Simple, rich almond cake makes a sophisticated and delicately sweet dessert, but traditional European versions tend to be heavy and dense. For a slightly cakier version with plenty of nutty flavour, we swapped out the usual almond paste for toasted blanched sliced almonds (we disliked the slight bitterness imparted by skin-on almonds) and added a bit of almond extract for extra depth.
A generous amount of lemon zest provided subtle brightness. For an even lighter crumb, we increased the flour slightly and added baking powder—an untraditional ingredient—to ensure proper rise.
Making the batter in a food processor broke down some of the protein structure in the eggs, ensuring that the cake had a level, not domed, top, which was especially important for this unfrosted dessert. We swapped some butter for oil and lowered the oven temperature to produce an evenly baked, moist cake.
For a crunchy finishing touch, we topped the cake with sliced almonds and a sprinkle of lemon-infused sugar. If you can’t find blanched sliced almonds, grind slivered almonds for the batter and use unblanched sliced almonds for the topping.
ITALIAN ALMOND CAKE
Start to finish: 1 hour, 30 minutes
1 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 F. Grease 9 inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper. Pulse 1 1/2 cups almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in food processor until almonds are finely ground, 5 to 10 pulses. Transfer almond mixture to bowl.
Process eggs, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, and almond extract in now-empty processor until very pale yellow, about 2 minutes. With processor running, add melted butter and oil in steady stream until incorporated. Add almond mixture and pulse to combine, 4 to 5 pulses. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Using your fingers, combine remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest in small bowl until fragrant, 5 to 10 seconds. Sprinkle top of cake evenly with remaining 1/3 cup almonds followed by sugar-zest mixture.
Bake until centre of cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour 5 minutes, rotating pan after 40 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Run thin knife around edge of pan. Invert cake onto greased wire rack, discarding parchment, and reinvert cake onto second wire rack. Let cake cool completely on rack, about 2 hours, before serving. (Cake can be stored at room temperature for up to three days.)