I am so thrilled to welcome Molly Yeh to the DALS Family Rituals Series. In case you have been living in an alternate universe for the past few years, Molly is something of a Beyonce among Bloggers — she is the author of Molly on the Range, and the brain behind My Name is Yeh (pronounced “yay”) where she chronicles life with her husband, a sugar beet farmer, in North Dakota. And by “life,” I of course mean a constant, inspired roll-out of recipes like Pretzel Challah, Pistachio Chocolate Krembos, Funfetti Cakes and confections that would look right at home at MOMA. (When I first showed Andy her blog, he was like, “I think this woman is a genius.” And that was before he knew she was a Juilliard-trained drummer.) Here, she talks about the evolution of her Valentine’s Day almond cake. Take it away Molly!
I come from a pretty casual family. Holiday dinners always stressed the mingling and noshing over the formal sit-down meal, PJs were typically acceptable attire, the Passover story was skimmed at best, and the menus constantly changed. No two Chrismukkah feasts were the same because we were always trying new recipes and rotating in dumplings for our annual dumplings of the world holiday party, and on Rosh Hashanah there is always a new brisket that my mom has just discovered. We’re relaxed with our rituals, to the point of where we sometimes plumb forget to do them on account of we’re having too much fun doing some other thing. (In the past five years, our “annual” dumplings of the world holiday party has actually probably only happened twice.)
There is one holiday tradition that I have, however, that you will have to pry from my cold dead exhausted-from-manually-beating-egg-whites-to-stiff-peaks hands. It centers around the one recipe that I make every single year at the same exact time, for Valentine’s Day. It’s a light spongy almond cake that my mom clipped from a newspaper in the 80s, which I’ve carried with me from her kitchen in Illinois to the barebones kitchenette in my first apartment in New York to the farm in North Dakota I now call home. It’s heavy on the almond paste, which always requires some nibbling before going into the bowl, and isn’t finished until it gets a plop of fresh whipped cream.
It became a ritual because of my love for all things almond-flavored and likely because in a sea of winter post-holiday blues, I always craved something to look forward to and celebrate. In years when I didn’t have someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with, this cake was my boyfriend, and now that I’m married and all that, I have someone to unload it onto and I don’t have to worry that it will go bad before I can eat it all. Either way you win.
My ritual begins with a trip down the Valentine’s Day candy aisle to collect all of the candy and decorations that I please (shopping for gingerbread house decorations is merely a warmup to what this process becomes). The chalky hearts, gummy hearts, heart shaped cookie cutters, chocolates, and pink sprinkles inspire drafts for designs. Mixing the batter is kind of annoying because it’s one of those cakes that require beating the whites and then beating the yolks and of course if you get a tiny bit of yolk into the whites, the whites are done for. I learned this on the floor of my first apartment, where I camped out, determined to stir contaminated whites into stiff peaks with an IKEA fork, only to come up with this sad thing:
It still tasted great though! The next year I worked on my egg separating skills and also bought a hand mixer. I discovered that you should always beat the whites first because that way you don’t have to wash off your mixer before moving onto the yolks. But I should have stopped with the decorations here:
Over the years I’ve honed my decorating skills and making this cake has turned into one reason why I love the dead of winter. I give myself a whole day to just sit with almond flavored things and Valentine’s Day decorations, going to town and covering the kitchen with whipped cream.
Give me chocolates, give me jewelry, give me sexy lingerie or whatever, but it’s not Valentine’s Day without this almond cake!
Molly Yeh’s Valentine’s Day Almond Cake
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
8 ounces almond paste
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon princess emulsion or vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
marzipan kneaded with red, pink, and purple food coloring
sprinkles of all sorts
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt to soft peaks and then gradually beat in the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating to stiff peaks and then set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (I usually just scoop the whites out of the bowl and transfer them to a separate bowl and then reuse my stand mixer bowl for this step), combine the almond paste and egg yolks and beat on high for 2-3 minutes until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the princess emulsion or vanilla and almond extract. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture and then fold in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the pan and then bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking for doneness at 30 minutes.
Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and then remove to the rack to cool fully.
To make the whipped cream, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar, and almond extract to stiff peaks.
Spread the whipped cream on top of the cake and decorate as desired!