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February 23, 2009

Torta di Mandorla (Moist Almond Cake)

Last year I started a new tradition on Oscar night: my friend Mandy comes over to watch the Oscars with my family and I bake a cake for the occasion. Last year I made a sweet and spicy Mexican Chocolate Cake that everyone enjoyed. This year I gave Mandy the honor of picking the cake and she choose this Torta di Mandorla.
Let me just say that this cake was INCREDIBLE! It may have been the best cake I've ever made. Seriously. It had a sweet almond flavor with subtle hints of lemon and olive oil. And the browned-butter glaze? Don't even get me started! The cake's texture was perfect too. It was tender, but not so tender that it fell apart. It was just perfection. If calories didn't exist, I would have eaten the entire thing myself.

The recipe I used came from Gina DePalma, who is a pastry chef at Babbo Ristorante in New York City (note to self: if I'm ever in NYC, I must go to this restaurant!) and a cookbook author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. She posted her recipe on SeriousEats.com and also provided a sweet little story about Phyllis and Demophoon, from Heroides, which is a collection of love poems by the Roman poet Ovid. When you're done reading it, go make this cake! Hurry! :-)

Torta di Mandorla (Moist Almond Cake)
Yield: 8-10 pieces
By Gina DePalma

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/4 a medium orange (I used a Meyer lemon)
1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
A few drops of fresh lemon juice (I used Meyer lemon juice. I the only fresh juice you have is orange, please use that. Just please, please don't use the concentrated, pasteurized lemon juice that comes in the bottle)
1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled*

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside (I only had a 9-1/2 inch round cake pan and it worked fine)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the
yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

*Tip: When the cake is done, don't turn off the oven right away if your almonds aren't already toasted. Measure out a 1/2 cup of the sliced almonds, spread them out on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and let toast for about 5 or so minutes. Once you can actually see them browning, removed the pan from the oven and let them cool. When you're ready to add them to the glaze, you can pick up the parchment paper and use it to pour into your bowl.

Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.

While the cake cools, make the glaze. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.

While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.

Serve the cake right away or wait and serve it a day or two ahead. Store it at room temperature, covered.


  1. Oh, yey! Thank you so much for posting this recipe! This cake was amazing! I'm going to try it myself.

  2. After reading your description of the cake and seeing that enticing picture, I can't wait to try this recipe! I love almond flavor; there's something so unique yet comforting about it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Really? The best....that is saying a lot from you! :) must add this to my "to make" list!

  4. This sounds wonderful and looks really moist and flavorful. Fun tradition you have created.

  5. Looks wonderful....your photos have me wanting to give this a try asap. That is a serious glaze....I can see why you were tempted to eat this up yourself.

  6. They had samples of almond cake at Whole Foods this weekend, and I couldn't get enough of it. This recipe is fate telling me I need to make my own. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Bookmarking now!

  8. This looks wonderful, I love the pictures, you can see how tender and moist it is!

  9. Wow, what an endorsement. I'm making this for sure.

  10. Someone just gave me 3 lbs of almonds, this cake looks like the perfect thing to make with them!

  11. My boyfriend would say it couldn't be the best cake ever if it doesn't have chocolate but I think that certainly looks good!

  12. ohhh. that looks so good! i love almond!

    i am not sure if billy is coming to seattle, but he's got his tourdates on his web. i hope he is, for you! don't you love him!?!?!

  13. your blog is simplt divine. I wanted to pass on an award.

  14. Oh I am in heaven!! With your rave, and that pic, I want to lick the screen! Where oh where is smell 'o screen when you need it?!

  15. Oh that looks wonderful!

  16. that last photo is too hard to resist! yum yum!

  17. After sampling this when Julia made it the first time, I decided to give this one a try for Easter. It turned out GREAT! The cake was moist and light - wonderful! It was not very difficult or time-consuming to make, either. The key, as Julia told me, was to use fresh, high-quality ingredients, which I did.

    If you need a dessert that is delicious yet easy to make, give this one a go. If I can do it, anyone can! :)

  18. what would happen if you substituted butter for the olive oil? the olive oil must be one of this cake's layers of flavor, so to speak...so i would imagine substituting in the butter would have a significant impact, and not necessarily a bad one. i can't imagine olive oil in a cake, but hey! what do i know?

  19. p.s. i hope you are feeling better and will come back to your blog soon!


  20. I would love to give this cake a try. I live at a 7,000ft elevation.
    Do I need to change anything to this recipe?


    1. Hi Alex,

      Baking in high altitude is not something I have had any experience with so I'm afraid I won't be very helpful. However, I did a little bit of research and found this article on Epicurious about baking at a very high altitude and this is what it said:

      "...Batter may be strengthened by reducing sugar, or adding eggs, egg yolks, or slightly more flour. Acidity helps batter set quickly in the oven's heat, so replacing regular milk with buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt can be helpful. Leavening is usually reduced, while flavoring agents are increased. Oven heat is sometimes increased 25°F or the temperature is kept moderate (350°F) but baking times increased..."

      Read More http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/howtocook/primers/altitudebaking_basics#ixzz27bKObWju

      It's hard to know where to begin! This cake doesn't have that much sugar to begin with so I'd be apprehensive to reduce it. Maybe start with adding another egg yolk and a tablespoon of more flour might help. I'd also consider adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to help increase the acidity.

      I'm not sure I'm much help but at least this can get you started. Good luck!

  21. Hi Julia! I just saw your comment on my blog! Oh my God! I am so star-struck! I've been stalking you and your blog for a while now. I've made 4 of your recipes and they are all amazing! I should have reached out to you earlier. Thanks for being so generous with your recipes! There are a lot of happy tummies in my home because of them. Cheers!

    1. Liza, you're so sweet and I'm so glad to hear that. Come by and say hello more often! :)


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