Tag Archives: almond

Torta Caprese (gluten free chocolate almond cake)

Good morning!  I hope y’all had a relaxing weekend.  I did!  Quick weekend recap: Friday night we went to happy hour at the Club (much, much less glamorous than it sounds) and dinner at Bonnie’s (basically our Friday night routine).  Saturday Wheat went duck hunting (of course) and I laid low, caught up on writing blogs and reading them, juiced a bunch of lemons, and generally just chilled out.  Sunday we went to visit my mom – or rather, Wheat quail hunted with my dad while Harold and I visited my mom.  She just had another surgery on her ankle last week, so she’s not up for hunting again just yet.  Send positive, healing thoughts her way, if you don’t mind me asking!

I also finished up a little project that I’ll share with you tomorrow, plus I swapped out the ribbon on my mini Oyster wreath (I know, big moves).

Updated Miniature Oyster Wreath | Oysters & Pearls

I think the brown satin looks infinitely better, don’t you?  I put cotton out in place of Christmas greenery, too.  Because what’s more southern than oysters and cotton?

Entry Wall | Oysters & Pearls

Oh, and mercury glass is my weakness.  Even if it’s faux mercury glass from Target.

I should probably get better at taking vignette pictures.  But anyway, you get the idea.  Improvements were made.

And I don’t have much else to share from the weekend!  Sometimes that’s a good thing.

I do, however, have the flour-less cake recipe that I made for my mother-in-law Nancy’s birthday last week, and some pretty (and not-so-pretty) pictures to go along with it.

I even set a real table!

Blue Place Settings with Vintage Napkins | Oysters & Pearls

In case anyone is wondering: Plates (Lenox French Perle), Napkins (Vintage, from an antique store in Port St. Joe, Florida), Vintage Water Glasses from my Grandmother, and I believe the stemless wine glasses are from Target.  The “runner” is just a piece of cream burlap leftover from my DIY Monogram project.  The gorgeous herb napkin rings were a wedding gift from Wheat’s cousin Darren and his wife, Mary Ellen.  Each one is a different herb, and I believe she picked them up at At Home in Thomasville.  Herb Napkin Rings from At Home in Thomasville, Georgia | Oysters & Pearls

Now, let’s get down to this cake.

Torta Caprese - Flourless (Gluten Free) Chocolate Almond Cake Recipe | Oysters & Pearls

As I mentioned last week, my in-laws have gone gluten-free.  They aren’t crazy strict about it, but I wanted to make them a cake they could enjoy without feeling guilty about it.  I knew I wanted something that was flourless, rather than a substitution for the wheat-flour.  I have seen multiple recipes for flourless Italian almond cakes, so I started skimming through the Southern Italian Desserts (<–affiliate link!)
cookbook my cousin Kristy gave me over Christmas.

It’s a gorgeous cookbook with lots of traditional Southern Italian desserts (but no pizzelle recipe!), and I was thrilled to find the recipe for Torta Caprese, which is a flourless chocolate almond cake.

Natural Almonds for Torta Caprese | Oysters & Pearls

Finely Ground Almonds for Gluten Free Chocolate Cake | Oysters & Pearls

The recipe calls for grinding your own almonds for the cake, so you’ll need a food processor.  I was happy to put the new one Nancy gave me to work!  I did this the day before to save time.  I also go to put my new mixer Nancy gave me for Christmas, as well as my older one I got for Christmas years ago from my parents, both to work for this cake.  I’d recommend having two before making this cake, or a stand mixer plus a hand mixer.  It will just make your life easier.

Two Mixers Going at Once | Oysters & Pearls

Torta Caprese
not even tweaked (except for the whipped cream) from Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily
serves 12

ingredients

– 8 ounces (aka two bars or 226 grams) dark chocolate (55 to 60 percent cacao)
– 1 2/3 cups (250 grams) skin-on natural almonds
– 1 cup (226 grams or two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
– 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
– 5 large eggs, at room temperature and separated
– 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua (optional)
– Pinch of kosher salt
– confectioner’s sugar or whipped cream, for serving

instructions

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the center.  Grease a 10-inch springform pan.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then set aside until the bowl is cool to the touch.
Process the almonds in a food processor until they have the texture of coarse cornmeal, stopping before they are as fine as flour.
Mix the butter with about half of the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at medium speed until smooth.  Add the yolks, one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl between additions.  At low speed, mix in the liqueur and then the melted chocolate until well blended, then mix in the ground almonds.
Beat the egg whites and salt in a clean bowl using a clean whisk attachment at medium speed until they form soft peaks.  Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, a little at a time, then continue to beat at high speed until firm peaks form that are not at all dry.
Using a large spatula, fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.  Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it, 50 to 55 minutes.  Set the pan on a wire rack to cool.  Once cool, run a knife around the edge, then release and remove the ring.  Transfer the cake on the pan bottom to a serving plate, as the author prefers, or invert onto the serving plate as they do in Capri.
To serve, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar, or top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Almond and Egg Yolk Mixture for Torta Caprese | Oysters & Pearls

