This naturally gluten-free cake is surprisingly light and slightly chewy, similar to the delightful chew of a French macaron. The double crust of almonds and sugar, top and bottom, boosts the almond flavor and adds a wonderful contrasting crispy crunch. It’s one bowl, one pan, and insanely easy. I love to serve it with a dollop of crème fraîche and berries, or with whipped cream that’s been sweetened with a bright berry jam instead of sugar.
This gluten-free almond cake is one of my absolute favorites, and it was quite the journey to develop it. It started as a an assignment at a previous job: Make a Tarta de Santiago, but make it "foolproof" and easier than it already is. If you aren’t familiar with Tarta de Santiago, it’s a traditional almond-based cake hailing from Galicia (the Northwest corner of Spain, right above Portugal).
Traditionally, you create a stiff but pliable paste of egg yolks, sugar, and almond flour (marzipan, essentially), and lighten it with an unstabilized meringue. If you bake at all, your internal alarms might have just gone off. Wouldn’t folding delicate whipped egg whites into an almond paste the texture of Play-doh just knock out all the air you worked so hard to whip into those whites? Yes, yes it does. So what’s the point of the meringue?
Basic Method: Results of Testing
After dozens (literally) of tests, I reached some interesting conclusions. The final recipe is both easy and virtually foolproof.
Spoiler: You don't need to whip the egg whites.
My tests made it clear: there is absolutely no point to whipping the egg whites. I tried stabilizing the meringue with some of the sugar: the egg whites maintained better air, but the resulting cake collapsed anyway and had a much less satisfying texture. I also tried loosening the almond paste with some un-whipped egg whites: that was much easier to work with and the texture rivaled the traditional method.
All of these tests did make me wonder… how far can we push this? Do we need to whip the egg whites at all? Jump ahead seven or eight (...or nine) side-by-side tests and I had found the perfect ratio of whole eggs to egg whites, and I had left the the fussy meringue step far behind.
Expert Tips and Tricks
- Switching Extracts: Try using your favorite extract, or even a splash of booze, in place of the almond extract. Just remember that some extracts are more potent than others, and adjust amounts accordingly.
What to Avoid
- Under-beating the Eggs and Sugar: When the recipe indicates that the eggs and sugar need to be whisked for a full minute, give it the full minute. Don't skimp. This jump-starts the dissolving of the sugar and helps aerate the mixture. If you skip the step or add ingredients in a different order, you'll end up with a stiff, stodgy mass that won't rise in the oven.
Testing for Doneness
- Skip the Skewer Test: I find that using the usual skewer test isn't always a helpful indicator of doneness. A paring knife or toothpick tends to come out clean even when the cake is a bit too moist and the crust is a bit too thin. I tap on the surface with my nail or a metal spoon to hear how hard and crispy it is. Start checking at 45 minutes, and when in doubt, give it a bit more time. It's nearly impossible to over-bake.
Absolutely. Hazelnut flour, for example is a great option, and increasingly available in grocery stores.
Not at all. I basically gutted the method. I skipped the traditional flavorings (citrus, sometimes brandy and/or cinnamon). And if you do a quick search you’ll see that Tarta de Santiago is supposed to be topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, often in a stenciled design. The topping for this cake is more akin to Scandinavian Tosca cake (Toscakaka), without the step of making caramel.
I don't recommend it. The fine texture of plain white sugar will melt more readily and become stickier and more syrupy. Imagine the texture of an upside-down citrus cake. The citrus caramelizes and becomes gooey.
Looking for more easy baking recipes?
Recipe: Easy (Perfect) Almond Cake
- About ½ cup turbinado or demerara sugar, for sprinkling
- 70 grams (⅔ cup) sliced almond, roughly chopped
- 245 grams (1¼ cups) white sugar
- 3 large eggs plus 3 large egg whites
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 250 grams (2½ cups) almond flour
- Step 1Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch regular or spring-form cake pan, line with parchment, then grease the top of the parchment. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with an even layer of turbinado sugar (3 to 4 tablespoons), then sprinkle with half the almonds. Set the remaining turbinado sugar and almonds aside while you make the cake batter.
- Step 2In a large bowl, combine the white sugar, whole eggs, egg whites, salt, and both extracts. Whisk vigorously until well combined and slightly frothy, about 30 to 60 full seconds of energetic mixing. Whisk in the almond flour. Transfer to the prepared cake pan and sprinkle evenly with the remaining chopped almonds, then sprinkle with an even layer of turbinado sugar (3 to 4 more tablespoons).
- Step 3Bake until the cake is deeply browned and a hard crust has formed, 45 to 55 minutes. Don’t bother with the toothpick test— it will come out clean before the cake is done. Instead, tap the top of the cake with your fingernail or the tip of a butter knife--it should sound hard. If in doubt, err on the side of a few more minutes as it's nearly impossible to over-bake this cake.
- Step 4Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a plate. Remove the pan and parchment and then re-invert onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely before serving.
This post may contain affiliate links. There is no cost to you, but if you buy something from these links I may earn a small commission, which helps keep my stove hot and small pantry stocked–thank you!