It is difficult for me to draw a line between Ashley Rodriguez my friend, and her cookbook Date Night In. If looking for a straight up review of her work, my apologies, but there isn't one here.

That said, while I don't remember how or when we met, the Ashley I am lucky enough to have come to know over boozy drinks, shared sandwiches and seagulls, early morning walks for (not tomato soup-ish) coffee, phone calls, and a road trip covering a section of the west coast of this continent, that Ashley is the same Ashley her readers find on her site, and in her book.

So, if you'd like to know about her, and her grapefruit cake, then please read on.

Ashley is one to bring you a (homemade) doughnut before dinner. And who has a weekly doughnut tradition with her three spitfire kids. She studied art, takes photographs, and appreciates a well-baked egg. She's sassy and used to drive a convertible. She likes fried chicken, ginger beer, and ice cream. Ashley can pull of a wide-brimmed felt hat with aplomb and a tote that holds everything from notebooks to this really amazing chunky bracelet, from a package of her famous cookie mix to a tube of cherry red lipgloss. There's the magic of Mary Poppins in this girl, hidden under that blonde hair and behind her warm smile. 

She is fiercely committed to her family and her husband. She is an attentive mother to Baron, Roman, and Ivy, while still active and present in her partnership with Gabe. She also maintains time alone, or with her friends, and considers how those experiences help her in her life at home. It is not a balance that is easy, so it only made sense that Ashley would write about how exactly she does it all, including those intimate moments difficulties and those of reward. 

I think, as a culture, we are nervous to talk about the work that goes into our relationships — romantic or otherwise — it is seen as a shortcoming. Ashley disagrees. In her book, an extension of a wildly-popular series on her blog, she is as generously candid as she is in conversation. Her earnest, heartfelt intention is evident on every page. Date Night In isn't just about food; it is about the way she and Gabe come to the table to come together.

By the by, on that table, and in this book, you will find Braised Pork Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and Pickled Red Onion, German Pretzel Sandwiches, Chanterelle Pot Pie, and Nutella Semifreddo, among other things.

Ashley's Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate | Tara O'Brady

One of the other things is a Grapefruit and Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate. It's part of a menu called Somewhere in Italy, and offered alongside Pasta e Fagioli, Crostini with Ricotta, Proscuitto and Peas, and an Aperol Spritz. It is a straighforward quick bread, with a tight crumb and the qualities of both a muffin and a cake. The scent of the batter reminded me of those chocolate oranges from the holidays — the one you smack into segments — yet decidedly more refined, with the grapefruit's sharper note heightening that floral aspect of the olive oil and the darkness of the chocolate. It cuts just so. To continue the silver screen theme, it's Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina after she comes back from Paris wearing that Givenchy dress by the tennis court. In other words, like Ashley and the work she does, a fit that's practically perfect in every way. 

 

GRAPEFRUIT + OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE

When baking with olive oil, I recommend one that is more grassy and floral than peppery.

— From Date Night In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish your Relationship by Ashley Rodriguez (Running Press, 2014) 

Makes a 9-inch loaf cake, serving 8 to 10

 

INGREDIENTS

  • Unsalted butter, for the pan
  • 3/4 cup / 180 ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated grapefruit zest, divided
  • 1/2 cup / 125 g whole-milk plain yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup / 160 ml best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup / 150 g granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups /235 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 ounces / 110 g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  •  1 1/2 cups / 170 g confectioners sugar, see note below
  • Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Add 1/2 cup / 120 ml grapefruit juice to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the juice by half. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest, yogurt, eggs, olive oil, and reduced grapefruit juice and whisk to mix well. 

In a large bowl, add the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until everything is well blended. Stir in the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the hot oven. Bake until the cake is deeply brown and set and springs back gently when pressed, 50 to 55 minutes.

While the cake bakes, prepare the glaze. In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 tablespoon grapefruit zest with the remaining 1/4 cup  / 60 ml grapefruit juice. Gently, in order to prevent a confectioners sugar snowstorm, stir in the confectioners sugar and continue to stir until well mixed. 

Let the cake cook in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.

