Feeding an Addiction with Lemon Almond Torta

Lemon Almond Torta 

From my perspective, the biggest problem with food blogging – I mean apart from the grocery bills and grease smears on the camera and damage to my vision from staring into a computer screen until I see cross-eyed – is the shelf space required. And I’m not talking about the kitchen.

Many of you already know about my shopping problem. It’s not shoes or makeup or handbags, or even little jars of fancy salts, sauces or vinegars – it’s cookbooks. Truckloads of them. In fact, I seem to have a cookbook habit that is stealthily taking over my life, not to mention every inch of available space in my apartment. According to reputable medical websites I’ve been reading, it seems I am displaying many of the classic symptoms of addiction when it comes to these books, including uncontrolled cravings, obsessive thought, overspending and paranoia. It’s getting to the point where I walk in the door at night prepared to find my friends assembled for an intervention (at which I’m perfectly prepared to admit my problem, so what’s the use of staging one?).

Like everyone who finds themselves much further down the slippery slope of addiction than they ever thought they’d be, I used to assume the problem would work itself out, and for many years it pretty much did. Sure, I’ve always coveted more books than is healthy and any foray to the bookstore inevitably found me buried in the food and drink section, but practical constraints limited my purchasing power: I moved around too much, I didn’t have the money for glossy new books, and anyway I didn’t always trust myself to be able to pick out a good one from a few short minutes of browsing. But then blogging happened. Not only did I suddenly need a well-stocked library to provide fresh and exciting blog-fodder every week, but reading other blogs put on my radar an endless list of highly-praised books that I absolutely had to have. In the blink of an eye, I could justify enormous payments to amazon.com as ‘professional expenditure’, while “the blog needs it, not me” quickly became my catch-all mantra. It’s probably not coincidental that my accelerated accumulation also coincided with settling down for a few years in Scotland and for the first time finding myself with a regular income, but I know better than to blame shift. My dear blog, because of you in the past year I have begun purchasing new cookbooks at the frightening rate of nearly one per week, I have started to avert my eyes in shame every time I’m called to pick up a delivery from the secretary’s office at work, and I have learned to hide my bag behind the coat rack when I come home so Manuel doesn’t see the books sticking out. I have become unreasonable, obsessive and downright dishonest about my problem, going so far as to convince my poor husband that he’s delusional when he thinks he spies the new titles on the bookshelf. I break into a cold sweat at the thought of having to choose which books to grab on my way out in case of a fire.

Yet as bad as all this may seem, it’s not the real problem. No, the real problem is that for all the time, energy and money spent feeding this addiction of mine, I hardly ever use my books for what they’re intended. In fact, a quick count of the bookshelves has just revealed that even after a year of blogging, a full three-quarters of my cookbooks have never been cracked open in the kitchen. And even when I intend to use one I somehow manage to get waylaid. Last weekend, for example, I locked myself in the kitchen with several new books, determined to tick off at least one new recipe. When I emerged two hours later, however, what emerged with me was not a stunning new creation courtesy of Pierre, Patricia or Julia, but instead a dessert I’ve been making faithfully for more than a decade. Never mind that it’s one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever eaten, sporting a thick layer of dense, buttery sponge, fragrant with ground almonds and almond extract and cradling a smear of bracingly tart lemon curd; never mind about the scattering of crunchy almond slivers providing just the perfect amount of textural contrast to the creamy topping and tight crumb. And forget about the fact that it’s a welcome taste of sun-drenched citrusy freshness in the middle of a long, dark winter. The important (and certainly unforgivable) thing is that making it didn’t require me to so much as brush the cobwebs from one cookbook.

The most embarrassing part of all, however, is what I did the instant that cake was out of the oven. I cut myself a big slice and went to the computer to look up the price of new bookshelves.

Lemon Almond Torta

Source: adapted from a recipe in Chocolatier magazine back in 1993
Serves: 8 
Notes: I have a note that the original recipe (which I can no longer find, unfortunately) suggests that you serve this in a puddle of fresh raspberry coulis for a more formal presentation. I’ve never tried it that way but I imagine it would be both delicious and visually striking.

For the lemon curd:
3/4 (150g) cup sugar
3 large eggs
juice (~1/2 cup/125ml) and grated zest from 2 large lemons
4 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For the torta:
2/3 cup (60g) sliced almonds
1/2 cup (75g) blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
icing/confectioner’s sugar, for dusting cake

To make the lemon curd: In a non-corrosive heavy saucepan, combine sugar, eggs, lemon juice and zest. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Add the butter. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens. Don’t let it boil! Transfer the curd to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the torta: Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (27cm) round springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a circle of baking parchment. Gently press about half of the sliced almonds against the side of the pan, adhering them about 2/3 of the way up from the bottom.

In a food processor combine the whole toasted almonds, flour, baking powder and salt. Process for 10-20 seconds, until finely chopped. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork until frothy.

In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer at low speed, beat the butter for 30 seconds, until creamy. Gradually add sugar and continue beating for 2-3 minutes, until light in texture and almost white in color. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the almond/flour mixture into the butter mixture until blended (the batter will be stiff). Stir in the beaten eggs just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer with the back of a spoon. Spoon 8 tablespoons of the lemon curd in an evenly-spaced ring around the top of the cake batter, about a 1/2-inch in from the side of the pan. Spoon 3 tablespoons evenly spaced into the center of the ring (it will all melt together into an even layer in the oven, but if you don’t want to bother counting just dollop the curd evenly all over the top). Sprinkle the remaining sliced almonds over the top of the batter. Lightly dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Bake the torta for 25-35 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool the torta completely in the pan set on a wire rack. Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the torta to loosen it from the side of the pan before removing. Peel off the baking paper and dust the torta with more confectioners’ sugar before serving. Eat at room temperature.