Folding Chocolate Mixture into Egg Whites for Gluten Free Chocolate Cake | Oysters & Pearls

Gluten Free Chocolate Almond Cake Batter | Oysters & Pearls

Up until this point, the cake-making progressed without incident.  I, however, lost my nice spring-form pan years ago somehow and never replaced it.  So when I was purchasing the ingredients for this cake, I also purchased a cheapo springform pan at Winn Dixie.  I will soon be depositing said springform pan in the Goodwill donation pile.  I greased it and filled it with light, fluffy chocolate batter and proceeded to bake.  When I got my toothpick out to check at 50 minutes, my kitchen was promptly filled with smoke.  The cheapo pan leaked in the oven.  So I highly suggest either just greasing a regular old 10 inch cake pan and inverting the cake, or invest in a nice springform pan.

Torta Caprese Recipe  | Oysters & Pearls

Naturally, I disregarded the author and inverted the cake, basically ignoring her cautions and also rendering my purchase of a springform pan pointless.  And everything was okay, except for a small crack in my cake, as you can see below.  Oopsies.  But the rule related to ugly cakes is that if you mention that it’s an ugly cake, you don’t get to eat that ugly cake.

Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake Recipe | Oysters & Pearls

Luckily, no one complained.

And I could have just sprinkled this cake with confectioners’ sugar and called it a (birth)day.  But that just wouldn’t do.  And neither would just a dollop of whipped cream.

Torta Caprese Topped with Kahlua Whipped Cream | Oysters & Pearls

I basically iced it with kahlua whipped cream.

Kahlua Whipped Cream

ingredients

– 2 tablespoons kahlua
– one half-pint heavy whipping cream
– 1 tablespoon sugar

instructions

Put all three ingredients in the bowl and whisk until soft peaks form.

Gluten Free Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake Topped with Kahlua Whipped Cream | Oysters & Pearls

This cake is awesome, but it also has an awesome story behind it.  So as not to mutilate the story, I’ll just copy it here verbatim:

“This rich cake takes its name from the island of Capri, where it originated.  Many tales are told of the way the cake came about, perhaps the most charming of which recounts a visit to Capri in the 1920s from a group of Mafia men on behalf of Al Capone.  Pastry chef Carmine Di Fiore was mortified when he realized he’d forgotten the flour in the cake, but the mobsters like the moist, chocolaty confection so much they asked for its name.  Di Fiore quickly replied, ‘Torta Caprese!’ and it has kept that name ever since.  The cake is renowned on the island and throughout the Amalfi Coast.”

I wonder if it actually was just a mistake though, because whipping the egg whites separately to lighten the batter is a characteristic of many flourless cakes.  Either way, it’s really good.

And…. here’s where my pictures get truly subpar.  There’s a time and place for my 50mm lens.  This was not one of those times and places.

Torta Caprese  |  Oysters & Pearls Slice of Torta Caprese Cake | Oysters & Pearls

However, this was a perfectly delicious cake, and no one even missed the flour.  The egg whites kept it from being too dense, but with no flour to absorb all the liquid, it was really moist.

Side note: how can I describe a cake as being moist without actually using that word??  I hate that word.  Ick.  So grodie.

Flourless Godiva Chocolate Almond Cake | Oysters & Pearls

Anyway, whether you’re gluten free or not, this is the perfect simple cake for a birthday or just a day.  Happy birthday again, Nancy!

Until Next Time

Homemade Almond Extract

A few weeks ago, I read a pretty inconspicuous post on The Kitchn about Noyaux.  Noyaux is a French word referring to the actual seed inside a stone fruit’s pit.  These noyaux can be used to make bitter almond extract!

I’ve made vanilla extract before, and I know how it puts the storebought stuff to shame, so I was instantly intrigued.

It seems strange to make almond extract out of something besides an almond, but that’s exactly what you do!

How to Make Homemade Almond Extract | Oysters & Pearls

Turns out, the reason cherries, peaches, and other pitted fruits are enhanced in cooking and baking with almond extract is because they are related to almonds.  I had never thought about why that was, but it makes perfect sense now that I do.

So it all started with that article, and then proceeded with the revelation that I already had quite a few peaches and two bags full of cherries (which I recently became addicted to) just hanging out in the kitchen.  I started saving all the pits from the aforementioned fruits and threw them in a bag in the freezer.  I did some research, and turns out throwing the pits in the freezer makes them easier to crack (supposedly) and the pit’s shell keeps the kernel protected from freezer burn.  Also, you have to eat a lot of fruit to get enough noyaux to make extract, so keeping the pits in the freezer is also very practical unless you are feeding peaches to a small army.

