Christmas in July

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Oh crap…I mean August.  How did that happen?

Ever since learning that I didn’t have to shell pistachios to get at their delectable meat, I’ve been on the hunt for a recipe that takes advantage of this little miracle.  This also happens to be about the time of year that I start experimenting with holiday recipes.  For me, the actual holiday season is much too frenetic to try-out new recipes with good intention or leisure.  During what amounts to my own little bake-a-palooza, I need to know that a recipe is going to work.  No time for mistakes, flops or resources wasters, soldier.

Which brings me to pistachio almond cake.  This recipe derives nearly all of its flour from ground pistachio and almonds.

We aren’t talking angel food cake here.  In addition to giving the cake considerable texture, the nut meals also give it girth.

I swapped-out the lemon zest for orange.  The zest (whatever citrus is your pleasure) brings out the bright notes.  Candied orange zest would also work well in this recipe as the cake is lightly reminesent of fruitcake (but in a good way).

Because I thought they’d be pretty and add an interesting dimension, I also added a cup of dried cherries (be sure to dust with flour first so they don’t sink to the bottom of the cake).  Should the mood strike, cranberries, apricots or any dried fruit would be fun.

I topped this loaf with a simple glaze of confectioner’s sugar, orange juice and a touch of Grand Marnier.  The final loaf weighed about a pound, impressive in its heft, the cake is moist and dense and absolutely festive enough for the holidays.

Soundtrack

I’ve been experimenting with the 8tracks app.  For the class I’m teaching, I made a playlist of all the #1 songs during the 3rd week of July for the eight years I went to college (I rounded up to include the summers before and after for good measure which gave me 10).  Thematically we went “old school” and I thought this might put them in the right frame of mind.  While the technique proved to be a complete pedagogical bust–the class couldn’t get past Sir Mix A Lot singing Baby Got Back without completely dissolving into giggles, the soundtrack was fun.  So, Becky, that’s what I was listening too while baking up some nutty cake.

PISTACHIO AND ALMOND CAKE

adapted from Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren of A16 Food + Wine

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups unsalted shelled pistachio nuts
  • 1 1/3 cups blanched whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • zest of two oranges (reserve naked orange to juice for the icing)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon “00” flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dried cherries, cranberries or as desired (optional)
Glaze
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grand marnier
  • orange juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Butter a 4-by-8-inch loaf pan and line bottom with parchment. Then, using a sifter or a fine-mesh strainer, dust it with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a food processor, combine the pistachios and almonds and pulse until finely ground. Set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Grate the zest from the oranges directly into the bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Mix in the vanilla just until incorporated. On low speed, gradually add the nuts and mix just until incorporated. Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stir in the flour and salt and mix just until incorporated. Fold-in the fruit.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, run a paring knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake sides, invert the cake onto a plate, and lift off the pan.

When cake is completely cooled, mix together icing ingredient, adding juice to desired consistency.  Working on a wire-rack, pour glaze over top of the cake allowing it to drip down the sides.  Let set completely before wrapping-up or serving.  While I didn’t try it, I am confident this cake would do well in the freezer for a couple of months.  Just wrap tightly and freeze.

 

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