Why It Works
- At 60°F (16°C), butter is soft but pliable, ideal for aeration, giving the cake a fine, even crumb.
- Extracts based on bitter almond oil are easy to find, and unadulterated with artificial ingredients, for a bold, all-natural almond flavor.
- Almond flour works to tenderize and flavor the cake.
- Baking in tall, straight-sided aluminum pans will encourage a level rise with a pale and tender crust.
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 my recipe for classic vanilla butter 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 (deep dive on that topic here).
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.
For the Cake:
11 1/4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/2 cups, spooned; 320g)
6 ounces almond flour, see notes (about 1 3/4 cups; 170g)
15 ounces plain or lightly toasted sugar (about 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon; 425g)
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons (8g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
8 ounces unsalted butter (16 tablespoons; 225g), soft but cool, about 60°F (16°C)
3 large eggs, brought to about 65°F (18°C)
1/2 ounce vanilla extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15g)
1/2 ounce pure almond extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15g), more or less to taste
1/4 ounce rose water, optional (about 1 1/2 teaspoons; 7g)
15 ounces whole milk (about 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons; 425g), brought to about 65°F (18°C)
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease three 8-inch anodized aluminum cake pans and line with parchment (explanation and tutorial here). If you don’t have 3 pans, it’s okay to bake the cakes in stages; the batter will keep at room temperature until needed. Sift the all-purpose flour and almond flour together in a bowl, then whisk thoroughly to combine, at least 1 minute. Under-mixing the flours can produce a cake with a splotchy crust and uneven crumb.
For the Cake: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter. Mix on low speed to roughly incorporate, increase speed to medium. Beat until fluffy, pale, and light, about 8 minutes. About halfway through, pause to scrape the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula.
With the mixer still running, add the eggs one at a time, letting each fully incorporate before adding the next, followed by the vanilla extract, almond extract, and rose water (if using). Reduce speed to low and sprinkle in about 1/3 of the prepared almond-flour, then drizzle in 1/3 of the milk. Repeat with remaining flour and milk, working in thirds as before.
Scrape the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula, and resume mixing on medium speed for about 3 seconds to ensure everything is well combined. The batter should look creamy and thick, registering between 65 and 68°F (18 and 20°C) on a digital thermometer. (Significant deviation indicates ingredients were too warm or too cold, which can lead to textural problems with the cake.)
Fold batter once or twice from the bottom up with a flexible spatula, then divide evenly between prepared cake pans (about 20 ounces/565g per pan). Stagger pans together on the oven rack, and bake until puffed, firm, and beginning to brown around the edges, but relatively pale over all, about 35 minutes. If your oven has very uneven heat, pause to rotate the pans after about 20 minutes. Alternatively, bake two layers at once and finish the third when they’re done.
Cool cakes directly in their pans for 1 hour, then run a butter knife around the edges to loosen. Invert onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, and return cakes right-side-up (covered in plastic, the cakes can be left at room temperature for a few hours). Prepare your frosting of choice.
For the Crumb Coat: Level cakes with a serrated knife (full directions here) and set the scraps aside for snacking. Place one layer on a heavy cast iron turntable. If you like, a waxed cardboard cake round can first be placed underneath, secured to the turntable with a scrap of damp paper towel. Top with exactly 1 cup buttercream, using an offset spatula to spread it evenly from edge to edge. Repeat with the second and third layers, then cover the sides of the cake with another cup of buttercream, spreading it as smoothly as you can (tutorial here). Refrigerate cake until the buttercream hardens, about 30 minutes.
To Finish: Rewhip remaining buttercream to restore its creamy consistency, then use to finish and decorate the chilled cake as desired. If you like, garnish with toasted, sliced, or slivered almonds. To serve, bring cake to an internal temperature no cooler than 70°F (21°C) and cut into portions with a chef’s knife, wiping or rinsing the blade clean between each slice. Cover the exposed edges with leftover buttercream to keep the remaining cake moist. Under a cake dome, the cake will keep for 3 days at cool room temperature.
Because homemade almond flour will introduce more variables into this recipe, it is more likely to produce inconsistent results in terms of color, crumb, and consistency (depending on the freshness and moisture content of the almonds, the larger grind size of DIY flour, the potential for almond skins to be included, and so on). Such a cake may still be delicious, but not consistent with the photo above.
Make-Ahead and Storage
In an airtight container, the prepared almond-flour mixture can be kept at cool room temperature for several weeks in advance. The finished cake is best served within 24 hours, but leftovers can be stored up to three days at cool room temperature.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 54g||69%|
|Saturated Fat 20g||101%|
|Total Carbohydrate 165g||60%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 133g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|