lemon almond cake. (flourless)

lemon almond cake.

Admittedly, this is not my best photo. Simple cakes get a raw deal in that they are so elegant and beautiful in real life, but often difficult (for me) to capture on film. I promise you, it is gorgeous in real life.Β 

In my quest to learn more about Jewish holidays and the foods associated with them, I committed myself to making something for each (major? I’m a non-Jewish person, so I don’t know how to classify these) holiday. Since I am new to this, all of my offerings have been after the actual holiday has occurred. First, there was the great hamantaschen experiment for Purim; I got so caught up in oil-based versus butter-based hamantaschen and homemade jam fillings that those didn’t show up until the week after Purim. Now, here we are at my contribution for Passover, which has come and gone, and evidently we’re just days away from the holiday which falls 7 weeks after Passover, so it’s safe to say that I’m tardy in posting this one too. Please forgive me: I’ve decided to expand my Jewish food exploration to two years in the hopes that next year I’ll be ahead of schedule.

This is the lemon almond cake I made for our Easter celebration, although it is a Passover cake; let’s consider this a big head start on Passover 2014, okay? Alternatively, consider this as a really great spring and summer cake, as it is packed with fresh lemon flavor and would feel right at home alongside some fresh summer berries. Normally for Easter I would make a lemon tart, which is a much more pronounced use of lemon in a dessert. This cake hits you softly with lemon; it’s there, but instead of being the main event, it’s more the co-star alongside the equally lovely almond flavor.

Speaking of the almonds, there are two types in here: almonds finely ground into flour, and almonds chopped into crunchy bits. I’ll encourage you to do what you like with this part; if you prefer a smoother, more traditional cake, either blitz the chopped almonds in a food processor until very tiny, or go all the way and grind them up with the almond flour ones. I enjoyed the texture the crunchy almond bits added, but it may not be for everyone, so consider your guests when you make this.

lemon almond cake.

I don’t know about you, but syrup cakes are a wee bit unnerving to me. I imagine a situation where I poke holes and pour the liquid into the cake as directed, only to cut into it and find my entire cake has turned to mush inside, ruined my dessert course, and made my guests question my baking abilities. I’m sure this situation has happened, but it won’t with this cake: it bakes up dry and sturdy, making it a perfect vehicle for the syrup. I liked my syrup reduced and thicker than the original recipe calls for, which allows it to cling a bit more to the cake as you pour it; a good thing when you’re dealing with a cake which will sink in the center. Although you can do the syrup several hours before, I like to give this an overnight setup time to blend the flavors and let everything meld together in the way it should.

lemon almond cake.

I have big plans for this cake in the future: I’m going to experiment with other syrup flavors just to see how it turns out. Cakes like this are fun in that way: almonds lend themselves so well to fruit companions that it makes them easy to mess around with. I encourage you to do the same if you try this, although admittedly, it’s hard to beat fresh lemon.

Adapted from my newly beloved Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 1997: An Entire Year of Recipes from America’s Favorite Food Magazine. Seems like this was an excellent cookbook year for them; at last count, there’s 837 recipes in here I’m pretty stoked about.

Lemon Almond Cake

for the syrup:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup water

for the cake:

  • 1 tablespoon oil, for pan
  • 2 tablespoons matzo meal, for pan
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup ground almonds/almond flour (measure after grinding)
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped almonds*
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 8 large eggs, separated

*your version and my version of “finely chopped” may differ; this I know. Go by what sort of texture you’d like in your cake. If you run a knife through them a few times, you’ll end up with a very unique “crunch” factor to your cake which people will notice. If you’re wanting to play down this crunch, either use a nut grinder or small food processor to break them down to the size you want. If you’re not into any sort of varying texture, use those almonds to grind into additional almond flour and just add it to the cake with the rest of it; it’s a forgiving cake, so there’s no harm in that.Β 

Make the lemon syrup:

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice, zest, and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. When the mixture comes to a full boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer until the syrup has reduced to 2/3 cup, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Oil the bottom and sides of a 9-inch Springform pan, line with a round of parchment paper, and oil the top of the paper. Spoon in the matzo meal and (as you would with flour) coat the bottom and sides with it, tapping out any excess. Place the prepared pan in the refrigerator to chill.

