The easiest way to make an almond cake is to spike your favorite cake batter with almond extract. It's a simple approach that any beginner can master, with results that can be customized to taste. Too almondy? Dial it back next time around. Not almondy enough? Add some more!
Honestly, there's nothing to it, which is why I recommend beginners arm themselves with an array of extracts, essential oils, and flower waters, an all-natural and nearly foolproof method for flavoring and customizing virtually any dessert.
But some flavors merit a more advanced approach, particularly with ingredients like almond. Yes, you can just spike a basic cake recipe with almond extract, but adding almond flour to the batter lends a wonderfully moist and hearty texture. A full-fledged European torte might rely on almond flour entirely, but my American sensibilities appreciate the fluffier texture of a cake that still leans on a bit of all-purpose flour for structure and loft.
For a cake that's ultra light and yellow, commercial almond flour does the trick because it's made from blanched almonds, finely milled with commercial equipment. Homemade almond flour can work well, especially if using blanched almonds carefully ground using a powerful food processor. Even so, the results tend to be coarser, producing a denser cake. With skin-on almonds, the crumb will also be quite speckled and dark.
Although some may appreciate these qualities for their rustic charm, as I do myself on occasion, it's hard to beat the convenience of commercial almond flour (my favorite brand is Anthony's) and the lightness it can bring to the cake's crumb, in terms of both texture and color.
The important thing, whether working with commercial or homemade almond flour, is to sift it with the all-purpose flour and whisk them together quite well. As dry ingredients are always the last to be added to a cake batter, that gentle, last-minute mixing will not be enough to fully homogenize the almond and all-purpose flours, leading to cakes with a splotchy crust and uneven crumb.
With the almond-flour mixture well combined and aerated, the rest of the cake proceeds more or less like any other cake made with the creaming method—although I'll review the steps here, we have a more in-depth review of the process in our guide to making cake.
In this recipe, I start by creaming the butter and sugar together, along with the leavening agents and salt (adding them at this stage ensures more complete homogenization). Here, lightly toasted sugar works particularly well, as the gentle sweetness and mild caramel notes complement the nuttiness of the almond so nicely, while adding a welcome complexity. But if you don't have time to toast and cool a batch yourself, plain white sugar will be fine, simple, and sweet.
The creaming method works by folding the butter and sugar together over and over, trapping little pockets of air with every turn, transforming the butter and sugar from a dense, dark, and gritty mass into something light, pale, smooth, and voluminous—the ubiquitous "light and fluffy" mentioned in recipes.
Please remember that the timing of this step will vary according to the size of the mixing bowl, the power of the mixer, the temperature of the ingredients, and other factors, so it should always be judged according to the textural cues rather than any specific timeline. Recipes provide ballpark time estimates to help, ensuring no one makes a major mistake by rushing through the process in 30 seconds or going overboard with a 20-minute ordeal, but that's about as far as the listed time will get you. Instead of blindly going by the stated number of minutes, let the textural transformations guide you, and always remember to scrape the bowl and beater along the way.
When the butter and sugar are well aerated, it's time to add the eggs (one at a time), along with the vanilla and almond extracts and a small splash of rose water (an aromatic that works wonders with almond). In some recipes I may add any extract(s) up front with the sugar, but when using larger quantities, as I do here, I prefer waiting until the butter and sugar are well emulsified before introducing extra liquid.
The final stage is to add the prepared flours, along with some plain milk (any percentage will do). Almond milk may seem like a tempting alternative, but I've yet to find a commercial brand with a rich almond flavor, so it's certainly not worth a special purchase (although it won't harm anything if it's what you happen to have).
Unlike a traditional batter made with cake flour or all-purpose flour, the batter for this cake will have a slightly curdled appearance.
Normally, this would indicate the butter and sugar were under-creamed and/or that the ingredients were too cool, but here it's a side effect of using a less starchy flour mix. Fear not: Everything will come together nicely in the oven.
Once cool, the cakes can be iced however you like; almond pairs nicely with everything from a honey buttercream to a classic vanilla Swiss and chocolate frosting, whether the style is American (what I'm using here) or European.
I quite enjoy the classic, yellow cake vibe that chocolate buttercream brings to the table, and it's a natural match with almonds, but this hearty cake is versatile, so let your cravings be your guide. And remember, should the almond flavor seem too faint or too strong for your tastes, the intensity can be adjusted in future batches by using more or less extract.