May Birthday Cake

 Almond cake on antique violet plate

Almond cake on antique violet plate

In the back room of Home Style Bakery where icing was whipped in deep bowls, tinted pastel shades and piped into scrolls, roses, and lacy letters, birthday cake spelled delight. Even as a young girl, I knew if I wanted one of these cakes, I’d better learn to make it myself. So began a life-long love of birthday baking. I copied the masters, practiced on cardboard with Crisco until the pastry bag became an extension of my hand. My children had cakes of billowing doll dresses, trains, flower gardens, and trees. With the passage of time we all found the baked portions more interesting than the icing. My daughter opted for pound cake, my son for Swiss butter cream–filled sponge, and I found mine in a dense volume from the legendary Paul Bocuse.

I had once pored over Bocuse’s book, though I no longer own it nor remember his exact title. Yet I still have the remnant of his Pain de Gênes penciled in a recipe notebook. Each May I leaf through its pages to find this special cake and use the remainder of almond paste saved from my Christmas stollen. Perfect in its simplicity, this delicate item wants no icing and will take you back in time as you savor its sweetness with a cup of strong coffee or a pot of tea.

This cake is not a quick mix, chemically leavened layer, but a long-beaten, carefully folded, naturally rising confection. It may test patience, but once mastered, it’s a gem. Measuring is crucial, and although I’ve listed cup alternatives, there’s no substitute for an accurate scale.

 Pain de Gênes (French Almond Cake)

4 oz. almond paste (scent half cup)

¼ teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 tiny drop oil of anise (optional)

3 large eggs (almost 5 fl. oz.)

pinch salt (scant 1/8 teaspoon)

2 oz. unsalted butter, melted (1/2 stick)

3 ½ oz. sugar (1/2 cup)

2 ½ oz. bleached all purpose flour (1/2 cup)

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Butter and flour 1  7-inch deep round cake tin or 2 small loaf pans (6 x 3 ½ inches). Preheat oven to 350°.

Crumble almond paste in the bottom of mixing bowl for stand mixer. Add extracts, salt and optional anise. Attach paddle beater. Using moderate speed, add eggs one at a time, beating several minutes after each addition until the mixture looks like a thick even cream. Alternate three ounces of sugar after adding each egg. The egg, almond paste, sugar mixture should be beaten until it is light and thick enough to form a figure 8 when the beater is lifted from the mass. This process will take at least 10-12 minutes of continuous beating.

Meanwhile sift the flour and the remaining half-ounce of sugar three times, and make sure the butter is melted and cooled to lukewarm.

When the egg mass tests ready, remove from stand mixer, clean off paddle and fold the sifted flour/sugar in three additions using a rubber spatula. Fold the melted, clear butter into the batter thoroughly in three additions. Turn the cake into the prepared tins, smoothing the top. Place in the preheated oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325°. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until tests done. Allow cake to rest in the baking tin for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 1 round layer or two small loaves. Store in an airtight tin to enjoy for a week.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon


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One Response to “May Birthday Cake”

  1. Judy Hicks Says:

    Mary Jo
    This sounds heavenly. Looking forward to trying it.
    Judy Hicks

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