In a large bowl using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix together the granulated sugar, almonds (almond flour and chopped almonds) lemon zest, and egg yolks until combined. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk the egg whites using an electric mixer (I’m not going to pretend I ever do this by hand, but if you do, fantastic) until stiff peaks form. Scoop one-quarter of the egg white mixture into the almond mixture and fold it in gently to lighten it. Once this is combined, gently fold in the remaining egg white mixture into the almond mixture in three additions, working slowly, until everything is homogenous.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan gently, being careful not to tap your spatula on the pan edge. Smooth the top if needed. Bake in the center of the oven for 50-55 minutes, checking at the 45-minute mark for doneness. When done, the cake will be golden and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out dry or with very few crumbs. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for around 15 minutes. Run a knife around the cake edge (as needed; the cake will probably pull mostly away from the sides while baking) and remove the collar of the Springform. Invert cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment, and place face-up on a wire rack to cool.

Once completely cooled, reheat your syrup if needed; it should just be warm, not steaming hot. Transfer the cake to a plate and poke holes, semi-deeply, all over with a wooden skewer – I find that you have much more control using a wooden skewer than you do using a fork, and the cake tends to stick less, which makes for a better finished product. Pour the syrup slowly and evenly over the cake, working from the outside in: if your cake is like my cake, it will sink in the middle, causing the syrup to pool. This is perfectly normal and fine, but it’s why you want to be sure to hit the outer sections first.

Set aside at room temperature to absorb the syrup, at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Serve at room temperature.

This cake keeps well stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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  • Reply Sue/the view from great island May 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve made a couple of citrus flourless cakes, but I don’t think I’ve ever made a lemon one…gotta fix that right away. Lemon and almond sounds pretty nice.

    • Reply shannon May 6, 2013 at 5:36 am

      you don’t see them often, right? or maybe i’m looking in the wrong places, because flourless, non-chocolate cake things seem a wee bit elusive to me. cue me scanning your blog for flourless citrus things. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Willow May 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Oooh, I *adore* lemon cakes! Especially if they’ve got a bit of almond going on at the same time… probably one of my favorite flavor combos out there. I love that it’s flourless, too – all the more versatile for serving to guests that way. Can I be invited to the next Jewish holiday baking event?! πŸ˜›

    • Reply shannon May 6, 2013 at 5:38 am

      almond and lemon are a nice couple; they always sound very soothing, like tea, or honey. You are SO invited to the next Jewish holiday baking event: evidently the one coming up here in a week or two is one where they celebrate all things dairy? so, WIN. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook May 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Shannon, exploring Jewish food could take a very long time! In any case I make a flourless mocha nut cake that was my grandmother’s. It is delicious and uses a very similar method and ingredients. I’m not a big fan of lemon in sweet foods but this looks very nice. And it is Shavout that’s coming. Dairy foods are what’s common. Blintz casseroles, now you’ve got me thinking!

    • Reply shannon May 6, 2013 at 5:42 am

      ooooh, a mocha nut cake! that sounds incredible, Abbe; i know i would really like something like that, for sure. i’ll say you could make the syrup from probably any citrus: i was thinking next time i’d try it with grapefruit just to see if it worked, or even orange. I’m also wondering if a non-citrus fruit like peaches would make a good syrup for this…maybe?
      I’ve heard that Shavout is my next holiday challenge, and i’ve been researching. You’d think it would be easy for me since it’s yes, very dairy-inclusive, but no…now there’s SO MANY CHOICES! πŸ™‚ It’s so nice to have all of you get involved with my little project; i need all the help i can get.

  • Reply Ashley May 3, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I totally love your desire to cook something for each (major) Jewish holiday! It sounds like a blast, plus you get to test out new recipes. This sounds a bit wacky, but I took a Judaism course in college (it was formatted to serve as a comparative reading/writing-english class and my adorable, snarky old man professor was awesome). At least one of the books we read was about preserving Jewish heritage through food… I’ll see if I can dig that out of the basement this weekend to pass along!

    I’m also digging this cake! Lemon is amazing on it’s own, as is almond. Together, I bet they’re a powerhouse….in a much more subtle way. Can you be a subtle powerhouse? Oh well. I bet it’s awesome! And syrup-drenched cakes are a bit terrifying to me too….you articulated my biggest fear – a sloppy, syrupy mess that used to/could have been cake. I’d still eat it, though. ha!

