Twice as long as half its length: Long Almond Cake

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I might as well drop all attempts to stay cool in my first sentence: I am THRILLED by how this week’s baking has turned out. I haven’t eaten anything quite like this before, and I can’t find any recipes that are quite like this either. This is the sort of thing I was hoping I’d find when I was first thinking about this project.

I’m not completely convinced that this is what Mary meant for this recipe, but we can talk about that and how I ended up here a bit later. First, the recipe:

Here’s Mary’s recipe:

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You’ll see that we’re not dealing with her normal massive catering sizes this week, so all I’ve had to do is convert to metric measurements, to give us:

    Base:
    170g plain flour
    60g caster sugar
    60g butter
    1tsp baking powder
    yolk of one egg, beat with 1tbsp milk

    Topping:
    170g granulated sugar
    110g ground almonds
    zest of one lemon
    white of one egg
    2tbsp water (see notes in method below)
    handful flaked almonds

    You’ll also need:
    food processor
    24cm square baking tin

Method

Set the oven to 160C and grease the baking tin.

Starting with the base: put the flour, sugar, baking powder and butter into the bowl of the food processor.

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Pulse until the mixture looks like sandy crumbs. Now set the processor running slowly, and pour in the egg mix in a very thin stream. You’ll still have crumbs, but they’ll look coarser, and damper. If the mix looks very dry still, add a splash more milk.

Now tip the crumbs into the baking tin. You should find you can pat and squeeze the crumbs down into a thinnish layer across the base of the tin:

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Put the tin into the oven until the base is very slightly coloured, and not entirely soggy any more. This took 8 minutes in my oven. Once you’ve taken the base out of the oven, turn the oven up to 200C, ready for the next stage.

While the base is in the oven, you can get on with making the topping: put the sugar, ground almonds and lemon zest in a bowl and mix together. Mix in the egg white, then mix in the water. Tip this mixture into a small pan and set over a medium heat.

Keep stirring constantly: I didn’t let this get to a rolling boil, but just to the point when bubbles are lazily collapsing on the surface, as in a tar pit. You’ll find that the mixture slackens as it gets hotter.

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Now spread the mixture on the base (and if you’re trying to write a blog post with photographs about your experiences, get someone else to take a picture so that you don’t end up with one like this:)

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Spread out over the top gently with the back of a spoon or a palette knife. Careful now: the base will be pretty delicate still.

Very very lightly toast the flaked almonds in a dry pan, then scatter over the top.

Bake for 10 minutes, by which time the top should have taken on a bit of colour and give some soft resistance to the touch.

Leave to cool then divide into 16 pieces, if you’re keeping to Mary’s portions. You might be surprised at how dainty these are if you remember the ‘buns’ from my first week:

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Eat while smiling and thinking about how nice it is to have almond, lemon and buttery biscuit all combined into one lovely biscuit thing. Reflect upon how you now have a recipe that includes all of the best bits of Bakewell tarts but isn’t nearly as much of a pain to make.

Digressions follow…

Water for the topping: how come the notebook says 1tbsp but your list of ingredients says 2tbsp?

I know I’m supposed to be keeping to Mary’s proportions but I’m willing to believe that her tablespoons were bigger than mine if only because when I put in one tablespoon of water this was the result:

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I didn’t think that this was at all likely to boil as she suggests, so I chickened out and added another tablespoon. As I say above, it does slacken as it warms so it’s possible that this was over-cautious but it doesn’t seem to have done the mixture any harm.

What is a Long Almond Cake anyway?

Well, the above is my best guess. At one point I seriously thought that it was a reference to the dimensions of the pan used, but I’ve changed my mind. I couldn’t find anything at all on the internet, or on Google books that was called a ‘Long Almond Cake’. What I could find was a Berry Long Cake (you’ll need to go to p7 of the linked cookbook sample) which explains that these were called ‘long cakes’ because the berries made the cake ‘go a long way’. Well, if you say so, but I note that you can find many more recipes for Strawberry Long Cake, and I suspect that it’s just a play on shortcake. You’d expect a Strawberry Shortcake, well this is different, so let’s call it a ‘long cake’, that sort of thing.

I had thought, what with these being American vintage recipes, that they were likely to have little bearing on what I’m doing here but that was until my first attempt to make this recipe up. It quickly became clear then that the base was shortbread. So I kinda think that similar wordplay is at work here. You’ll see that this is called a cake, but is more of a biscuit – but Lancashire Food points out that quite a few Northern ‘cakes’ are what we would call a biscuit if invented today.

Incidentally, if you’re keen on almonds but would like something less sharp, more caramelly, why not try out the Tosca cake recipe that I found during my researches, and let us all know how you get on?

‘First attempt’?

Yes. I know I’ve said for the last couple of recipes how I’d like to rework them given opportunity in the future, but I wanted to put as good a recipe before you as I could for this one as I’ve genuinely never eaten anything quite like it before. It became clear that shortbread was involved (or close to: note that there is still baking powder in the mix) so I thought that the best way would be using the food processor method that is useful for shortbread and short pastry. It’s also true that the baking times are very short, so I had chance to give it another go.

One more thing…

This is ridiculous, but I’ve been struck enough by it to bring it to your attention. If you happen to shop at Waitrose, you might have seen that as well as selling their own eggs they sell eggs in blue boxes called ‘Clarence Court Old Cotswold Legbar’. These are really great eggs for baking with. I can’t tell you much about what they’re like otherwise because I really can’t stand eggs in the normal course of things – but their yolks are a very bright yellow which lends a nice colour to your cakes, their shells are pretty pastel blues and greens, and they’re slightly cheaper than the Waitrose own brand equivalents. Still quite expensive for a box of eggs, I guess, but I think they’re worth it.

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[ERRATA: the original version of the post above didn’t include the instruction to turn the oven up between the two phases of baking. Sorry!]

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2 thoughts on “Twice as long as half its length: Long Almond Cake

  1. I am definitely trying this out!
    (And probably before that unicorn-poop cake too…ah, just realised, my kids would like that rainbow cake even better if I called it unicorn-poop, LOL.)

    • Brilliant, you might be my first Mary Bradley project guinea pig…please do let me know how you get on if you do!

      Just one thing – you can tell I’m new to this whole ‘writing instructions’ thing: I missed a step in the first version of this post, which is to turn the oven up to 200C after you take the base out. Corrected above now.

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