Peach Pits | Oysters & Pearls

Last weekend, I decided I finally had enough peach pits (above) and cherry pits (below) to make my almond extract.

Cherry Pits | Oysters & Pearls

So I busted out my hammer and got to work.  To set it up, I layered a wet dish towel, then a cutting board, then a dry dish towel, then a plastic gallon ziploc bag (to protect the dish towel), then a couple paper towels.  Got that?

I did the peach pits first, since I figured they would be the hardest.  Put a pit in the center of the paper towels, and fold everything in half over the pit.  That way you have a paper towel layer, then a ziploc layer, then a dish towel layer between the hammer and the pit.  You want to try to hit it hard enough to break it open without crushing the kernel inside.

Tip: use your left hand to hold the layers of paper towel/ziploc/dish towel tight.  Otherwise, your pit might go flying across the room when you hit it with your hammer.

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…

Smashing Peach Pits | Oysters & Pearls

Breaking open a peach pit, it turns out, is kinda hard.  And it’s almost impossible to avoid breaking the noyaux.  But that’s okay.  Just pick it out anyway.

It also turns out that crushing peach pits makes a really, really pretty mess!

Once I had busted all my peach pits and retrieved the noyaux, I set the peach pits aside and began busting cherry pits.

Cherry Pits Lined up for Smashing | Oysters & Pearls

The cherry pits were so teensy that I just lined up a small handful of them across the center of the paper towels and folded everything over them.  Then I just went down the line with my hammer.

Extracting Cherry Noyaux | Oysters & Pearls

Open it back up, pick out the noyaux, and dump the shells (into the trash or the compost bin).

Once you have all your pits, SMELL THEM.  That Heavenly smell may haunt me until my dying day.

Extracting Peach & Cherry Noyaux | Oysters & Pearls

It was the most complex, fruity, bitter, almond-y, sweet, delicate, ethereal (yes I’m going there) smell I’ve ever had the pleasure of smelling.

I literally ran outside and made Wheat smell it.  I could have sniffed noyaux all day.

Cherry & Peach Noyaux for Almond Extract | Oysters & Pearls

If the “almond” extract tastes half as good as those noyaux smelled, my baking/cocktails/extract huffing is about to reach a whole ‘nother level.

On that note, you can use this stuff to flavor not just my pound cake {recipe here}, but also ice cream, cocktails, other cakes and cookies… whatever your little heart desires!

I should also mention that noyaux are known to contain low levels of cyanide.  But then again, so do many other foods we eat!  It’s fine in very small doses, and rendered inactive when you cook it (as in using it in baking), so just don’t go chugging a jar of the stuff –  no matter how amazing it smells!  Moving on.

To make the extract, I kept the different types of noyaux separate as an experiment of sorts.  They smelled different (Wheat thought the peach smelled the best, I liked the cherry better), so it stands to reason that the extracts would taste and smell differently, too.

I put the pits in jars and filled them to the top with good vodka.

Homemade Almond Extract from Peach Noyaux | Oysters & Pearls

I had fewer peach pits, so they got a smaller jar.  The only ratio I really found was 2 cups of vodka to a TON of noyaux, so I figured small jars were reasonable.

Homemade Almond Extract from Cherry Noyaux | Oysters & Pearls

I had more cherry pits, so they got a taller jar and more vodka.

Cherry Noyaux Almond Extract | Oysters & Pearls

The final instructions are to place in a dark cabinet and to shake them up when you think about it.  I’ve read that the extract takes anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months to be “finished.”  I’ll try to come back and update this post when I determine that it smells “done.”  This will be an excellent excuse to sniff it on a daily basis.

I’ve since read that homemade almond extract can be made from loquat pits, so I’m really excited that we planted three loquat trees at the beginning of the summer!  Have you ever even heard of making homemade almond extract?  Or done it?  Or know of anything else I can turn into almond extract?  I’m hooked!

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Bouchon Bakery Blueberry Muffins

I have exciting news!

Well, it’s really just exciting for me, but I’m going to share it with you anyway.  I won!

I won this snazzy new apron in Aimmee’s giveaway!

Captain Leisure Tees & Aimee Broussard Apron | Oysters & Pearls

Only problem: I didn’t want to make cookies.  I feel a little shameful admitting that while wearing this apron.  Aimmee would have made matching cookies and a cute little lemonade to match the matching cookies.  Oh wait, she did do that.  She is ridiculously adorable.

I’m just hungry.

What I did have was a ton of blueberries, and what I wanted to make was a batch of blueberry muffins.

