Editor's note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
As the days get busy and the house gets full, I try to have an all-purpose pastry on hand - one I can serve for dessert and, again, at breakfast, or with coffee during the day. This Almond Cookie-Cake is a good example. Two layers of rich almond shortbread enfold a soft almond filling and the contrast between the crisp crusts and the moist center, both with a haunting almond flavor, give it wide appeal. Serve it with whipped cream and a glass of amaretto after dinner and plain, with a non-alcoholic beverage, during the day.
The cookie-cake is the essence of refined simplicity. The recipe, reminiscent of old-world Scandinavian baking, is wholesome and unpretentious. All that's required for success are high quality ingredients, accurate measurements, and gentle handling of the dough.
Unfamiliar with almond meal/flour? It's packaged ground almonds and the Bob's Red Mill brand is available in most of our mountain grocery stores. I keep one in my freezer and use it whenever a recipe calls for ground or finely chopped almonds.
Make in a 10 inch springform pan;
Recipe can be halved for an 8 inch springform pan
2 2/3 cups of flour
1 1/3 cups of granulated sugar, preferable Baker's
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/3 cups of cold unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
1 cup of finely chopped almonds or almond meal/flour
1/2 cup of granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
1 teaspoon of grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon of almond extract
3 whole almonds
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center position and a cookie sheet on the rack. (The cookie sheet will catch leakage from the springform pan; the cookie-cake will bake faster if the sheet is preheated.) Open the springform pan and flip over the bottom so the side with a lip on it is face down (this will make cutting the pastry easier). Grease and flour the springform pan or spray it with a vegetable oil-flour mixture and set it aside.
Make the crust: To make it in a food processor: Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the processor bowl and pulse to combine well. Cut the butter into pieces, add them to the processor, and pulse until the mixture looks like meal. Add the egg and almond extract and pulse until large, moist curds are formed. Turn the dough out and gently knead until it comes together. To make with a mixer: Cut the butter into pieces and let them soften to room temperature. Beat the butter, salt, and sugar until well combined; add the egg and almond extract and beat until combined. On low speed, add the flour and mix only until a dough is formed.
Divide the dough in half and form each half into a large disc. Refrigerate one disc. (If the dough is hard to work with, refrigerate both discs until they firm up). Place the other disc in the bottom of the greased springform pan. Start in the center of the disc and, gently, push the dough out toward the pan sides, making a smooth, even bottom crust. Place the pan in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
Make the filling: In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Put the finely chopped almonds or the almond meal, sugar, and lemon peel in another bowl and stir until well combined. Add the egg and the almond extract and blend well. Take the pan out of the refrigerator and spread the filling over the crust to within a half an inch of the sides of the pan. Take the second disc of dough out of the refrigerator and roll it (I do this between two sheets of waxed paper) to an approximate ten inch circle. Set the pan on the dough to imprint its exact outline. Cut the dough just inside the imprinted circle and place it over the filling, it should fit precisely. Use a fork or your index finger to press all around the edges of the dough, so that the bottom and top crusts are sealed. Arrange the whole almonds decoratively on the top.
Place the pan on the preheated cookie sheet and bake until the top is a light golden brown. This takes from about 65 to 75 minutes in my oven. Transfer the pan to a rack, let it cool about fifteen minutes, then remove the pan sides, and let the cookie-cake cool completely. Cut it into thin slivers and serve them slightly warm (our favorite) or at room temperature. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.