When cooled to room temperature, place the cake on a serving platter and drizzle with half the glaze. Reserve the rest of the glare for serving along with the sliced cake. Serve with crème farce, if desired. The cake can be made 1 day in advance.

NOTES FROM TARA:

If, by any chance, you are new to olive oil in sweet baking, you may want to cut some of the oil with an equal amount of something more neutral — say grapeseed or canola.

I made my cakes in miniature, for ease of sharing. I divided the batter between three 5 1/2-by-3-inch loaf pans and baked them for about 30 minutes, or until deeply golden as per Ashley's instruction — the edges were coming away from the sides of the pans, and a cake tester inserted into the centre of each cake came away clean. 

The recipient of one of the cakes has a weakness for marmalade-ish glazes, and so that is reflected in the photos. To make, combine the 1/4 cup grapefruit juice that had been set aside for the glaze with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon marmalade in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stirring, bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring now and again. Remove from the heat and cool to warm before using.

 

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caramel self-saucing walnut puddings

There is a quiet gentleness to the word pudding, or even better its diminutive form, pud. I’m considering it in its larger scope, the loosely-defined notion of desserts in general, not the narrow view of custard alone.

Pudding has a welcoming, nursery-school comfort to its sound. Placing the phrase “Caramel Self-Saucing” as a prefix only serves to amplify that quality.

However, for all their soothing reputation, these petite darlings gave me a world of trouble.  Well, not these ones, as these ones right here are the ones that were made after the hair pulling. After the whispered mutterings punctuated by half-swallowed curses. These ones were the ones that reminded me when made well, a proper pud is your bestest bud on an autumn afternoon. These are the ones that made me do a happy dance in my kitchen, right there by the stove.

What was it that caused all my trouble? Only this - I wanted these cakes to be darned special for all their humbleness. I wanted them pleasantly solid and touched with caramel, and perfectly spoonable. 

Before I get into the account of my failure, it would be remiss to jaunt merrily ahead when I've not given Self-Saucing Puddings the introduction they're due.

To make this miraculous invention, you stir together a simple batter that's spooned into a buttered baking dish. Then your pour a watery syrup, in this instance a caramel one, over top the uncooked cake. Yes, overtop. It looks a right mess, and you're thinking you've ruined the whole recipe, because who is going to want to eat something that looks like a sludge-covered bog, and gracious, will your friends ever even want to come over again after you serve them swamp pudding? Steel yourself and pop that dish in the oven.

Take a deep breath and uncross your fingers. You needn't worry. Promise.

The cake will take care of itself. As it bakes, the modest batter grows, rising above the murky darkness of the liquid. And that syrup, so unceremoniously displaced, will sink and ooze its way down, around and through the cake, ending up as a thickened puddle at the bottom of the dish.

And, as someone smart recently said to me, "what could be better than finding warm caramel on the bottom of a yummy cake?" Good question.

Now suitably lulled by that blissful notion, here is the story of my failures. 

My first go gave me a cake that was perfectly serviceable. Its top had a light sugar glaze that was crystalized and pretty - a sugared crust created by the syrup as it sank. But the caramel was where it faltered - I'd pulled muscovado from the pantry, craving its burnt-toffee sweetness and the suggestion of treacle. What I ended up with was far more than a suggestion, it was a manifesto yelled from the depths of my bowl. It was so sugary it hurt.

I tried again. This time with dark brown sugar and a greater ratio of water to sugar and less syrup on the whole.

Then the cake. Serviceable wasn't enough. I was going for better than that. I'd put roasted walnuts in the first try, which gave a rough crumb that reminded me of tweed coats and cable knit sweaters. This time around, as I was melting the butter, it hit me - let it brown. So I did, watching with far more glee than is probably normal for one to feel over a saucepan of bubbling butter, as it went from buttercup to deeper golden, and finally touched with umber.

The aromatic butter was transformative. The cake was given voice against the caramel, in harmonious tandem. 

The third try was a minor tweak - seeds from a vanilla bean. It is a sleepy spice, with a murmured warmth that is without edge. It's the accent of a hushed baritone. The duet turned a trio and was improved by the collaboration.

That was the charm, as they say. For here was the pud I'd wanted, one that lived up to its name. 

