Christmas Cottage Cake

December 18, 2011

Most of my friends who bake have their Christmas traditions pretty firmly established by now. Not me! This year I initiated what is likely to become one of my family’s most enduring customs—Christmas Cottage Cake. It’s a dense almond tea cake baked in a cottage-shaped pan. Although the finished cake looks impressive, with the right tools it is actually quite simple to make. In fact, I baked one for each of my children’s three teachers, another one for Christmas with my Mom, two more for Christmas with Doug’s family, and the final one for New Year’s Eve with my Dad. I know it sounds like an excess of baking, but I actually spent much less time on the cakes than I would have making tarts or pies or cookies. In fact, I marveled at how quickly and easily I could turn the cakes out and how delighted all were to receive them.

Of course, much of the appeal comes from the shape of the pan. Mine is from Nordic Ware, a reliable manufacturer of cast iron cake molds. I found it on Amazon for $25. Although the 10-cup mold is non-stick, I butter and flour it anyway, just to avoid any potential problems.

Each cake serves about 12 to 14 people. I like to top each piece with a generous dollop of softly whipped cream that has been lightly sweetened with sugar and scented with a hint of vanilla. My Dad has a ripe kumkuat tree in his backyard, so I candied some of the peel to spoon over the cream on his cake. I also make a gingerbread version of this cake (a recipe for next year!) over which I sprinkle shards of crystallized ginger in addition to the cream.

Christmas Cottage Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

7 oz almond paste

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature

Powdered sugar for sifting

Lightly whipped cream for serving

Heat oven to 325F. Brush inside of 10-cup cake mold with melted butter or shortening, then dust with flour. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Shred the almond paste on the large holes of a grater/shredder. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, and almond paste. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula if needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the almond extract. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually beat in the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk in 2 batches, just until blended. Do not overbeat.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Rap pan gently but firmly on the counter top to bring any air bubbles to the surface. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes with just a few crumbs attached, about 55 minutes. Let cool upright for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack and let cool completely. Sift powdered sugar over the top of the cake and serve with softly whipped cream to spoon on the top.

Serves 12-14

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