Baking For Others: Lemon-Almond Cake


SPRING DINNER PARTY MENU: Coconut Curry Mussels; Crusty Bread; Mixed Greens with Creamy Mango Vinaigrette; Lemon-Almond Cake

This is my new favorite cake. It has so few ingredients and such a fresh, clean taste, I can’t help but want to make it for every dinner party, every box of treats, every day.

One of its best traits is having no butter in it whatsoever. This is good for a few reasons, none of which is health. The main reason is Alex, because he can’t eat dairy, and because I, as the baker, prefer recipes that have no dairy to begin with than those that require substitutions like margarine or oil.

But the secondary reason–which may in fact be the more interesting reason, and the reason all of you should make this–is that I currently believe that, when eating dessert after dinner, lighter and more flavorful treats trump heavy, buttery, and chocolate-y ones. (Desserts like bread pudding, chocolate layer cake, and chocolate mousse cake are often things I’d rather eat as an afternoon snack, a small meal where they get all my attention and stomach space.) After a meal, a slice of this cake, which is sweet and tangy with lemon, won’t weigh you down, or so overwhelm you that you forget what you ate for dinner. The egg whites and almonds give the cake its texture, somehow airy and dense all at once. I have a crazy idea to make it with pistachios and orange zest…I just can’t stop imagining how good and green that cake would be.

As an aside, I have a 7-inch cake pan, which makes a really nice-sized dessert for small dinners. It’s what’s pictured above–I guess I think there’s something dainty and cute about it. But if you’re baking in a 9-inch pan, I’ve included the recipe with larger proportions.

From my kitchen, where light desserts win (at least for now), to yours,



Lemon Almond Cake

Adapted from Marcella Hazan

While this cake is good enough to stand alone, it’s great with strawberries and cream–or, I hear, strawberry ice cream. Note that I make this recipe in a smaller-than-usual pan. Scroll to the bottom for ingredients for a 9-inch pan.

6 ounces, shelled, unpeeled almonds (about 1 ¼ cups)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
5 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tarter
zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons plus 1 ½ teaspoons flour
butter or oil for greasing the pan

7-inch round springform pan

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease the pan.

Put almonds and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse to grind to a fine consistency.

Beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tarter until they form stiff peaks.

Sprinkle the ground almonds and the grated lemon peel over the egg whites, a little bit at a time, folding them in gently but thoroughly. The whites may deflate a bit, but fold carefully so as to keep as much volume as possible.

When the almonds are nearly incorporated, gradually shake the flour through a strainer over the mixture, continuing to fold it in as you go. Stop as soon as all the dry ingredients are mixed in.

Pour the batter into the pan, and gently spread it evenly around. Bake for 25-30 minutes Test the center of the cake by piercing it with a toothpick: if it comes out dry, the cake is done. If it does not, bake a little longer.

Let cool on a rack. After about 20 minutes, unlock the pan and loosen the cake from he bottom. Cool completely. Enjoy!

For an 8 or 9 inch pan, which is more standard, these are the proportions you should use:

10 oz., shelled, unpeeled almonds, about 2 cups
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
8 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter (optional)
zest of 2 lemons
6 tablespoons flour
Butter or oil for greasing the pan

9-inch springform pan

Follow the same directions for making the cake, but bake for 45-50 minutes.

Posted in: Baking For Others
  • Maddie

    You know it’s almost summer when you’re craving light, refreshing desserts instead of ones that sit like delicious lead in your stomach. And as a lactose intolerant person, I’m doubly excited to see this recipe! Thanks for the yummy-looking idea.

  • Jessie

    The combination of so much lemon zest with the almonds just sounds delicious!

  • Sara

    Could you add berries into the batter before baking? Or would it be better to make some kind of compote/syrup to drizzle on top? This looks great, btw!

  • Kate

    This sounds great. And, because your post is about cake, I thought I’d add a fun cake story. As Cara’s little sister, I always promote the blog. Last night I ate dinner at a professor’s house, and after dinner, was offered a piece of their new favorite chocolate cake. My professor told me it was from a new blog she found, and the cake had a great story to go with it–the recipe had been lost, and despite the family’s love of the cake, it had gotten less delicious as the mother slowly forgot the exact recipe. I was struck by the similarity of this story to my own life–and when I asked, my professor proudly suggested I take a look at BGSK. It was pretty fun to have my own sister’s blog recommended to me. This sounds like another great cake recipe, and I can’t wait to try it!

  • Sara Bennett

    I couldn’t help but notice that the ingredients are very similar to those in brutti ma buoni, those cookies I love so much. So I tried to make this cake last night. I didn’t have the right pan, so I just baked it in a regular cake pan which I lined with parchment paper. I also followed the recipe for the smaller sized pan, even though I was baking in an 8-inch round pan.

    Anyway, my cake didn’t really come out like a cake. It was more like a 1-1/2 inch high, moist brutti ma buoni with a great lemon flavor, but no chewiness.

    So… before I try again. Do you think I need to get a springform pan? I probably should have bought one years ago anyway.

    And, any other advice. (The egg whites were beautiful stiff peaks and I didn’t even lose much volume as I folded in the nut mixture. I suppose it’s possible I blended the nuts for too long. The nuts at the bottom of the blender were almost almond-butter like, rather than powdery.)

    By the way, that it wasn’t cakelike and didn’t rise enough didn’t stop me from eating a lot of it anyway. It was delicious.

    • Cara

      Sara–you’re right, they are. I guess I’m kind of a sucker for nut-egg white-sugar combinations.

      You might want to try it again in the springform pan, using the bigger proportions of ingredients. Though there isn’t too much flour in this cake, there’s definitely enough to hold it together and make sure it’s light, not dense and heavy. Did you toast the nuts? That might have been the problem–they should be raw. But grinding them a lot, so long as they didn’t turn into a butter, shouldn’t matter at all.

      Last thought: Could your oven not have been hot enough?

      I’m glad you liked the cake in spite of everything!


      • Sara Bennett

        Cara–I did toast the nuts. Why would that make a difference?

        I’ll get a springform pan and try again.

  • Donna

    Is there any other kind of flour I could use besides wheat flour…what about almond flour or coconut flour?

    • BGSK

      I’m not totally sure! Because there is so little flour, I think it’s definitely worth a shot – report back!

  • Lena

    The directions don’t tell you when to add in the sugar unless I missed it.  Could you clarify?  Thanks!  This recipe looks great!

  • Kristen

    For those commenters looking to avoid wheat flour, I’ve made a very similar cake, substituting the flour for polenta. It was a little denser, but moist, delicious and nutty.

    • BGSK

      great tip! thank you for sharing.

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