SELF-SAUCING CARAMEL WALNUT PUDDINGS

INGREDIENTS

For the syrup

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the cake

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces walnuts, toasted and ground into meal with a food processor
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 4-6 small fresh figs, sliced (optional)
  • Lightly-whipped cream to serve

METHOD

Start with the syrup. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Once liquid, stir in the brown sugar to combine along with the salt. Pour in the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 325°F (160°C).

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the 6 tablespoons butter. Cook until the butter begins to brown and smell toasty, around 5 minutes. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally - it will continue to darken as it sits. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, stir together the browned butter, walnut meal, eggs, brown sugar, milk and seeds from the vanilla bean. Once combined, stir in the dry ingredients until just blended. Do not overmix.

Divide the pudding mixture between 6 x 1-cup capacity greased oven-safe dishes. Top with sliced figs. 

Give the syrup a stir if needed, then carefully pour some over the back of a spoon onto each of the cakes, trying not to disturb the figs. The cakes will look a mess, but don't worry. Bake in the preheated oven until the cake is puffed and set, with a dry, glistening crust and you can see the syrup bubbling around the edge of the dishes, around 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving with the cream.

Makes 6.

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To change this place was not something I found easy. I can be a homebody to a devoted degree, and had little inclination to renovate a space I considered a home into something altogether unfamiliar.

But then an external push came that necessitated a move, and in that not-so-gentle nudge I found the inspiration to move the furniture around, to find a new perspective for this room. It has been almost five years.

Yes, five whole years come May 1, 2010. Today is the 1,115th day, if my math is correct (it probably isn't).

And so, here it is.

I baked this cake this weekend, to celebrate some birthdays. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, and I think I'm pretty happy with how this all has turned out as well.

I hope you like it here, too. Thank you for stopping by.

* * * * * * * 

It seems some readers are picking up new posts, and others aren't. If you'd like to try to subscribe anew, there is a link just there on the left sidebar. My apologies for any trouble!

And one more thing, since it's too much of a looker not to mention, the cake plate above is from Herriott Grace.

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Most often an optimist, my moments of pessimism sometimes pay off. Last week, not even an hour after we talked about melting snow and bare earth, it snowed. I just knew that would happen.

That night, we shoveled the driveway.

Then, starting two days later, it snowed for three days straight. We cleared and shoveled often. We almost broke a shovel.

With the romantic fancy of my burgeoning hope for spring, I'd be blameless in muttering a sailor's curse or three as I tromped up and down and back and forth across our driveway and up the garden path. Maybe it is the madness of midwinter, but I have, shockingly, embraced the snow.

And shoveling. I really like the shoveling.

I volunteer to shovel. Trippingly pulling my boots on, and with the words only halfway out of my mouth, I'm out the door. I try to wait until after dinner, so everyone's fed and happy; when the darkness has settled in and all the streetlights are on.

In that quiet, the scene that greets me is especially beautiful. The languid wind of our street, the glow of porches lit in rows, a car rolling slowly past with its wheels crunching the snow the plows haven't cleared yet.

Tethered to our house with the task of shoveling, it's a snow globe existence; a world contained by how far I can see around the bend of the road.

There is a deep satisfaction in the feel of a blade cleaving through the weight of snowdrift, the metallic scratch of the shovel against the pavement. There is a thought of productivity and industry, a chest-puffing pride in getting a job done.

And yet, moving back and forth across the drive, the pattern of my footsteps is simultaneously meditative. The imagined dome of my small world condenses my thoughts and clears out the rubbish. I come back inside, cheeks flushed and arms tired, my mind full of a hundred new ideas.

I'm an odd duck, I know. But it makes me happy and I always sleep well after.

Yes, I really do like shoveling. Not something I'd ever thought I'd say.

And, while we're on the subject of likes, I really like cakes made with tangerines and almonds. It's a like I think you'll find easy to understand.

I made this cake as an interpretation of Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake from her book How to Eat, which as it happens is an interpretation of Claudia Roden's orange and almond cake.

It's made without flour; at its most simple the recipe only requires fruit, nuts, eggs, sugar and baking powder. I've fussed up the cake because of the ingredients I had, and appreciated the effect of those additions. Neither version disappoints though, so either way you're set.

