Lemon Marzipan Cake
Two of my cousins have had babies within the last year and a half, turning both of my grandmothers into great-grandmothers, and giving me some of my first experiences with babies. It's also made me realize that my parents are at the age to be grandparents, and I'm nearing the age at which my mother had me. I won't bombard you with platitudes about time flying and life being short, but I swear that I was a kid myself just a couple of years ago.
It's gotten me thinking about my own great-grandparents, the one's I knew. They were German immigrants, my father's grandparents, and I remember their thick accents and how very ancient they seemed to me. My mom says that I got my chestnut-colored hair from my German great-grandmother. When I knew her, her hair was obviously white. But I definitely got this German Plum Cake from her, and little pieces of chocolate-covered marzipan every time she and my great-grandfather came to visit.
There was something comforting about that box of marzipan. No surprises like the boxes of mixed chocolates, no getting stuck with the chocolate-and-dried-fruit piece because I didn't realize there was a map on the lid of the box. Always marzipan, always a safe bet.
I've made marzipan before, blanching almonds, grinding them with sugar and egg whites, and finally dipping the pieces in chocolate. This, obviously, is not the same thing. And I didn't make the marzipan either. And in fact, it's not really marzipan, but almond paste. The difference between them seems to be a point of contention, in as much as ground almonds can be a point of contention. But evidently almond paste is less sweet than full-on marzipan. It's more of an ingredient than an end in itself.
Don't worry if your almond paste never quite reaches a perfectly smooth consistency, by the way. There might be little pockets of almond floating around in your batter, but they're delicious in their own right. I've adapted the recipe a bit, substituting in a little all purpose flour for part of the cake flour and reducing the sugar just a bit. I find almond paste to be quite sweet, even if less sweet than true marzipan, so I don't think the cake requires a huge amount of extra sugar. I also added the lemon zest with the sugar at the beginning, rather than stirring it in near the end. The reason for this is that the granulated sugar works something like sandpaper, releasing the oils in the lemon skin and making the zest even more fragrant.
Lemon Marzipan Cake
Adapted from Linda Carucci's Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks
2 cups cake flour plus 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces almond paste
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
Zest of 2 large lemons
Preheat the oven to 300F and grease a tube pan. Set aside.
Sift together the flours, salt and baking soda into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the almond paste on low until crumbly (I never did get to smooth, but maintain that it doesn't matter). Add the sugar and the lemon zest and continue to beat on low until combined. Add in the butter and beat until fluffy, another 5 minutes or so. You may need to stop and scrape the bowl down before adding the egg yolks and the vanilla extra. Beat until combined.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half the sour cream, 1/3 of the flour mixture, the rest of the sour cream and finish with the final 1/3 of the flour. Be sure to mix well between each addition, but don't over-beat.
In another clean, dry bowl, use the whip attachment to whip the egg whites until firm but not dry. Fold the egg whites by hand using a spatula into the prepared batter. Be gentle so as to deflate the whites as little as possible.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 1 to 1:15 hours, until it passes the toothpick test. Let stand in the hot pan for about 5 minutes, then invert onto a cooling wrack, and again onto another cooling rack so that it's sitting the right way up. Let cool completely before serving.