Although it may take a lot to ruffle my feathers, it doesn't take much to tickle my fancy. Take almond cake, for example.
We're talking four ingredients here: almonds, sugar, eggs, and flour. That's it.* These four ingredients, thanks to Marcella Hazan, provide me a path to autumnal bliss. I wouldn't be the first to exalt Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, nor will I be the last.
That said, I may be one of the few Hazan devotees who speaks of her as though Hazan has been working in-flesh with me in the kitchen. After the boyfriend comments on the deliciousness of the cake, I proceed to explain how Hazan "had me whip the egg whites until they formed stiff peaks." He looked at me as though I had been talking to dead people. Hazan is like that, she'll jump right out of the page and ensure your egg whites have the stiffest of peaks, and that your cake is the most delicious of desserts.
Hazan aside, who can resist nuts? Not me, in any case. On any given day, it could very well be that 1/3 of my caloric sustenance comes from nuts. I'm nuts about nuts, so it only makes sense to sneak them into a cake. Plus, when you bake with nuts, it eliminates the need for any other fat. Take this recipe for an example, you won't see any butter, oil, or egg yolks. It's just nuts.
*In full disclosure, I did omit the mention of a pinch of salt and grated lemon. The lemon is optional (yet highly encouraged), but the salt actually has a pragmatic role in getting the egg whites to stiffen.
10 ounces shelled, unpeeled almonds, about 2 cups
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
8 egg whites (keep the yolks, be creative with them)
The peel of one lemon, grated without digging into the white pith beneath
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
An 8-or 9-inch springform pan
Butter for greasing the pan
Preheat the oven to 350.
Place the almonds and sugar in a blender or food processor and grind to a fine consistency, turning the motor on and off. Don't let them turn to a paste. (Then you've got almond butter, which is great too!)
Beat the egg whites together with 1/2 teaspoon salt until they form stiff peaks.
Add the ground almonds and the grated lemon peel to the egg whites, a little bit at a time, folding them in gently, but thoroughly. The whites may deflate a bit, but if you mix carefully there should be no significant loss of volume.
Add the flour, shaking a little of it at a time through a strainer and again, mixing gently.
Thickly smear the pan with butter. Put the cake batter into the pan, shaking the pan to level it off. Place the pan in the middle level of the pre-heated oven and bake for 1 hour. Before taking it out of the oven, test the center of the cake by piercing it with a toothpick. If it comes out dry, the cake is done. If it doesn't, look a bit longer.
When done, unlock the pan and remove the hoop. When the cake has cooled somewhat, and it is just lukewarm, loosen it from the bottom of the pan. Serve when it is completely cold. It will keep a while if wrapped well.