I lost my head over this cake. Fortunately, my loss was merely figurative, whereas the inspiration for the cake’s name literally lost hers.
It is rumored that Henry VIII named a particular cake containing almonds the “Maids of Honour Cake” after seeing Anne Boleyn and her ladies-in-waiting eating them. Henry became so fond of these cakes that the recipe was locked away in a chest in the Richmond Palace. During the 18th Century, the recipe was obtained by a Richmond bakery which thereafter made the cakes available to the public. Today the cakes are frequently used at teas and as wedding favors. They can still be found at: http://www.theoriginalmaidsofhonour.co.uk/about/.
Since the original recipe for the “Maids of Honour Cakes” seems to be under lock and key, there are many variations to it – including one from Emeril. The following recipe is courtesy of Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchens for whom I am a recipe tester.
The combination of almond and lemon is much used in baking as almonds help smooth the lemon’s sharpness in cakes and tarts. There are two different flavors to almond – bitter and sweet. The bitter almond has hints of mild, milky grass when raw, and when roasted a richer flavor with a slight toffee-popcorn flavor. The bitter almond is what you taste in extract, essence and Amaretto. Sweet almond has a soft, rounded flavor that makes them highly compatible with other ingredients. Almond is used also to boost the flavor of other nuts, so if you think you taste almond in your pistachio ice cream you are probably right.
Here is an updated version of what I will call “Ladies Who Lunch Cake”. It is moist and light, with rich almond flavors. The topping has a delightful surprise of citrus and delicate crunch. Serve with a little Champagne and this may become one of your most requested recipes.
Ladies Who Lunch Cake – America’s Test Kitchens
1½ cups plus cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
¾ cup (3¾ ounces) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1¼ cups (8¾ ounces) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
¾ teaspoon almond extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
⅓ cup vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Grease and flour one 9-inch round cake pan, line bottom with parchment paper.
Place almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in food processor or Vitamix and pulse until almonds are finely ground, 5 to 10 pulses. Transfer the almond-flour mixture to a bowl.
Place eggs, 1¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, and extract in the now empty food processor or Vitamix and process for 2 minutes (go smoothly up to 5 on the Vitamix). While the food processor or Vitamix is running, add the butter and then add the vegetable oil in a steady stream. Once processing is finished, add the almond-flour mixture and pulse 4 or 5 times until the mixture is fully combined. Transfer the resulting batter to the prepared pan.
Using fingers, combine in a bowl the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and remaining ½ teaspoon of lemon zest until fragrant (approximately 5-10 seconds). Sprinkle this sugar mixture evenly on top of unbaked cake batter and then sprinkle on the remaining ⅓ cup almonds.
Bake approximately 55 to 65 minutes, until center of cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Pan should be rotated 180 degrees after 40 minutes. Transfer pan to the wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, run a paring knife around the sides of pan to loosen. Remove cake from pan, remove and discard the parchment, and let cake cool completely on the rack for approximately 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.