    • Reply shannon May 6, 2013 at 5:47 am

      Ashley, i am a researcher of things. It’s like if i am interested in something, i can’t just be “normal” interested as a bystander: I MUST KNOW ALL THE THINGS. It’s not at all wacky to take a Judaism course! I took as many electives about random topics for the sheer knowledge of it all. If you find the book, totally let me know; i’d love to read something like that. I’ve kept all my textbooks too (nerds unite). πŸ™‚

      This cake was good, and way less in-your-face lemony than i thought it would be, which was a welcome surprise as i have lots of very lemony desserts already. I consider you to be a subtle powerhouse, so…yes. πŸ™‚ Make no mistake, i’d still eat a blobby mess of syrup cake, too, it just would be semi-embarrassing to whip the spoon out in front of guests is all. The syrup nightmare hasn’t ever happened, but it does make me want to cut into one of these cakes pre-syrup to find out just how dry it really is to take in all that juice, you know? curiosity…it really is like, my driving force. *what is wrong with me*

      • Reply Ashley May 6, 2013 at 11:57 am

        Nothing! Stay curious! Just don’t follow any cats’ leads on what you’re curious about….that could get bad…

        • Reply shannon May 7, 2013 at 6:12 am

          i hear that never ends well…;)

  • Reply Antoinette May 3, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Being unable to eat wheat, rye in any form [celiac disease] and loving desserts, this looks like a perfect choice for me.

    • Reply shannon May 6, 2013 at 5:33 am

      Antoinette, i hope you love this cake: i have a relative with Celiac’s, so i try to make a little something special for her (she’s only 7) when i know she’ll be at family gatherings. it’s not always easy to find good dessert recipes for flourless things, but this one is delicious, i promise you.

  • Reply Monica May 3, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    This is the kind of everyday cake that I think I ultimately love best. I’m not a fan of buttercream and most frostings (total weakness for ganache though) so I love this. And when I read anything that says “almonds…”, my head pops right up! Plus, lemon too! Sounds great!

    • Reply shannon May 6, 2013 at 5:49 am

      you know, Monica, when i read this comment i thought “yes! i am getting ready to post a ganache thing for her!” but i kept it a secret. It was hard. I enjoy the everyday cake also; seems like some ignore them because it’s not done up all fancy, but so often they’re superior to their dolled-up counterparts. I’m biased – the buttercream thing – but give me a homey cake any day.

  • Reply Sharyn Dimmick May 3, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    A friend of mine eats gluten-free — if I eliminated the matzo meal for the pan she could eat this cake. Thanks — I may be making it soon.

    • Reply shannon May 6, 2013 at 5:55 am

      Sharyn, that’s great! I hope she likes this. I don’t see how eliminating the matzo meal would be an issue; it pulls away from the pan very well all on its own and doesn’t stick.

  • Reply movita beaucoup May 6, 2013 at 1:43 pm


    That is all.

    • Reply shannon May 7, 2013 at 6:14 am

      *crane kick of celebration*

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats May 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm


    • Reply shannon May 7, 2013 at 6:15 am

      but HOW?!? HOW am i to get over that?!? It’s like those poke cakes: how does the cake even hold up against the poking and liquid?!? Science, girl…i love it, and i trust it, and yet i fear it from time to time.

  • Reply Isabelle @ Crumb May 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    I’ve had a crash course in Jewish food traditions over the past eight years, thanks to my better half, and I have to say that the one thing I’ve yet to master in all that time is Passover baking. So kudos to you for being brave enough to not only tackle the challenge, but find a kickass recipe in the process!
    I love the fact that this cake is bathed in syrup… that’s probably what makes it so good in the end, because my biggest issue with matzoh-based cakes is their tendency to be dry and crumbly (and not in a good way). I’m filing this one away for next year’s Passover seder meal! πŸ™‚

    • Reply shannon May 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm

      Isabelle, how did you DO IT at first?? It seems like i can’t even make the deadlines, and i’m just trying to do one thing, not like, even a whole meal. SO MANY HOLiDAYS! πŸ™‚ I think it’s awesome you were thrown into it and have managed to do well with it; i’m excited to learn more as i go, for sure.
      YAY! I did read in the F&W cookbook i adapted this from that they actually adapted it from a recipe which used oranges versus lemons for the syrup, which i think would be lovely also.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog May 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    I adore almonds in every form. I love that you used almond flour and chopped almonds. Now I’m thinking about those hazelnut cookies. Gah, I must make them soon. This cake is a winner, and I think your photos are perfect.

  • Reply shannon May 9, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    …and now we’re both thinking about those hazelnut cookies. dang you! *shakes fist*

  • Reply Katherine {eggton} May 18, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Almond anything is the way to my heart. This is probably the thing of yours that I’m going to make next. I adore Amanda Hesser’s almond cake. Frangipane is also huge. I can’t wait until the right occasion pops up for this!

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      I’m looking up Amanda’s almond cake: she has such great recipes, and i don’t think i’ve seen that one. I’m pretty partial to almonds/almond flavor myself, and it’s such a versatile ingredient! You’ll like the GF almond chocolate chip cookies i have coming up, i bet.

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