A cup­cake con­fi­dent in its own skin

The Hamilton Spectator - - FOOD - MELISSA CLARK

It’s rare to see a naked cup­cake.

Most are crowned with bil­lows of frost­ing: the higher the peaks, the more crowd-pleas­ing the re­sult.

To make a cup­cake with­out any gild­ing, driz­zling or sug­ary swirling on top takes guts. It also takes a plan — how do you com­pete with all that op­u­lent fluff when you’re in a more min­i­mal­ist frame of mind?

Now, I have noth­ing against frost­ing. It’s just that not ev­ery cup­cake needs it. There is a case to be made for a cup­cake in which the cake it­self is so ten­der and but­tery that adding frost­ing would be overkill.

Take, for ex­am­ple, these mini al­mond cakes. Based on a clas­sic flour­less al­mond torte, they are vel­vety and moist, with a fine-tex­tured crumb and a heady al­mond flavour. They also hap­pen to be gluten-free, though with­out be­ing ob­vi­ous about it.

I have made them plain and sim­ple and, to my mind, they are fab­u­lous, if a lit­tle se­vere in ap­pear­ance.

For some­thing fancier, though cer­tainly more re­strained than a moun­tain of but­ter­cream, I’ve also made them filled with cho­co­late ganache as well as with cherry jam.

Of the two, adding a bit­ter­sweet cho­co­late ganache is a more so­phis­ti­cated take. It adds a fudgy bite but isn’t the least bit cloy­ing.

The cherry jam ver­sion is sweeter and brighter in flavour, but not over the top. I par­tic­u­larly love the com­bi­na­tion of al­monds and cherry, but any thick fruit jam will work, so choose your favourite. Just avoid jelly, which is too thin to re­main dis­tinct while bak­ing, and will in­stead meld with the bat­ter.

There is a trick to mak­ing the cakes so that the fill­ing re­mains in the cen­tre with­out falling to the bot­tom of the pan and burn­ing. In­stead of fill­ing the cakes be­fore bak­ing, I bake them for 10 min­utes, then fill them. This al­lows the bat­ter to set up enough to sup­port the cho­co­late or jam. Note that ovens and muf­fin pans vary, so if you try this recipe and the fill­ing still sinks and burns, next time bake the cakes for another minute or two be­fore adding the fill­ing.

And if you ab­so­lutely can’t imag­ine a cup­cake with­out ic­ing, skip the fill­ing and use the ganache to frost the cakes, do­ing so while the ganache is warm but the cakes have cooled. Just re­sist any but­ter­cream urges. These dar­ling cakes are but­tery enough on their own.

Mini Al­mond Cakes with Cho­co­late or Cherry MAKES 12 CUP­CAKES

1/3 cup heavy cream (op­tional) 3 ounces bit­ter­sweet cho­co­late, finely chopped (op­tional) 6 ta­ble­spoons melted un­salted but­ter, cooled, plus more for muf­fin tin ¾ cup al­mond flour or meal ¾ cup con­fec­tion­ers’ sugar ¼ tea­spoon fine sea salt 2 large eggs Few drops al­mond ex­tract (op­tional) 3 tbsp corn­starch 1¼ tsp bak­ing pow­der 2 large egg whites 2 tbsp gran­u­lated sugar ¼ cup cherry jam (op­tional)

Total time: 50 min­utes, plus chilling 1. Make the cho­co­late ganache, if us­ing: in a heavy-bot­tomed saucepan, heat cream un­til bub­bling (or place the cream in a glass mea­sur­ing cup and heat it in the mi­crowave). Re­move from heat, add cho­co­late and let sit for one minute, then stir un­til smooth. Trans­fer cho­co­late to a small con­tainer (prefer­ably metal) and freeze un­til firm, at least 30 min­utes.

2. Scoop and roll into ¾-inch balls. Note that the ganache is very soft and can be messy to han­dle, but get­ting per­fectly round balls isn’t nec­es­sary. Place in re­frig­er­a­tor un­til needed. Ganache balls can be pre­pared up to one week ahead.

3. Heat oven to 350 de­grees. But­ter a muf­fin tin.

4. Us­ing a food pro­ces­sor or blender, mix al­mond flour, con­fec­tion­ers’ sugar and salt un­til pow­dery, about 30 sec­onds. Add eggs and al­mond ex­tract and process un­til smooth, 30 sec­onds longer. Pulse in but­ter, corn­starch and bak­ing pow­der. Scrape mix­ture into a large bowl.

5. Us­ing a beater or an elec­tric mixer, whip egg whites un­til very foamy. Grad­u­ally add gran­u­lated sugar while beat­ing eggs un­til stiff peaks form.

6. Us­ing a spat­ula, gen­tly and care­fully fold a third of the egg whites into al­mond mix­ture to lighten it. Then, fold in re­main­ing whites just un­til no streaks re­main.

7. Spoon bat­ter into pre­pared muf­fin tins, and bake for 10 min­utes. Re­move from oven. Pull balls of ganache from re­frig­er­a­tor, if us­ing, and place one ball in cen­tre of each cake, push­ing it down half­way into bat­ter. Or spoon 1 tea­spoon cherry jam on top of each cake; do not push down. Re­turn to oven and bake un­til light brown and a tooth­pick in­serted into cake (and not the cho­co­late or cherry) comes out clean, another eight to 10 min­utes. Serve warm or at room tem­per­a­ture, prefer­ably within eight hours of bak­ing.

PHOTOS BY BANDREW SCRIVANI, NYT

Based on a clas­sic flour­less al­mond torte, these al­mond cakes are vel­vety and moist, with a fine-tex­tured crumb and a heady al­mond flavour.

Jam-filled al­mond cakes.

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