Let us eat cake.

Before I talk about Almond and lemon cake, I need to tell you something. Actually that’s not true, I don’t need to tell you anything, I could just continue with the blog and not mention this detail, but considering the nature of both blog and detail, it would probably make things very lopsided and odd. Let me rephrase that, I’d like to tell you something.

I am, if all goes well, having a baby, very soon. Actually I thought the time had come this afternoon, and saw me, the most ill prepared mother- to-be in Europe, frantically consulting my 1972, soft focus, smock-heavy edition of the pregnancy bible Avremo un bambino. Once propped up on the sofa, book open at what I think was the relevant paragraph (it is, as the title suggests, an Italian book which means I don’t fully understand everything, not a bad thing when reading about potentially unpredictable and possibly painful experiences) I realized my cramps were more likely the result of the two oversized slices of aforementioned cake I’d washed down, inadvisably, with both iced lemonade and warm earl grey tea than any impending arrival. The official date is the 7th of september, but as my elderly neighbour keeps shouting from her kitchen window across the courtyard into my kitchen window, the baby will come when the baby is ready.

I am probably sounding very flippant. I don’t feel it. Well not usually. Despite this complicated goulash of a situation. Despite the fact the past nine months have been accompanied by painful sadness about the end of my relationship with the other stomach of Racheleats:Vincenzo, the man I thought I’d have children with, the man I thought I’d be with forever. Despite the fact a new relationship – and I say this with great affection – started at a time when I really should have been alone, I am very happy to be having a baby.

There, said it, and I haven’t forgotten that catching up and outbursts of (possibly too much) information should always be accompanied by good suggestions for lunch, dinner or in today’s case: cake.

Thoughts of this cake have been quietly bubbling away for some time now, for years if I think about it. Well, not this cake exactly, it’s more abstract than that. For years I’ve had it in mind that I’d like, at some point, no rush, to find a good recipe for a dense, moist but not gooey, fragrant but not fussy almond and lemon cake. My quest started nonchalantly with a piece of lemon scented almond cake from Lisboa the Portuguese cafe on Goldhawk Road. It gathered speed in 2001 when I worked at the Pelican organic pub in Ladbroke Grove and the formidable but fantastic chef Karen baked a deceptively plain-looking but glorious golden round, her take on an everyday cake and the various almond and lemon cakes she had eaten in Spain.

I was already well aware of what good dancing partners almond and lemon make. I’m the daughter of a Lancastrian, so I learned young that the neglected cousin of the Bakewell tart, the Lancaster lemon tart – which forgets jam in favor of a thick smear of lemon curd cooked under the almond and egg mixture – is by far the nicer of the two relatives. I’d experienced the joys of lemon syllabub and crisp almond biscuits. I’d gobbled up Maids of honor, those seductive little puff pastry tarts filled with cheese-cake-like almond and lemon cream.

But Karen’s cake was something else, a slice of lemon and almond alchemy, simple – something Florence White writing in 1932 in Good Things in England might have called a ‘cut-and-come-again-cake you never tire of’ – but aromatic and fragrant at the same time, a cake that reminds you almonds and lemons might well be English kitchen staples, but they originate from warmer more exotic climes. It was dense but not heavy, fragrant but not fussy. Karen was in an even more fearsome mood than usual when I walked into the kitchen (still brushing incriminating crumbs from my apron). I didn’t even manage a compliment, never mind a request for the recipe.

The search continued quietly, a recipe ripped from a newspaper, a note to myself to find a spanish recipe for torta de almendros di santiago because this – according to a friend – was the cake I was looking for, an attempt at torta de almendros di santiago and the discovery it wasn’t. Then I discovered Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake, which is in turn inspired by Claudia Roden’s Sephardic orange and almond cake, a recipe which spread faster than juicy gossip a few years ago. It’s the one made by simmering whole oranges or clementines until they are soft as my upper arms and then blending them – zest, skin, pith, fruit – into a thick orange pulp which you mix with eggs, almonds, sugar and a teaspoon of baking powder. Small kitchen epiphany, I’d replace the oranges with lemons, I’d found my cake.

I hadn’t. It was an interesting experiment, but on this occasion whole lemons are rather like sour-faced librarians, however long you simmer them, however much you flatter and try to sweeten them up with sugar, however hard you try, they refuse be won over, it’s the pith you see, it’s all just too pithy and the overall effect is decidedly mouth drying. My search continued, very lazily. Then about 2 weeks ago, an idea that had been baking for years was given a mighty shove by an uncompromising craving and next thing I know I’m cranking up the oven on one of the hottest days of the year to make myself an almond and lemon cake. Frantic book consultation, some risky mixing and matching of several recipes, a dash of improvisation and fifteen minutes of overheating in my new kitchen and I had not only a bun but a cake in the oven.

