One of the major breakthroughs in my culinary life was when I was 19, newly legal (meaning, in Canada, legally able to drink) and I took to drinking a mixture of amaretto and 7-Up at parties. I thought I was so cool.
It makes me cringe now – amaretto and 7-Up? Today I would consider it sickly sweet, syrup-ey and wouldn’t be able to manage more than a few sips before giving up and going for some gin. But that was just it – I was a relatively new (albeit enthusiastic!) drinker, not a fan of beer (that would change over the summer) and after a very bad night was no longer interested in the trusty go-to of vodka and OJ (I’m still not over it – never, ever offer me a screwdriver!).
The amaretto was a revelation. I had never tasted anything like it, except at Christmastime when my mom would put almond extract in her buttercream and frost Christmas cookies with it. Before then, I didn’t realize how delicious the flavour of almond could be with the right combination. I didn’t even realize it was almond that I was tasting.
Almond and amaretto continue to be one of my favourite flavours to work with. Who knew such depth existed in such a simple nut? An almond sponge is so easy and economical to make, it’s a great gluten-free dessert and it packs a punch of gorgeous flavour while remaining light and airy. What’s not to love?
I made this cake, soaked it in a simple caramel syrup and topped it with a dollop of fresh cream whipped with vanilla. I folded some Folláin strawberry preserve into the cream instead of adding sugar, then I garnished the cake with some almond brittle, made by pouring hot caramel over toasted, slivered almonds. It’s pretty simple, but makes a beautifully elegant dessert if you’re trying to impress someone.
Almond Sponge, Strawberry Preserve Chantilly & Almond Brittle
For the sponge:
6 room temperature eggs, separated
200 grams ground almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
For the Chantilly:
250 ml fresh cream (35%)
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp Strawberry Preserve
For the almond brittle
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds
- Make the sponge: preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 Celsius, no fan). Grease and line a tube or spring-form pan.
- Separate your eggs. Beat the egg whites, gradually adding 1/4 cup of sugar, until medium peaks are reached.
- Beat the egg yolks with remaining 1/2 cup sugar and vanilla. Beat until ribbon stage is reached (pale yellow, doubled in volume, falls in a ribbon pattern). Stir the ground almonds into the yolk mixture.
- Stir 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the almond/yolk mixture. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites until completely incorporated. Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until set.
- Bring finished sponge to room temperature before soaking in caramel syrup (to make the syrup: make a caramel out of 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil over med-high heat. Do not stir, but occasionally swirl the saucepan. When a golden caramel is achieved, add one cup cold water to the saucepan and bring to a boil once more. Cool this mxture and pour over the almond sponge to soak.).
- Make the Chantilly: using a glass bowl and balloon whisk, whip the cream with the vanilla until soft peaks are reached. Gently fold strawberry preserve into the cream mixture and chill until ready to use.
- Make the almond brittle: toast slivered or sliced almonds in a dry frying pan until golden brown. Spread toasted almond evenly over a parchment-lined baking sheet. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water to a boil. Cook this mixture, never stirring but occasionally swirling the saucepan, until a med-dark caramel is reached. Pour the caramel over the almonds, spreading it evenly over the almonds while still hot and workable. When the almonds are covered, put the brittle in the freezer to cool, about 20 minutes.
- Slice the finished cake and top with Chantilly and almond brittle.