I am the edgy one in my family. The moody one. The one most likely to say something caustic and regrettable. Somehow I managed to marry a kind and reasonable man. We went on to have a kind and reasonable son. Even our dog, Edna, is kind and reasonable. In my dark and snarky moments, they all three look at me with good-hearted concern, wondering how they can help. It’s infuriating.
On a good day I like to think I just have a lively temperament. My prickly side is balanced by a sense of humor and boundless loyalty and affection. On a bad day, I think I’m a nasty little troll, profoundly undeserving of the gentle sweetness that surrounds me. Regardless of how I feel about it, it seems I’m stuck with myself.
Fortunately, my family raises the bar on my behavior. Tenderness towards them inspires me, increasingly, to zip my mouth when I’m in a mood. (Um, I haven”t perfected that part just yet…) I’ve also learned that energy gets barbed without an outlet, and I have deep reserviors of energy. Cooking gives that energy something to do with itself. Chopping, washing, stirring, and sifting have a calming effect on me.
We all have to eat. That’s one impetus for cooking. Then there’s my endless fascination with the flavors and textures and colors of food. But the real driving force behind my cooking is love. Obviously, I get to eat the goodies, too. My motives aren’t all altruistic. Still, it”s safe to say that preparing food makes me a nicer person.
Cooking doesn’t make me any less mercurial, but it can be a balm. Each meal is a small, daily gesture of thanks for all the love and forbearance. Even Edna wins. I offer her little bites, which she takes gently from my hand.
So there you have it. I’m not the sweetest person in the world, or even in my house. But I try to make amends. Can I offer you some cake? This rustic torte is a pure and simple homage to chocolate and almonds. It’s nothing but nuts and chocolate gently held together with sugar, egg whites, and air. It’s nubby, light, and altogether spectacular. The recipe was adapted from one in Pure Dessert, by Alice Medrich.
1 cup (5 ounces) unsalted, unblanched whole almonds.
7 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, broken into big pieces (no need to chop)
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 large egg whites (about one cup), room temperature
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a nine-inch springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Combine the almonds, chocolate, ½ cup of sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until the almonds and chocolate are very finely chopped but not completely pulverized. Set aside.
Beat egg whites with remaining ¼ cup sugar until stiff peaks form when the beaters are lifted.
Gently fold one third of the nut mixture into the egg whites until just incorporated. Repeat with another third of the nut mixture, then once more with the last third.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, or with just a little melted chocolate, about 30-35 minutes.
Cool cake completely and remove from pan. Cover or wrap tightly, and store for up to 3 days at room temperature. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.