For me, impulsive baking usually ends in disaster or soggy disappointment! But not this time, I’d stumbled (or waddled) onto my cake, the lemon and almond round I’d been looking for, dense and moist but not heavy, fragrant and just a bit exotic but not fussy, the ‘cut and come again cake one you never tire of’‘. Well, the ‘never tire of’ remains to be seen, but I’ve consumed the greater part of three cakes now and I’m showing no signs of exhaustion. I already knew that one way to guarantee a moist crumb to your cake is to  add ground almonds – the oil in the nuts lends dampness to cakes and, even better, means they get even moister after a day or two – this cake is a lovely example of this. It’s a fitting recipe for a great couple: his milky, nutty kindness soothing (but not smothering) her zesty sharpness.

It’s all pretty straightforward, butter and sugar, eggs, ground almonds, a flick of flour, the zest and juice of a lemon and some orange flower water if you fancy (I do) a list of ingredients sure to invite thoughts like ‘That’s it? What on earth was all her fuss and searching about‘. I thought the very same thing. It really is worth wrapping the cake up for a day or two before eating, the flavors deepen and the cake gets even more wonderfully damp and aromatic. Don’t worry if you can’t wait though, it is still damn delicious.

Almond and lemon cake

  • 200g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 50g plain flour, ideally Italian 00
  • 200g ground almonds
  • zest and juice of one medium-sized unwaxed lemon
  • 2 tbsp orange flower water (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180°. Line a 21 cm spring release or loose base cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Add the beaten egg a little at a time to the butter and sugar, with each addition sprinkle on some of the flour, keep beating continuously.

Once all the eggs and flour are incorporated, gently fold in the ground almonds, then the lemon zest, juice and orange flower water if you are adding it.

Pour the mixture into the lined cake tin and bake for 50 – 55 minutes. After about 35 minutes you may well find you have to cover the cake loosely with foil, otherwise it may burn.

The cake is ready when it is firm and a skewer, or better still a strand of raw spaghetti inserted in the center come out clean. Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before turning it onto a wire rack. Once the cake is completely cool, wrap it is greaseproof paper and then foil and leave it for a day or two.

Let us all eat cake.


Filed under almonds, cakes and baking, food, lemons, Puddings, Rachel's Diary, recipes

64 responses to “Let us eat cake.

  1. dinnerforg

    Congratulations Rachel! Life is complicated and messy and delicious – embrace it all and please keep us (your blog readers & recipe fans) updated. Good luck on this adventure of motherhood.

  2. Congrats Rachel! I refused to even buy a pregnancy book when I was pregnant and nine years later I know it was the right move, but one I could half understand would have been a good compromise. Best of luck with these early months (well, in general and with all of them, of course, but especially with these early ones). Listen to your elderly neighbor – it sounds like she very much knows what she is talking about.

  3. Ohhhh this looks like my kind of cake. Simple but elegant. Can’t wait to give it a try.

    Happy Baby and do let know know when he/she arrives.

  4. How marvelous! Congratulations. And yes indeed, the less read, the better.

    I am very keen try to try my hand at that rather wonderful-looking cake (perhaps this evening, in readiness for the weekend).

  5. Oh my goodness what exciting and wonderful news!! I can’t believe that you have kept this particular bun hidden from us for so long. I hope it goes well in the next few days (or weeks if you are anything like me and like to incubate them until they are fetched out!). This cake, by the way, sounds heavenly and I might just have to make it to make sure. Oh and this is another wonderful post too, had me laughing, sighing and gasping all at the same time. xxx

  6. Sara Rosso

    Congrats! Looks like there will be one more person for me to meet when we finally meet 🙂 I have a few good friends who are also moms in Rome it might be cool to hook you up with – let me know!

  7. Sono felice per te Rachel !! In bocca al lupo per la tua nuova avventura e un grandissimo abbraccio a te e al bimbo/a da tutti noi:Monica Armando Benedetta Teo.

  8. Oooh looks delicious and easy to make – it’s on the hit list!

  9. laura

    WONDERFUL news and WONDERFUL post. Thank you for sharing both. Auguri di cuore!

  10. Hey Rachel, i have never left a comment despite your blog is the only one who’s new posts find their way straight into my inbox. I just wanted to say congratulations to your news! My first baby (i have two now) made it’s surprise appearance in a very similar situation to yours. Sometimes unplanned is the best way as it’s accompanied by no, or at least in my case, expectations. Your cake sounds delicious just what i have been craving for the past weeks but haven’t found good recipe. Now i have. Please keep us posted about the baby. How exciting!!

