Monday, July 30, 2012

Pistachio Cake

Ebinger’s was a Brooklyn bakery that had somewhat of a cult following. The most popular of it’s cakes was their Blackout Cake, and if you search the web, you will find many versions. I personally like this one and this one, but how bad can any chocolate cake with a mousse-like filling, topped with dark chocolate frosting that’s then surrounded by huge chocolate cake crumbs be?
Now you’re probably thinking that I am going to discuss yet another version of the iconic Blackout Cake, right? Wrong! While that cake is/was truly addictive, aside from their jelly doughnuts (which I remember loving even when they were stale), my favorite cake was something called “Rum Cake.” I honestly don’t think there was a bit of rum in the cake, but there was a thick glaze that adorned the outside that might have had rum extract in it.  I think I remember sliced almonds decorating the lower half of the cake, leading me to believe it might have been an almond cake after all. I was not particularly attached to the glaze, but I have a thing for plain, buttery cakes, and that one was the epitome. Dense, but moist, crumbly, but firm...and buttery. The exterior had a bit of a crunch to it as I imagine the high sugar content caramelized and became crispy in the oven. It was not a large cake, and was sold in the shape of a small kugelhopf. I have been looking for this cake and its recipe everywhere. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be anyone else’s favorite but mine, and every time I Google “Ebinger’s Cake,” that darn chocolate thing pops up. (There is also a Mocha Cake that comes up occasionally, and that one was really good too, but we’ll leave that for another day.)
Okay, back to the Rum/Almond Cake...imagine my delight when I read Nathan Englander‘s article in The New Yorker where he reminisced about Nora Ephron’s Almond Cake!  “ I must find that cake,” I thought. It turns out that Nora got it from Amanda Hesser, who got it from her mother-in-law, Elizabeth (See, m-i-l’s are good for something. I will remember that when I become one...hopefully not in the too near future.) It looked and sounded very close to the Ebinger’s cake, and I was determined to make it.  Regardless of the fact that it was 6:30 on a Friday evening, and my husband had just called to say he was on his way home...and...dinner, what’s dinner? (I admit I do have a tendency to get bitten by the baking bug at the most inopportune moments, but hey, at least we always have dessert!)
 For the sake of full disclosure, I knew that almond paste was a huge component of this cake, and also knew I did not have any. What I did have was a box filled with small rolls of Pistachio Paste that was given to me by my good friend Sirvan in Turkey. So, one could argue that it was not necessarily so much the Proustian desire to recreate the beloved cake of my childhood, but more so the desire to put to use the gift from a good friend. Let’s call it a draw and say that one desire stirred another. (And we’ll throw in a little bit of the desire that I had to make “Nora’s cake” too.)

Other than the fact that there is merely a whisper of pistachio flavor--next time I will add about a teaspoon of pistachio extract--this cake is perfect. It’s the kind of dessert you can keep in the freezer and pull out when a surprise guest comes by for tea. You can put it on a pretty platter, dust it with some powdered sugar, and slice off a sliver each time you walk by. (Ultimately there will be nothing left.)  Serving the recipe below, with spiced peaches,  fancies it up a bit. The cake will eventually soak up the winey peach-colored syrup and become soft and luscious. But that will take a few minutes, and you probably won't want to wait that long. A round mound of chocolate ice cream on the side would be a good chilly sidekick on a summer evening, and I don’t even think we’d be gilding the lily if a scoop of pistachio ice cream was added in addition.
Pistachio Cake
(adapted from Amanda Hesser)
2 sticks butter, more for buttering pan
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (measured after sifting)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
7-ounce tube almond paste (I used pistachio paste, you can order it here)
4 egg yolks, room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract  (I used vanilla extract)
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
Powdered sugar, for sifting over cake
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter sides and bottom of a bundt pan or a 9-inch springform pan.
Sift flour and salt into a small bowl. Set aside. Add pistachio paste and granulated sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Mix slowly at first in order to incorporate the paste into the sugar. Increase speed and continue to mix for 5 minutes.   Add butter and beat at high speed until fluffy, about 8 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, vanilla extract. Mix sour cream and baking soda and add to butter mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, just until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake about 1 hour and a 1/4. (I had to place a sheet of foil on top of cake during the last 15 minutes to keep it from overbrowning.) It is done when you press the top and it returns its shape, and also shrinks from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool in the pan. When ready to serve, sift confectioner's sugar over the top. (If using bundt pan, invert over a platter and then turn over again.)
I served this cake with Sugared Peaches from a recipe adapted from Sweet Amandine. (She used apricots.) I did not feel the need to add an extra step to peel the peaches beforehand, as the skins usually slip off once they are cooked anyway. And if they don’t, no worries.

Sugared Peaches
(adapted from Sweet Amandine)
5 peaches, quartered, stones removed
3-4 tablespoons vanilla sugar
1 vanilla bean 
½ c. white wine
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Measure the vanilla sugar into a shallow bowl or pie plate.  Split the vanilla bean down the center and scrape out its seeds. Add all to the bowl, mashing the seeds into the sugar crystals. Press the peach slices into the sugar to coat them (both sides), then place them skin side down in a casserole dish.  
Add the wine to the dish, taking care to pour it into a space between the peaches so that you don’t wash off the sugar.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until the peaches barely resist the fork, and the syrup around them has been colored by the fruit.  
Serve the peaches on the side of a nice slice of cake and, spoon a little of the syrup on top of them. The peaches can be eaten warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and they are equally delicious chilled, served over plain yogurt.


  1. Lovely post, Mindy. I love all nut-based desserts, and I think it's great that you used pistachio paste here. I have had a version of the Blackout cake before, and while it was very good, I usually prefer cakes like this one.

  2. Looks moist and yummy! Want to stick a fork in it right now! :)
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