I made no cake for my birthday this year. This was by design. I wasn’t in the mood for cake: for crafting it or for eating it, and if you cook or bake regularly, you probably understand that you go through phases where the things which sound incredible to others are the things you want to be the furthest away from. So no cake was made this year, and I was perfectly okay with that.
Mr. Table is not a food blogger: probably the furthest thing from it, which means he’s all in for birthday cake. And what’s birthday cake without ice cream, right? So I threw together a little dessert featuring these beautiful things. Although not a proper layered birthday cake, the original recipe is for almond cake layers from the Piece of Cake cookbook. You remember that one: a few of you have purchased it by now, based on these gloriously be-sprinkled sugar cookies and these incredibly fun chocolate chip cupcakes. It’s a fabulous book, and these cupcakes are more proof of that.
I did a good amount of adapting here: I had to, because it takes a little work sometimes to make a layer cake into a cupcake. Also have you ever done that thing where you’re cutting a recipe in half as you go, and then boom: you forget that’s what you’re doing and then add the WHOLE AMOUNT OF SOMETHING to the bowl? Right; I did that. As luck would have it, I did it with the almond flour, which was an easy fix; a little monkeying around with the liquids and my mistake turned into one of the best almond cakes I’ve ever had.
Delightfully dense, but not at all heavy, these are a nice alternative to a vanilla cupcake. The ground almonds give it subtle flavor and that special texture you can only find in things which use almond flour: that wee bit of sturdiness you can’t get with regular flour. Although they do contain a small amount of almond extract, they don’t have the slightly artificial, candy taste of a classic wedding cake; the extract only amplifies the naturally sweet almond flavor that’s already inside.
pair these with whatever frosting you want, but I will always prefer a straightforward chocolate ganache with these. They are a flatter cupcake, and the almond flour gives it a bit of rustic bumpiness, so the ganache does double duty here: It smooths over the rough spots, and doesn’t try to create artificial height with poofs and swirls. It’s a very elegant-looking cupcake, and the flavors are pretty high-class as well. To fancy them up a bit, pop a chocolate covered almond in the center of each one, and they’ll be irresistible.
And if you ever have occasion to throw an ice cream sunday party for a grown man and other adults? Consider forgoing the sprinkles and crushed candy, and head right for this little trio:
What you see here is hot fudge sauce (the very same as what is used to top these cupcakes, and the chocolate chip cupcakes I mentioned earlier), apple pie compote, and some vanilla-almond granola. Everything is made from scratch, easy to throw together, and you can make it all ahead of time. Set it out with some vanilla ice cream and watch while people figure out what combos sound the best. Chocolate fudge drizzled over the vanilla almond granola? Perfect. The granola topping warm apple compote, like a deconstructed pie? Superb. Whatever the combinations, everyone will feel happy and a little less sugar-buzzed than if you had set out a bunch of candy toppings. You can branch out from that if you wish; be creative! But it’s a good core group of things.
If you’re wondering where to find the recipe for the apple compote? It’s currently in the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas, which I know at least one of you has (and more of you should). I’m still putting my personal touch onto it, and I’ll post it when I’ve gotten it just right. I actually have the book with me right now in Nashville: there’s all sorts of delicious things in here, including an entire section on fancy sandwiches (which is why it’s here.)
This recipe is for Monica over at Playing with Flour, one of my newest favorite blogs. I can’t decide if I love her more for her writing style or for her love of all things chocolate and almond, but I feel like these would be right up her alley. It’s her fault I had so many almonds in my pantry, anyway: I had stocked up to make this almond semolina cake and this lovely almond bread, and I still plan to do that very soon.
Adapted from the Almond Cake Layers recipe in Piece of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by The Davids Muniz and Lesniak. I’ve said this many times, but it’s a fabulous book for straightforward baking and some interesting twists on classics. To those of you who purchased this due to my glowing reviews? You’re smart people: very, very smart.
Almond Cupcakes + Chocolate Ganache
for the cupcakes:
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup almond flour/ground almonds*
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
for the chocolate ganache:
- 2 ounces 72% chocolate, chopped
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 2 fat pinches kosher salt (probably around 1/8 teaspoon)
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup**
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
*I almost always purchase almonds and grind them into flour rather than buying almond flour: I feel like the texture is slightly better. If you’re grinding them like I do, you’ll need right around 1 1/4 cups of blanched almonds for this. Throw them in a food processor and let them go until powdery.
