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Amanda Hesser is the former food editor for the New York Times. Her non-fiction book (which has been out for at least 5 years I believe) Cooking for Mr. Latte is a culmination of essays she had written throughout her relationship with now-husband Tad Friend or “Mr. Latte”. After each chapter, a brief glance into her life (and Tad’s as the relationship progresses), there are recipes for the foods created or eaten. It’s a really cute story built into a cook book (or the other way around).

Now I feel bad even thinking this, but is it just me or does Amanda comes off slightly prissy and not a ton of fun? She is no Giada DeLaurentiis – whom you want to invite over for cocktails and chocolate fondue every night of the week. She seems cool and distant, even though she works in (to the lay eaters at least) an environment of warmth, tenderness and love. Food, in my opinion, is an extension of our soul. We cook for those we love. We bring food to those who are sick or going through a hard time. We go out to dinner to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Food is important (and Hesser feels this way as well) – but not once during this reading did I feel her passion.

I did try her recipe for Almond Cake (from scratch – thank you very much). Of all the recipes in this book, I chose the almond cake because supposedly it is better if you make it a few days before serving. Superiorists will understand the pleasure derived from being able to make the cake two days before the party. GE time saver! Or making the cake on a Thursday and having some available in case people just swing by over the weekend. Homemade almond cake just sitting on the counter? SUPERIOR! Personally, I substituted fat-free sour cream for the real stuff (because I had it in the house) and I used almond-flavored extract (not pure extract because I was feeling cheap).

The cake was excellent – I really have to say that I was impressed AND willing to try other recipes. Some personal adjustments: I would add some orange zest to the batter OR make a orange zest icing or glaze for the top, sprinkled with slivered or chopped almonds – something really light. Even a nice berry medley would be lovely. As it were, we dusted confectioner’s sugar on the top (per the recipe’s suggestions), and that too was lovely. The cake is solid, yet moist, light and very almond-y. YUM!  I envision this cake being served with tea, or after a heavy supper or for a bridal shower. My sig-ot really loved it and took some to eat at work today.

Sig-ot tried to tell me that vanilla frosting would be great on the cake. WRONG! This is not “cake” as in birthday cake. This is cake as in “tea and cake”.

Almond Cake (All ingredients should be room temperature)

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 C sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp baking soda
2 C all purpose flour sifted (measure the flour after you sift it – this is important)
½ tsp salt
1 ½ C sugar
7 ounces almond paste
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tsp almond extract
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting the cake.1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Line with parchment paper and butter the paper. (Ms. Superiority  used two square 8×8 silicone pans, sprayed with PAM, lined with parchment, and lightly sprayed with PAM again – I know you don’t have to spray silicone, but I got nervous because Amanda sprayed her springform pan…you see where I am going with this, don’t you? Sig-ot says to just use silicone pans and save the spray.)
3. Mix the sour cream with baking soda (this will rise and get all bubbly).
4. In another bowl, mix the sifted flour and salt together.
5. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
6. Add the almond past, a little at a time, beating at medium for 8 minutes.
7. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time; mix until incorporated. It will look curdled.
8. Blend in the almond extract and sour cream mixture.
9. Mixing at low, gradually add the flour mixture; beat just until blended.
10. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake about 1 hour.
It is done when you press the top and it returns to its shape, and also shrinks from the sides of the pan. (55 minutes for Ms. Superiority, on the top rack, not the middle, but Hesser doesn’t clarify).
11. Remove from the pan and cool on a cooling rack. It’s going to sink in the middle as it cools (again, mine didn’t sink that much – I think the square pans helped!). It will look disappointing, but it will taste wonderful. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve. Tastes better if made a few days before serving and wrapped in plastic (or Tupperware).