After some research, I found multiple recipes (mostly from European blogs, oddly enough) singing the praises of Thomas Keller‘s Bouchon Bakery blueberry muffins.  I found this review from Wee Eats particularly helpful, and went from that version of the recipe.  I’m a huge fan of Keller’s other cookbooks (one day I’ll make it to his restaurants!) so I had complete faith that these would be the most amazing blueberry muffins I’d ever had.  Actually, I just realized you can see that I have his other 3 cookbooks: Bouchon, The French Laundry, and Ad Hoc At Home.  They’re under the big brass pig on top of the cabinet in the background of this apron pic.  I’ve been dying to purchase Bouchon Bakery, but just never pulled the trigger.  Definitely going to have to snag it after trying this recipe!

Bouchon Bakery Blueberry Muffin | Oysters & Pearls

These muffins are amazing.  The crunchy almond streusel is the perfect  partner to the light, fluffy, sweet and tangy muffin.  Keller’s recipe requires resting the batter overnight for the flour to fully absorb all the moisture and for to let all those flavors get married.  I thought that it would be annoying (hello, I wanted instant blueberry gratification), but breaking it up actually made making these a piece of cake muffin(?).  I did it in a different order than Wee Eats and Keller, but you could literally do almost everything ahead of time (mix batter, make streusel, flour berries) and then mix and top and bake.  You’d definitely impress the pants off some people.

Bouchon Blueberry Muffins | Oysters & Pearls

Bouchon Bakery Blueberry Muffins (adapted just slightly from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook and Wee Eats blog)

ingredients

for the batter:

– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 3/4 + 1 1/2 Tablespoons cake flour (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons, FYI)
– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 teaspoon kosher salt
– 7 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar
– zest and juice of 1 lemon
– 2 Tablespoons unsulfured blackstrap molasses (I left this out)
– 3 Tablespoons tupelo honey
– 2 large eggs
– 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 1/4 cup buttermilk + 2 Tablespoons (reserved for post-batter resting)

for berries:

– 1 heaping cup frozen blueberries (I froze my fresh ones, then rinsed prior to using)
– 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

for streusel:

– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 cup almond flour
– 1/2 cup light brown sugar
– 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
– 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter

instructions

Day One:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and kosher salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until pale.  Scrape down the sides and add the sugar, continue beating until light and fluffy – about 2 to 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again, and add the lemon juice, zest, and honey (molasses too, if you’re using it) and continue beating to incorporate.  Don’t worry if it’s looking like a cold, curdled mess at this point.  It will be okay.  Scrape down the bowl again, and add the eggs and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined (about 30 seconds).

Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively (flour > buttermilk > flour > buttermilk > flour), mixing on low until just incorporated.  Be extremely careful not to overmix the batter.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl yet again, and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to 36 hours).  I mixed up the batter Monday after work, then started Day Two Tuesday after work.

Day Two:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Take the batter out of the fridge and set out to take the chill off while you make the streusel.

Make the streusel!  Mix all the dry ingredients (all-purpose flour, almond flour, brown sugar, salt) in a medium bowl.  Melt the butter in the microwave and stir into the dry ingredients with a fork until completely mixed.   It will look like wet sand (see below).

Brown Sugar Streusel & Blueberries | Oysters & Pearls

Toss the berries with the Tablespoon of flour.

Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  My leopard liners are Wilton from Wal-Mart, and the others are old, from Michael’s.

Add the reserved two Tablespoons of buttermilk to your batter and gently fold into the batter to loosen it up.  Sprinkle the berries over the top of your batter and gently fold them in with a silicone spatula, using as few strokes as possible.

Folding Blueberries into Batter | Oysters & Pearls

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter into the muffin cups.  This batter ended up making me 16 small muffins, but it will also make 12 big muffins.  I chose to spread the wealth a little bit.

Bluberry Muffins sans Streusel | Oysters & Pearls

Top each muffin with streusel, lightly pressing the streusel into the batter.  Keller calls for up to 3 tablespoons per muffin… but follow your heart, man.

You could actually probably make these muffins sans streusel, I suppose… but I’m not sure I can be friends with someone who does something like that.

Blueberry Muffins before Baking | Oysters & Pearls

Place the pan of muffins in the oven and lower the temperature to 325 degrees.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  It will take right at 35 minutes on a dark pan, a little longer in an aluminum pan like this one.  Cool completely on a wire wrack.  Or burn your mouth eating them as soon as possible out of the oven.  Whatevs.

Bouchon Blueberry Muffins | Oysters & Pearls

These muffins are best served fresh, obvi.  But they’ll stay good (in an airtight container) for up to 3 days.

Bouchon Bakery's Blueberry Muffins | Oysters & Pearls

Moral of the story?  These muffins are unreal.  And like Wee Eats said, they will change your life.

Empty Muffin Liner | Oysters & Pearls

The end.

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