Home Is Where The Heart Is: Almond Olive-Oil Cake (Torta di Mandorla)

This past weekend our very good friends moved into their new home. It's hard to convey how much I love their new abode, but I will try...
It's perfect. It's a wooden house built just after the turn of the last century. It has gorgeous molding, a built in bookcase and stunning hardwood floors- tons of  charm and character that you just don't see in generic new-builds. The rooms have tons of light. And there's an outdoor landing that's just begging for a porch swing.  The kitchen has tons of storage, great light, and it opens up into a really large garden. I haven't purchased their housewarming gift yet, but I'm feeling like a bocce ball set or a yard bowling kit might be in order.
I know Denver is nothing like New Orleans, but for some reason the Berkeley District (which is where they bought) really reminds me of my old stomping ground in New Orleans. Maybe it's the friendliness of the people. The small garden plots. The quirkiness of the place. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but my husband thought the same thing...so that confirms it.
Our friends moved in on Saturday, but no one was really relying on me to do any heavy lifting since I had Otis and Theodore to watch over. I thought a nice contribution on my part would be some homemade cake! 
I had been craving olive oil cake ever since I had some at Spuntino about a month ago. Yes, in case you are wondering, the memory of a great dessert can linger on my brain for well over 30 days. So, there I was-- determined to make an olive oil cake and searching through recipes and then I found the perfect one. It's from Gina DePalma, the brilliant pastry chef at Babbo. (She also makes one of my favorite cakes--  Zucchini Olive-Oil Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze. It's seriously amazing.) I found this recipe for Almond Olive-Oil cake on Serious Eats. I had a big bag of almonds in the pantry too, so that sealed the deal. 
Notes on the cake: I made my own almond flour by grinding the almonds in the food processor. I stopped pulsing them once they turned into a floury consistency. If you process them too much, the oil from the almonds can make the flour a bit clumpy...so under grind if you aren't sure. 
Notes on the glaze: I toasted the almonds in the oven for 4 minutes at 350 degrees.
Also, I didn't have any almond extract in the house (the recipe call for 1/4 teaspoon). I don't think the cake was any less delicious. There was still tons of nutty flavor. 
Almond Olive Oil Cake/Torta di Mandorla (Recipe Courtesy of Gina DePalma via Serious Eats)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (I omitted this extract because I didn't have any around...)
Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/4 a medium orange
1/2 cup orange juice

For Glaze:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

  • Preheat the oven to 350ยฐF. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.
  • Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.
  • While the cake cools, make the glaze. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.
  • While the butter cools, sift the confectioner's sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.
And after having three, I mean one, slice of cake, it was time to move out. The boys started to crash and nap time was imminent. I decided to put Theo in the carrier, Otis in the stroller, and walk around this quiet residential neighborhood. Birds were chirping, the sun was out, people were hanging out on their porches drinking and conversing. And me? I just walked around thinking about how nice this place is...and thought about the time when I owned my home, in a similar kind of neighborhood, miles away, way down in New Orleans....
Now, I am not exactly an expert on Denver architecture, but I do think, that as a casual observer (and historic walking tour devotee), I can make certain generalizations about Denver's neighborhoods and their associated architectural styles. For example, Lower Downtown (LoDo) living makes me think of loft conversions and big spaces with high ceilings. Country Club and Cherry Creek conjure up stately turn-of-the-century mansions on generous plots of land. When I think of the Highlands I think of Victorian homes, modern "in-fills" and American bungalows. Capital Hill? I might say the Denver Square, also known as the Prairie House. And after walking around the Berkeley neighborhood, I think that cottages and bungalows are the most frequent styles of architecture I came across . They are cute, practical and just the right size. 
The Tennyson Street business district, which runs through the Berkeley neighborhood from 38th to 46th Avenue, has tons of great, independently owned shops. Some of my favorites include: The Bookery Nook (there's a Lik's Ice Cream parlor inside in case you are looking for a little something sweet), Mod es Tea, The Comfort Cafe and Parisi. I've drooled over the decor options at the Covered Wallpaper. And I've eaten one cookie too many (maybe not!) at Cake. Axios is on my list of places to try and I pray that My Sweet Bakery returns (it closed following a landlord dispute). There are antique shops and some consignment stores. An old-school men's barbershop called Proper. There's Hops and Pie- which serves pizza and has a beer selection that many would envy. (If you are looking for Mexican food, you've got a bunch of options on 38th Avenue right off of Tennyson.) There's a yoga studio, a super-cute baby store and some really great breakfast joints. Right... there are also a few medical marijuana boutiques on the street-- you really can't make this stuff up. Right off the strip at Tennyson and 44th Avenue is the Oriental Theater, which I went to for the first time over Earth Day weekend. Gallery and restaurant doors are open late on the first Friday of every month (Tennyson Art Walk), and there are tons of upcoming events such as A Taste of Tennyson and TotallyTennison, which benefits NW Denver Public Schools... you should stop by if you are in the hood.