This is my answer-to-everything cake: I make it for meetings, I take it as a hostess gift for a weekend visit, it goes to a friend who is convalescing at home after surgery. Here's delicious proof yet again that blending just a few simple ingredients can produce something quite extraordinary. The cake is a specialty of bakers in Brittany and the Basque region of France. Your first bite will divulge a buttery, not-too-sweet dense cake with a texture similar to tender shortbread. The amount of salt in the recipe is key because salt amplifies other flavors
- 1 1/2 CUPS PLUS 3 TABLESPOONS CAKE FLOUR
- 1/2 TEASPOON SALT
- 8 OUNCES UNSALTED BUTTER, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
- 1 CUP GRANULATED SUGAR
- 4 LARGE EGG YOLKS
- 1 TABLESPOON ARMAGNAC OR OTHER BRANDY
- 1/2 CUP FINELY CHOPPED WALNUTS (OPTIONAL)
Before baking: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees f. Lightly butter an 8 by 2-inch round cake pan, then flour it, tapping out the excess flour. Or, lightly coat the pan with nonstick spray and flour it. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Have all of the ingredients at room temperature.
Sift together the flour and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until it is lighter in color, clings to the sides of the bowl, and has a satiny appearance, about 45 seconds. Maintaining the same speed, add the sugar in a steady stream. When all of the sugar has been added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then continue to beat at medium speed until the mixture is very light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
With the mixer still on medium speed, pour in the yolks, slowly at first. As each addition is absorbed, add the next one. Continue to beat, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl at least once. Add the Armagnac during the final moments of mixing. When the mixture appears fluffy and velvety and has increased in volume, detach the paddle and bowl from the mixer. Tap the paddle against the side of the bowl to free the excess batter. Using a rubber spatula, stir in about one-third of the flour mixture at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often, and stir until smooth after each addition. Stir in the walnuts, if using. Spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with the spatula. Use fork tines to create a lattice design on the surface. Bake the cake until it is golden brown on top, feels firm to the touch, and is beginning to contract from the sides of the pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes.
Tilt and rotate the pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the cake, invert the cake onto it, and carefully lift off the pan. Slowly peel off the parchment liner, turn it over so that the sticky side faces up, and reposition it on top of the cake. Invert another rack on top, invert the cake so it is right side up, and remove the original rack. Let cool completely.
If serving the cake within 24 hours, wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. For longer storage, overwrap with aluminum foil, label with the contents and date, and freeze for up to 3 weeks. To thaw, remove the foil and leave at room temperature for about 3 hours. To serve, cut the cake into small wedges with a sharp knife.
Print this recipe