  11. Betta

    Let us eat cake and celebrate! ❤

  12. Auguri! A sweet story to go with a sweet recipe.

  13. Rachel, sending you the warmest of thoughts for the safe and happy arrival of your baby…What a joy! Life can sometimes take you by surprise but then thats what makes it so wonderful and interesting. Really looking forward to sharing in your journey, even if just a little here and there. Take care and all the best. x

  14. Happy baby, and happy cake! Thank you for choosing to share this wonderful news with all of us out here; I hope you continue to share your adventures into motherhood. {Despite my best efforts to remain not-a-mother, I wound up becoming one almost five years ago. It’s been one hell of a ride and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!}

  15. Congratulations! Looking forward to the new arrival and new recipes!

  16. Heather

    What a happy surprise! Wishing you many blessings for an easy delivery and many precious memories with your new little one. Congratulations!

  17. I’ll have to read about the cake later. A new relationship. A baby! And you are working on your memoir, yes?

  18. dorothee

    holy cow! holy baby! holy cake! all very exciting. wish you and your bun all the best and some good times getting to know each other. it wouldn`t hurt to have some cake around after giving birth. breast feeding can make you mad hungry!

  19. Rosemary

    Oh, I am happy for you…. good luck in the next couple of weeks and please keep us updated! Thanks for the recipe and the story, too!

  20. This is wonderful news! I love babies, and I love that you are having one!! You made my day- and it has been a long, long week! *big smile*

    So happy for you.

  21. Kate

    Oh, fantastic! Congratulations, Rachel! I’ll be thinking of you and the baby in the coming days, as I eat delicious Almond and Lemon Cake and send positive thoughts your way.

    (Your wonderful news drew me out of anonymity!)

  22. Congrats and I hope all goes well with the impending arrival. I remember a fellow mum (in mum and baby group) saying she had cravings for banana bread in labour and afterwards – you may want to bake extra cake now just to be prepared. Thanks for a lovely cake and I wish you an easy delivery and a healthy baby who sleeps (so you can too).

  23. CONGRATULATIONS and congratulations! What amazing news. I wish you joy and happiness and fulfillment as you embark on the next phase of your journey.

    I also wish you lots of cake!

    Please don’t disappear. Keep us posted even if you have to be brief. Best wishes for an easy delivery and a healthy baby.

  24. So happy that you are back on the blogosphere, I have enjoyed your blog for a couple years now, and I do love the list of other blogs as well, best wishes (my sister just had a girl, and lemme tell ya its no joke) but the child is just amazing! Best of Luck!

  25. rach! such wonderful news. thrilled for you—
    my daughter was born in september too, over two weeks late,(over thirty years ago–eek!) and yes, the baby will come when the baby is ready.
    all best thoughts to you and yours.

    as for this cake: no doubt a winner–not the stuff of sour-faced librarians (ha! loved that image.)
    take very good care, xx n.

  26. Oh my God Rachel that’s wonderful news. We always think life can be measured and planned like our cakes but that’s rarely the case. The happiness and excitement really come through in your writing which makes this post especially lovely to read. As a Derbyshire lass, I grew up on an overdose of Bakewell Tart but recently made a Lancaster one for my German friends which we all loved. Lemon and almonds is one of my very favourite combinations so I simply have to make this cakse, perhaps even this weekend. Take care and love from Berlin, xx.

  27. !!!

    all I can say is wow and congratulations! I hope the next little while goes smoothly and I’ll be thinking of you.

    g x

    p.s – yes to that memoir!

  28. TD

    Congratulations, Rachel! Sometimes the best things in life are unplanned.
    Glad to see you back!

  29. what lovely news. I found myself pregnant in unexpected circumstances (high in the Himalaya) and, 6 years on, it’s been unquestionably the best thing for us as a couple and (mostly!) complete joy. I wish you all the luck in the world. Make the most of these last quiet days to peacefully make and eat cake. I plan to do so this weekend, and will think of you.

  30. Edan

    Congratulations, lovely!!
    I think pregnancy deserves a well-timed cake or two, wouldn’t you say?

  31. tanya

    Congratulations! So wonderful– serendipitous, really, that it worked out this way. What a lucky child!

  32. I guess (hope) that 180 degrees is c, and that I’m good converting to f because I am making this cake today. It sounds delicious. It also made me think that lemon ice cream might be a wonderful accompaniment to an almond cake that I make.

    Hope all is well, and you have good news to share very soon. Actually, I think you will have LOTS of news to share soon.

  33. congrats, rachel! as you may (or may not) remember, we just had a bambino last October. If you read the most recent post on our blog, you’ll see that it took me until last week to blog since little Paolo was born. If you are better than me and still have energy and interest in blogging within those first crazy months of first-time motherhood, well, you’ll be a better woman than me! or, maybe you’ll have a good sleeper on your hands. mine didn’t start sleeping till about 5 or 6 months and now he’s an expert!

    good luck and enjoy motherhood! it really gets fun… i can’t wait to cook one day w/ my little one!


    amy and jonny

  34. Congratulations and very best wishes to you as you embark on the adventure of motherhood!

  35. Syrahsuzie

    I love your writing, you have a very imaginative way of describing events and situations.
    please keep the blog going – your readers are very patient.
    We eagerly await your news and your recipes.

