Updated: Dec 23, 2022
I make things for my mother. She's been gone for close to 23 years and I still bake to please her.
While this brings with it great sadness and regret, it also brings her closer.
And nothing draws her more near than marzipan and chocolate.
Dominosteine littered our house during Christmas. The package from Germany would arrive early in the month and we'd be knee deep in those ginger cake, marzipan, currant and chocolate squares for days.
I know I can buy them in the states now; I don't have to beg my family to ship them across the pond. But I'd rather conjure a batch that recalls the best of my mother's favorite things, so that the sweet smell of baking almonds can reach high to her perch and surround her with earthly baking love. And this version I invented to please her particularly, trading the dry plain sponge for a moist almond cake. Doubling the almond love.
PS My upcoming book, My Vermont Table, includes a host of recipes inspired by mom .
FOR THE CAKE:
2 (7-ounce / 200 g) packages almond paste* (see note)
1 cup (230 g) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) honey
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon black currant purée (see below)
1 tablespoon dutch-process cocoa powder
FOR THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
8 ounces (225 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I use Callebaut 60/40)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
FOR THE PUREE:
4 cups currants
1/4 cup sugar, more to taste
FOR THE ASSEMBLY:
1 (15-ounce / 430-g) jar smooth apricot jam or seedless currant (or raspberry) preserves
2 (7-ounce / 200-g) packages almond paste, rolled into a thin sheet about 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick (approximately the size of the finished stacked layers)
1/2 batch chocolate glaze (see below), warm
Preparation For purée:
Place your berries (4 cups / 760 g small berries) or other red fruit like cherries in a saucepan with 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar, or to taste. (Berries such as currants and gooseberries are tart and may require more sweetness — do a taste test.) Simmer the fruit over low heat until the sugar has melted. Allow the mixture to cool. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse the fruit mixture until smooth (you can use a blender or an immersion blender for this process as well). Strain the purée through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds, and voilà! Purée! Freeze any extra purée in a zip-top bag. Purées are lovely in mousses, as sauces to accompany plated desserts, and as toppings for sundaes! You can also buy fantastic pre-made purées in an array of flavors from ordinary (raspberry) to exotic (passion fruit). My favorite brands are Boiron and L’Epicerie. Check the internet for availability.
For the glaze:
Place the chocolate in a large metal bowl. In a large saucepan, combine the cream, butter and vanilla bean paste and simmer over low heat until the butter has completely melted and the mixture simmers. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate, making sure the chocolate is completely covered. Allow to sit undisturbed for a few minutes, then whisk until the mixture has emulsified. Keep warm by placing the bowl over barely simmering water.
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 325ºF degrees (165ºC). Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick baking spray. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste, butter, honey and granulated sugar and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and white pepper and mix to incorporate. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Fold the flour mixture into the almond/egg mixture until just incorporated. Divide the batter evenly among three bowls. Leave the first bowl plain; mix the black currant purée into the second bowl; and mix the cocoa powder into the third bowl. Transfer the batters onto the prepared pan in three sections, spreading them evenly so that each batter takes up one-third of the pan (each section will measure approximately 6" x 13". If you want it to be neater, you can pipe each batter from a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip.) The batters will touch while baking but we'll trim those edges. Your objective is to have three individual blocks of cake: one plain, one currant and one cocoa. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cake springs back when you touch it and begins to slightly brown. Allow to cool completely. *Note: Packaged almond paste is often dry; I know it is against store policy, but I surreptitiously squeeze the box to make sure the stuff is fresh and malleable before I buy it.
Trim the cake edges. Place the chocolate cake layer on a clean piece of parchment. Spread about 1/4 cup of jam evenly over the cake and place the plain cake layer on top. Spread 1/4 cup of the jam over the plain layer and top with the currant cake layer. Spread another 1/4 cup of jam evenly over the currant cake layer and then lay the rolled out almond paste layer over top the currant cake layer. Spread the chocolate glaze over the almond layer and allow to set in the refrigerator, about 20 minutes. Using a sharp knife, trim the sides of the cake. You can serve this as a cake just as it is OR you can serve in the traditional manner by cutting the cake into 1", bite sized cubes.