Thursday, December 16, 2010

Delicious Simplicity

Hi. I'm in Switzerland. Just putting that out there for you to chew on. And, perhaps, grind your teeth over.

Neen and I have a long history with this place. It has been one of the only geographical constants of our lives -- we moved to a new country every few years, but would always come here for vacation. Nowadays, it's not as easy to visit as much as we used to, but it's just as well: for one, we don't have to bemoan the changes to our once-tiny Alpine village; moreover, we don't have to worry about the tensions inherent in cramming our entire family in the still-tiny apartment.

That said, it still makes for a glorious escape. Nothing compares to leaving an American metropolis to find yourself in little Crans-Montana. A single step outside (because you would never drive) and you are greeted with icy-pure air and a magnificient view of the mountains all around you. Then come back inside to huddle in the warmth, read for hours, or assemble a nifty jigsaw puzzle. These are all well-loved family traditions.

It goes without saying that our cuisine changes as soon as we get here. That's partly due to the quality of certain products: you wouldn't come to this country and not have the chocolate, the cheese, the wine, or the pastries. That's heresy supreme. But likewise, we wouldn't indulge in quantity as much as we might in the States: groceries are extraordinarily expensive, especially with the exchange rate as it is. Our meals tend to lose a lot of their complexity while here: simple decadence is the result.

But I shouldn't forget: there is one more important factor to consider when baking: the elevation. At roughly 1500 meters, dough and batter behave differently. They will rise more, resulting in much lighter breads and desserts. That's the secret of this cake. The almond cream cake, dubbed "Crans cake" by baby Neen & Spuds, is our traditional fare for the Alps. With a batter composed greatly of whipped cream and almond extract, it offers the essence of light, just slightly sweetened dessert. Its richness is derived as much from its texture as from its taste: fluffy, with a nutty icing that has been ever so slightly toasted. Now, we've never been able to reproduce the texture exactly when closer to sea level. The cake will be more dense; nothing to be done about it. Consider yourselves warned.

Crans Cake (almond cream cake)
for the batter:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
for the topping:
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1 Tbs heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Beat the eggs in one at a time, very well. Add the almond extract (don't be stingy).

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then stir in several additions into the batter.

Pour the batter into a greased & floured 8-inch spring form pan. Bake 35min or "until done" (I'm quoting the recipe; I assume that means when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Don't overcook it).

Meanwhile, combine the topping ingredients in a small pan and stir over low heat until blended. Pour over the cake, spreading it out, and bake 10min longer. Let the cake cool on a rack for 20min; it will shrink as it does so.

The recipe indicates that it can be served with sweetened whipped cream ("That's overkill" says my mother). It would probably also work nicely with a mélange of fruit. Ultimately, though, keep it simple: this cake works just fine by itself.

No comments: