Rosier by the second
Which explains why, this morning, before I had so much as shrugged in the direction of the shower, I fired up the oven and baked a cake. When opportunity peeks its head in the door, you don’t ask it to come back later, after you’ve had a chance to wash your hair. You grab it with an oven mitt and shove it in the oven. You don’t mess around. Especially when there’s a bowl of ripe apricots on the table, getting rosier by the second. A week is best begun, I would argue, with the whirr of the mixer, the gentle slap-slap-slap of butter and sugar becoming batter.
Apricot season has barely begun around here, but I saw a few lovely specimens at the Phinney farmers’ market on Friday, and they begged me to buy them. They didn’t yet have the grandeur of their later-season brethren, fat and filled to the brim with juice, but they were fragrant enough, with faintly rouged cheeks. I bought a half-dozen, planning to eat them on the spot, but then a bushel of Rainier cherries caught my eye, and everybody knows that’s the best thing to munch while strolling the market aisles, and in the end, it was just as well. Apricots, I find, are a fickle little fruit. They’re stupendously good every now and then - Frog Hollow Farm, I’m looking at you - but otherwise, they’re only so-so. Where they’re at their best, I find, is in the oven. There, even a mediocre apricot opens up and blooms, releasing all sorts of sweetness and syrupy juice. So unless I know for certain that I’ve got a real winner, the sort that drips all over when you take a bite, better to steer it into the oven. Preferably atop a dense, buttery cake scented with ground almonds. Which is exactly what I did this morning, in my bathrobe and unwashed hair.
The results were quite delicious, especially after a shower and a lunch of blanched snap peas, thick slices of fresh mozzarella with olive oil and salt, and a goodly hunk of olive fougasse. It didn’t hurt, too, that it made the house smell wholesome and sweet. My mother is coming to town tomorrow for a few days of wedding errands, and our little home - huddled lately under a siege of to-do lists, RSVP cards, and other wedding paperwork - needed some spiff and shine. A freshly baked cake made a fine air freshener, right up there with the bundle of fresh flowers on the kitchen table. Later, of course, there will also be some sweeping, some scrubbing, and some vacuuming, and some more cake. And then, shazam!, it will be Sunday.
Have a great week, friends.
Almond Torte with Sugared Apricots
Inspired by Marion Burros’ “Original Plum Torte”
To prepare the ground almonds for this recipe, put about ¼ cup blanched almonds into the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until you have a fine, sandy powder with no large lumps or bits. Some people tell you to be careful with this – that the almonds could turn to almond butter before you know it – but I’ve never had any trouble, and I really process the heck out of mine.
Oh, and if you don’t have almonds lying around, just up the flour to 1 cup. It’s no problem.
1/3 cup finely ground blanched almonds
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
6 ripe apricots, halved and pitted
1-2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
Set an oven rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In another medium bowl (or the bowl of stand mixer), beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the dry ingredients and the eggs and beat to combine, scraping down the bowl as needed. Do not overmix. The batter will be pale yellow and very thick.
Pour and scrape the batter into an ungreased - you want some traction; hence no butter or cooking spray - 9-inch springform pan, and use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly. Arrange the apricots cut-side-up on top of the batter, and sprinkle them with sugar. If they’re particularly sweet, you should only need about 1 tablespoon, but if they’re only so-so, you might want up to two.
Slide the pan into the oven, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven, and let cool on a wire rack. Run a thin knife around the perimeter of the cake; then release the sides of the pan. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm, preferably with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Note: Wrapped in plastic wrap and foil, this cake freezes very well. The only trouble is that it’s pretty firmly stuck to the bottom of the springform pan, so you have to freeze that along with it.
Yield: 8 servings