**Friends, I know all about corn syrup and why some people don’t want it in their diets. I get it: I don’t buy things with it in there either, for the most part, but I don’t believe that a few teaspoons will hurt anyone. That’s just my food philosophy in general. In this ganache, it’s the key to the stability and shine you see above. If you want to substitute with honey, be my guest, but your flavor and texture will vary slightly from my recipe. If it were just for topping ice cream with, I wouldn’t care as much, but you’re asking a liquid to stay firmly on top of a cupcake. It needs the extra stick.
As if you needed one more note: This ganache holds its shape very well; if you look at the chocolate chip cupcakes, you’ll see it stands up without drizzling all over the place. I did the drizzle on purpose: if you heat the ganache up just a bit before you do these, you can achieve a nice little drizzle action like you see above, but I would suggest doing that and then sticking them in the refrigerator as soon as you’re done with the dunking step so they “freeze” like that.
Make the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two standard muffin tins with liners, or just line one if you’re like me and are superstitious about baking more than one thing at a time. Or – also like me – you happen to have only one standard muffin tin. Who has room for two?
In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the sour cream, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each incorporation. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again, then beat again for a few seconds until everything is homogenous.
Stir the buttermilk into the sour cream mixture until combined. Add both the flour mixture and the sour cream mixture in two parts, beginning with the flour mixture, and mix on low after each addition, just until each addition is combined. No overmixing, please, but it’s important with these cakes to make sure everything is thoroughly incorporated; scrape down the bowl after each addition, all the way to the bottom. After the last addition has been combined, scrape it down once more, checking for streaks. If you find any, stir with your spatula to incorporate.
Using my beloved spring-loaded ice cream scoop, portion the cupcakes out into the muffin tin(s). If you’re only using one tin, your extra batter is just fine sitting on the counter waiting until the first batch is finished.
Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 19-22 minutes, checking at the 18 minute mark for doneness: these are an almond cupcake, remember, so you want them just done, but not dry. Test them with a small wooden skewer; they are done when no wet batter comes out of the center (but a few clingy crumbs are okay.) Transfer the entire muffin tin to a cooling rack, and when they are cool enough to handle, ease them out onto the cooking rack and repeat as needed with your second round.
Make the ganache:
In a medium bowl, add the chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. As soon as you see it begin to boil, remove it from the heat and pour the cream mixture over your chocolate mixture and allow to sit undisturbed for 1 minute.
Slowly begin to whisk the mixture by hand, for as long as it takes to dissolve everything together. Then pick up your speed, whisking at a decent clip and increasing your speed as you go (think of it as a cardio endurance challenge) for about 4 minutes, until your mixture is glossy and completely smooth. I say “completely” here because you will begin to get tired, and you will try to pointedly ignore the tiny granules of undissolved sugar still staring at you from the bowl. Do not leave them undissolved, people, because grainy chocolate fudge sauce does nothing for your presentation. Keep going until you can truthfully say you see no grains. Set aside.
Cake dunk time:
When your cupcakes have cooled to room temperature, it’s time to dunk them. Rewarm your ganache if you need to, but you want it to be thick in consistency to adhere to the tops of your cakes, so watch overheating it. Firmly grip a cupcake by the paper, overturn into the bowl of ganache until the top is submerged (there won’t be much of a top, so dunk until you hit the paper edge). Give it a little wiggle back and forth a few times, then pull it out, keeping it face-down. Dunk it again, repeating the motion, then pull it out again, still upside-down. You’ll see the excess ganache start to drape off: to get the tops smooth, manipulate the cupcake so the draping is moving towards the center of the cake as you turn it over, which eliminates any edge runoff. Set the cupcake back on the wire rack to settle into themselves for at least an hour. The ganache won’t ever completely harden unless you put it/the finished cupcakes in the refrigerator, so leave them at room temperature until you serve them. If it’s extra hot in your kitchen and you feel like the ganache could use a little fast firming up, throw them in the fridge for an hour or so.
These should stay shiny and beautiful for at least 4 days. The ganache sort of entombs the flavors inside the cake, so it’s like its own airtight container. Nevertheless, store these in an actual airtight container for up to 4 days. They will never last unless you stand by them and swat hands 24 hours a day. Including your own hands.
PS: if that little bit of flowery big of ganache language sounds familiar, it’s because I took it from the chocolate chip cupcakes post. Because I know some of you read all the way through the recipes, and I didn’t want you to think I was short-changing you.