Recently, the taste of raw almonds has become pleasurable. The crunchiness of nuts has always been enjoyed when mixed into a dish. A bag of raw mix nuts isn’t a nice treat. It was a return flight from Europe to New York that started the appreciation of almonds, although it was unknown at the time. My seat was next to a window. A lady seated next to me kindly asked if I could switch seats with her new husband, for he was sitting in the middle aisle, next to an Italian family with a young boy. That’s a big favor to ask when looking forward to seeing the welcoming skyline that defines home.
The best part of flying into New York is hoping the pilot is kind enough to fly over the skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. It’s when relaxed nerves start pulsating into rapid happiness. It’s an electronic, urban beat that mimics the pace of the cars seen far below on the FDR Drive. The pulse increases as the plane is landing.
It wasn’t a difficult decision, because the rationale was based on empathy. The couple was spending their honeymoon in New York. Quite naturally, they wanted to be in each other’s arms on a long flight. New York is home to me, and flying into the city won’t be the last time. With hopes that the young boy would be well behaved, an agreement was made to change seats.
The dinner cart rolled between the rows of seats to pick up finished trays and empty cups. Everyone on the flight was preparing to sleep for the evening. Amid the quietness, a stewardess placed a three-layer, buttery cake in front of me. It was a piece of wedding cake the color of a creamy yellow. No one else had quite as grand a dessert on their tray. The stewardess smiled and pointed to the couple in my former window seat. They waved a happy thank you. That cake would be my last memory of Europe, and the taste would be unforgettable. It wasn’t vanilla, nor was it chocolate. The first bite was golden buttery with a distinctive sweet taste. At that time, I didn’t know the cake’s flavor.
There isn’t an adventurous side story of searching for the name of that flavor. Of course, it would be difficult to find because of my aversion to nuts. The memories of Europe and the couple’s wedding cake would bring an affectionate smile across my mind. A few years ago, I made an Almond Poppy Seed Cake. After a few times of making it, I realized it was the taste of almonds that made that wedding cake special. Before being creamed with the butter, the almond paste revealed a memory of a marzipan layer that covered the icing. It was that auspicious flavor that started my appreciation of raw almonds.
Almond Poppy Seed Cake
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup poppy seeds
8 Tbs./1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup almond paste
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup milk
Garnish: Almonds, roughly chopped
1. Preheat an oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour a 1-lb. loaf pan.
2. In a small bowl, stir and toss together the flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and almond paste on medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. While the mixer is still running, slowly add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes; stop the mixer occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Reduce the speed to very low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour, beating each addition until just incorporated; stop the mixer occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and garnish with chopped almonds. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto the rack and let cool completely.
Makes 1 loaf.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.