Baking a simple lemon almond cake in the midst of a crippling pandemic gave me much needed joy and feeling of gratitude for the life that I have. Forced to be frugal, with shortages of ingredients, my choices had to be based on what was in my pantry and fridge. Craving a cake and having run out of all things chocolate, I had to make do with what I had. Rifling through my recipes I happily discovered this one for a lemon almond cake. Luckily, I had a bag of almond flour, castor sugar and eggs as most bakers would. I also happened to have quite a few fresh, bright lemons in my fridge. So it would be the easiest lemon cake I’ve ever made.
Of Spanish origin, this lemon almond cake was created in medieval times in the Spanish city of Santiago to commemorate the pilgrimage to the cathedral of St. James. In fact its official name is tarta de St James with the cross of St. James stenciled on top.
Traditionally, this cake is sometimes baked into a pastry shell, but I wanted something lighter, and I wanted to save up the butter for future baking projects during the lockdown.
Most recipes use a small amount of lemon zest, but I fancy a more tart background to complement the sweet, so my recipe is a little more generous with both zest and juice. When I tasted the cake, I was glad to have done this, because almond flour has its own distinct flavour and a tiny bit of zest can get overpowered by it. Some people use a mix of orange and lemon zests. Lemon curd, tarts, pies and cheesecakes are my weakness so I’m happy to go just with the lemon.
You’ll notice that this cake has no butter or oil. Despite this, it doesn’t lack moisture because of the natural oil in the almonds and the 2 eggs in the recipe. Now there are 2 ways you can mix the cake batter.
- Beat the eggs with the sugar and then fold in the almond flour, zest and juice.
- Alternatively, you can separate the eggs, beat the yolks with the sugar, add the flour, zest and juice and then finally beat the egg whites to soft-peak consistency and fold it gently into the flour mixture.
Both work but the second method will yield a lighter, more delicate crumb. Since the yolks provide richness, fat, flavour and brighten the colour of this lemon almond cake, beat them with the sugar till the mixer blades leave ‘ribbons’ of the mixture; at this point you should stop beating it further and add the almond flour. Also, remember to add all of the caster sugar to the yolks at one go.
Since this is a simple, 4-ingredient cake, I cannot overstate that care must be taken while mixing the batter. These little tips will make a big difference to the taste and consistency of this cake. While beating the egg whites, remember to use a squeaky-clean bowl, any trace of yolks or fat will prevent the whites from forming those fluffy white clouds that we’re going for. The egg white must be beaten at a high speed till they form shiny, softly curling peaks that cling to the beater. At this point use a spatula to fold them into the flour-yolk-sugar mixture. Fold a little amount in first and then add the rest, making sure to firmly but gently scrape the bottom of the bowl in a folding motion to incorporate both mixtures together evenly. Do not overmix or the whites will go flat. Once done, let the cake cool completely on a wire rack before dusting it with caster sugar.
This is an easy lemon almond cake that you can whip up in quick time and it only needs a dusting of powdered sugar to dress it up. I enjoyed it with a cup of tea with my immediate and extended family, all grounded by the lockdown. These days, little things like a new bud in my vegetable garden or the view of the sea from my terrace, or this simple lemon almond cake ,work like small signs of hope, lifting the blanket of gloom and raising my spirits.
Lemon Almond Cake
- 400 g almond flour
- 200 g golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 4 eggs at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Grease an 8-inch square baking tin and line with baking parchment, leaving some parchment overhanging on 2 sides to help lift out the cake when it's done. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
- Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks and caster sugar together till you get a pale and creamy mixture that leaves ribbons in the batter.
- Using a metal spoon, gently fol in the lemon juice, rind and almond flour until well combined.
- In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites till they they are stiff enough and form soft peaks.
- Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter until fully incorporated.
- Bake the cake for 30 mins till lightly browned on top or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Take the tin out, leave for 5 minutes before gently lifting the cake out (using the parchment). Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack before dusting with caster sugar.