  36. Congratulations Rach! What lovely news and thanks for sharing it together with this beautiful lemon almond cake. I absolutely love lemon cakes and don’t make them enough. Cannot wait to give this a try.

    Just realised that this is the baby’s due date – I wonder if the baby is ready

  37. wonderful news–new relationship, new baby, and new posts. win/win, i’d say (and i’m including myself in this). your new friend and your baby are lucky to have you. all the best.

    and good luck with that virgo… i’m one. consult me when your baby tries to tell you how to put their diaper on more efficiently.

  38. SUZ

    Congratulations! So glad to hear that your rolling along with all the changes! Life works in wondrous ways, doesn’t it!?

  39. Holy crap! That is awesome news, Rachel! Auguri!! Little Matteo (now 4 mos old) and I have been in Tuscany this summer where I cannot believe he didn’t melt from the heat. I’m still sleep deprived, but he’s far & away one of the best things that ever happened in my life. I’m certain it will be the same for you. I could just eat his dimples & doppio mento! (mom-to-mom: I can’t recommend this book enough http://www.amazon.co.uk/Healthy-Sleep-Habits-Happy-Child/dp/0449004023) Un abbraccio! xo

  40. jeniferroddy

    This has to be one of your best Rach. Beautifully written; funny and serious and charming …

  41. Joanna

    You are maybe very busy now, like me (My little guy was born the 25th of August), figuring out how to be mom. Congratulations! and good luck to you with sleeping and burping and bouncing and nursing. I was somehow surprised at how HARD! it is. But he changes everyday, and everyone says enjoy this brief time, sleep when the baby sleeps, let people help you. All together good advice. Again- best luck!

  42. Congrats on the new little one, it’s the 17th as I write so I’m hoping your little bundle of joy has arrived. Stumbled upon your blog, love it. Have a cake in the oven now & hubby on the way home. Keep writing & ENJOY everyday of motherhood!

  43. PS Any possibility you could post a conversion chart for the measurements. I’m in the States Thanks Dottie

  44. Lindie

    Can’t wait to hear about your beautiful baby.

  45. I imagine said baby will have put in an appearance by now (I am a tad tardy) – hope all is going well :0)

  46. laura

    please let us know how you are as soon as you CAN.

  47. Wishing you well, Rachel. You -are- in my thoughts! 🙂

  48. Wow huge congratulations to you and wishing you every happiness with your little one! These babies seem to surprise us at the strangest of times, we too had a little surprise baby five weeks ago, having moved to live and work in France in the spring only to be sacked and rendered homeless a month before our babe was due lol! 🙂 So I’m sure everything will work out for you and what a brilliant combo your future blog will be – bambinos and food 🙂 x

  49. It turned out great! its still warm on the plate next to me.
    I doubled the amount of lemon juice, couldnt get a hold of the orange blossom water around here, and peeled / ground the almonds myself which made them a bit wet and crunchier than the store bought option (which i also cant find easily here in China).
    +wonderful news of the baby 🙂

  50. I’m sure you are busy and happy, Rachel, cuddling your little miracle, and watching every amazing day unfold. Just to let you know I’m thinking of you!

  51. Pingback: Another road through the woods « Letting go

  52. johanna

    congrats Rachel! wonderful news! hope it’s all going great.

  53. Beautifully written and honest. Just found your blog via Saveur and I am enthralled. Inspiring and congrats on your baby! i have no doubt he/she will be well fed with all your delicious creations.

    The Wanderfull Traveler

  54. Ziu

    I’ve missed your beautiful post and I’m sure the bebe will keep you away from this site for a little bit longer – but please come back. When you’re ready. 🙂

  55. Pingback: Quincing my words | rachel eats

  56. Thanks for a lovely, simple cake recipe.

  57. Love the almond lemon cake! You should try some Justin’s Nut Butter with that! Congrats on the baby!

  58. Ben

    Hi folks, who knows an innovative cake baker in Europe?

  59. Your cake looks lovely! Just discovered your blog….thanks for the great post!

  60. Pingback: Glazed over | rachel eats

  61. Rachel, i have just discovered your blog. please please convert it to a book. A huge tome including the recipes and all that I can pass down to my children. I cant believe i have to catch up on almost 2 years of your news and recipes (this is, after all your November 2011 page) which means by now you have had your baby and life has no doubt changed dramatically for you. All of which i still have to read about in between cooking baking crocheting and a full time job. Best wishes from the Netherlands and happy cooking. Michele

    • rachel

      Hi Michele, so great to have you reading along. It is always a treat to know people enjoy reading and cooking along. All best Rachx

  62. Pingback: almond fig cake | Overgrown Waltz

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