup reaches 245F, remove from heat.
  4. With mixer off, add a bit of the syrup to the meringue and whip until combined. Turn off mixer and add more syrup, repeating process until all the syrup is added. Continue whisking until temperature drops to below 85F (may take up to 10 minutes).
  5. When meringue gets below 85F, switch to a paddle attachment. On medium speed, add butter 1-2 tablespoons at a time. Keep mixing until completely smooth and homogeneous. Add vanilla bean seeds and mix again.
  6. If desired, add a few teaspoons vanilla extract to up the vanilla flavor. Keep at room temperature until ready to assemble cake.

Burnt Almond Topping
  • 8oz. raw slivered almonds
  • Honey
  • White sugar
  1. Spread almonds on a sheet pan and toast at 350F, stirring every five minutes. Toast until well-browned but not charred; 15-20 minutes. Be careful towards the end, they can burn quickly! Let cool completely.
  2. When ready to top cake, place almonds in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon each of honey and sugar. Mix with your fingertips until almonds are coated. Continue adding honey and sugar, repeating process until almonds are coated with desired amount of sugar.
Cake Assembly
  1. Cut cake layers in half. If the tops aren't flat, cut off a thin layer at the top so that they'll lay flat. (I only did that for the bottom cake; the top one I left rounded.) Place bottom cake layer on its final destination (cardboard cake round, pedestal, plate, etc.)
  2. Spread about 1/3 of the pastry cream on top of the first layer, spreading smoothly to the edges. Top with the next cake layer, 1/3 of the pastry cream, the third layer, the remaining 1/3 of the pastry cream, and finally the fourth and final layer. (Optionally, you could use buttercream in the middle layer, and instead use 1/2 of the pastry cream in each of the other layers.)
  3. Frost tops and sides of cake with buttercream. You will probably have 1-2 cups extra.
  4. Press almond topping into sides of cake, then cover the top with it.
  5. Refrigerate for several hours to set everything.

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