For Chocolate Lovers only
 


Toasted Almond Chocolate Cake

Tips: An easy-to-make chocolate layer cake is covered with a generous amount of very smooth, not-too-sweet chocolatey frosting, then dressed up with the addition of toasted, slivered almonds all over the exterior. Yum! Great for a birthday cake or any other occasion. You’ll need 9 inch layer pans that are at least 1-3/4 inches deep, as well as a sturdy, handheld electric mixer to make the cake. I make the frosting in an electric stand mixer, but I believe that a sturdy handheld would work well there, too.

Slivered almonds come in chunky oblong shapes, without their brown skins. Please be sure you toast them as specified, as it really adds to their flavor. Strictly speaking, the use of these almonds is optional, and the cake will still be good without them, but they add a depth of almond flavor and a wonderful textural contrast. If you do use almonds to coat the exterior, please enjoy the cake within a couple of days, as if it is stored for longer the nuts will begin to lose their nice crispness. I would not advise freezing this cake, as the almonds become soggy when it is thawed.

Yield: at least 12 servings

Ingredients:

    Almonds:
  • 1-2/3 cups slivered almonds
    Cake:
  • 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • Enough milk to make 2 cups
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 4 squares (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs, graded “large”, preferably at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 tsp. pure almond extract
    Frosting:
  • 4 squares (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, very finely chopped
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • Few grains of salt
  • 3-1/2 cups sifted or strained confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Method:

For Almonds: Up to 24 hours in advance of assembling the cake, toast the almonds. Adjust rack to center of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, line a shallow baking pan large enough to hold the almonds in a single layer with aluminum foil, then place the almonds into the lined pan.

Toast almonds in preheated oven for 12 to 13 minutes. Stir often and watch carefully; nuts can burn easily. Almonds should be a light golden brown and have the aroma of, well, toasted almonds. Remove from oven and stir (still in pan) for a minute or two to cool slightly. Cool completely at room temperature before using.

For Cake: Cut two rounds of wax paper to fit the bottoms of two, 9 inch round layer pans, each at least 1-3/4 inches deep. Grease pans with vegetable shortening, line bottoms with wax paper rounds, and grease the rounds. Lightly flour the entire insides of each pan, knocking out any excess. Set aside.

Pour vinegar into 2 cup liquid measure; add enough milk to make 2 cups. Add water. Allow mixture to stand at room temperature until needed. Into large bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Combine finely chopped chocolate and butter in small heatproof bowl. Set over simmering water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl); stir often until almost melted. Remove from heat and hot water; stir until melted and smooth. (Alternatively, place chocolate and butter in small microwaveable bowl. Microwave at 50% (medium) power for short intervals, stirring well after each, just until smooth and melted). Allow to cool until just warm, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, adjust rack to center of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

When chocolate mixture is just warm, mix cake batter. Pour vinegar-milk mixture into sifted dry ingredients; add eggs, vanilla, and almond extract. With sturdy, handheld electric mixer, beat about 10 seconds at lowest speed until dry ingredients are moistened. Throughly scrape bowl and beater(s) with rubber spatula. Increase speed to medium; beat batter about 30 seconds (batter will be thin).

All at once, add just-warm chocolate mixture. Mix in immediately at a low speed just until batter is an even color. Batter will thicken slightly with addition of chocolate mixture.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Holding each pan in both sides, tilt it gently so batter runs slightly higher up edges of pan. Place pans in preheated oven.

Bake 33 to 38 minutes, turning pans back-to-front and switching their positions in the oven after about 15 minutes. Batter will probably rise higher in center—OK. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted near the center of each layer emerges with only a few moist crumbs still clinging to it—do not overbake! Remove cakes to cooling racks. Allow to cool in pans 10 minutes; usually, tops of cakes level themselves during this time.

Gently loosen cakes from sides of pans with a butter knife or plastic spatula. Invert pans, one at a time, onto cooling racks. Remove pans; gently peel off wax paper round from bottom. Re-invert to cool right side up; cool completely before frosting. While layers cool, invert each once, then re-invert to finish cooling; this helps to prevent bottoms of layers from sticking to cooling rack.

For Frosting: Place finely chopped chocolate in small heatproof bowl. Place bowl over simmering water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl); stir frequently until almost melted. Remove from heat and hot water; stir until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

While chocolate cools, combine cream cheese and butter (both of which must be softened but not melted) in large bowl of electric mixer (or in large bowl, if making this with a sturdy handheld electric mixer). Add salt. Beat at medium speed until well-mixed and smooth. Scrape bowl and beater(s) thoroughly; beat again at medium speed until smooth. Note: it is important to scrape your bowl and beater(s) thoroughly and often while making this frosting.

When melted chocolate has cooled until it is only slightly warm, add, all at once, to butter-cream cheese mixture. Beat at medium speed until combined, stopping often to scrape bowl and beater(s). Mixture may be quite stiff at this point—OK.

Add 2 cups of the confectioner’s sugar with about one-third of the water; beat at low speed to combine, then at medium speed until well-blended and smooth. Scrape bowl and beater(s); beat again at medium speed until smooth. Add half of remaining water and vanilla; repeat beating and scraping down processes. Finally, add remaining 1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar and rest of water. Repeat beating and scraping down processes. When you have finished, frosting should be perfectly smooth and of a good, slightly loose, spreading consistency.

Gently brush loose crumbs from sides of cooled cake layers. Place one layer upside down on a flat serving plate at least 10 inches in diameter. Frost the flat bottom (now the top) of this layer generously. Place remaining layer right side up onto frosting. Generously frost sides, then top, of cake.

Apply toasted almond garnish by cupping your dominant hand slightly and picking up a moderate amount of the cooled, toasted almonds in that hand. Starting at the bottom of the frosted cake and working your way up, gently press your handful of almonds into the frosting. Don’t try to do this on too large an area at once. If any almonds fall off, replace them on the sides or top of the cake. If your hands get frosting on them, wipe or wash it off, as it’s easier to work with the almonds with clean, dry hands. Once you’ve finished coating the sides, sprinkle the remaining almonds over the top and press in gently. Chill cake at least 2 hours before serving, covering airtight when cold. Store airtight in refrigerator for up to a couple of days (after that, the almonds will become increasingly soggy).

To serve, cut portions with a large, very sharp, serrated knife. Use a gentle sawing motion to cut the cake. Important: Allow cut portions to stand at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap, 20 to 30 minutes before serving—allowing the chill to come off really brings out the cake’s flavor.

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