It reminds me of marmalade, with the pith and peel used to their fullest. It is modestly sweet with a sourness you feel on your teeth. That devastating bitterness humming underneath the waxy fat of the ground nuts.

The exterior bakes to a glossily sticky bronze, with a blond crumb underneath. The scent of almonds and citrus is remarkable, smelling as you'd imagine wintertime should.

To eat this is to swallow the March sun, a beam of brightness on a snowy day. Or, if you're like me, it's just what you want when you come in from an evening of shovelling.

TANGERINE ALMOND CAKE

Adapted from Nigella Lawson. I use skin-on, raw almonds for colour and texture. Blanched almonds or pre-ground meal can be used as well.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound tangerines, around 4 medium, washed well
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange flower water (optional)
  • Butter for greasing a pan
  • 9 ounces raw almonds, see note
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

METHOD

Place the tangerines in a medium pot. Pour over the orange flower water if using, then fill the pot with cold water until the fruit is covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the tangerines are quite tender, around 2 hours. Drain the fruit and set aside to cool.

Over a large bowl to catch the juice, split each tangerine in half horizontally, and pick out any seeds. Put the flesh, peel and pith to the bowl, and discard the seeds.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides (with a collar of paper extending a little past the rim of the pan).

In the bowl of a food processor with the blade attached, grind the almonds to a fairly even meal. Add the tangerines, and process to a thick purée. Bits of nut and tangerine skin will still be visible.

In the large bowl used for the juices earlier, beat the eggs until blended but not frothy. Stir in the sugar and vanilla bean seeds, then the baking powder and salt. Fold in the fruit mixture.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan, around 1 hour. If the cake is browning too quickly towards the end of baking, tent with foil. Remove from the oven and cool, still in its tin, on a wire rack.

Makes one 8-inch cake that's even better after a day.

I had not intended this humble walnut cake to be a topic of discussion. It was the fulfillment of a request of something simple to end a mid-week lunch ten whole days ago. No bells or whistles or sugarplum fairies required. No ballyhoo to be had, nothing to talk about here.

And good gracious, it was yet another walnut recipe. And not only that, it also represents not one, but another two recipes from Gourmet magazine, the apparent alpha and omega of my kitchen exploits. I assumed that my fancy, and our conversation, would move on to other things.

Silly, silly me. Despite the days that have passed the charm of that uncomplicated cake is still peerless in my estimation.

The preparation was as simple as can be. It all came together in a food processor, where toasted walnuts are left with butter and sugar to whir on their own for a while. Once smooth, they become what I can only imagine akin to what peanut butter wants to be when it grows up - a smooth blend of butter and nuts, intensely flavoured and sharply aromatic. Next it's just eggs, flour, baking soda and salt, and it's done, off to the oven.

What emerges is a cake that's fairly thin and mostly flat, with the gentlest of swells at its middle. Medium brown with darker flecks throughout, it is resolute in its plainness and yet exceedingly appealing. For the sake of fuss I improvised a frosting of one part cream cheese to equal parts soft, unripened goats cheese and butter, with enough icing sugar to sweeten and a splash of vanilla to round out the flavour. But the gilding was hardly necessary; the cake itself was memorable, moist with a tender, springy crumb.

I offered an Apple-Fig Compote at its side, fruity and jammy and tart to counter the resonant nuttiness of the cake. The combination was gorgeous.

So gorgeous in fact, I'll probably still be talking about 10 days from now. Maybe more.

WALNUT CAKE WITH APPLE + FIG COMPOTE
 

Recipes

Walnut Cake (omit the topping)

Apple-Fig Compote (see note below)

Notes:

• For the compote, I omitted the lemon juice and zest, and used maple syrup in place of the sugar. I popped a 1x1/4-inch piece of peeled ginger into the pot while simmering the fruit, removing it before cooling.

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François Payard's Chocolate Meringue Tarts in miniature; photo courtesy of Deep Media.

When I was little, I took piano lessons to little success. Even though I could manage to replicate notes on the page, I never had the 'sense' for the keys that makes one feel in ownership of the music. Nonetheless, I would spend the requisite time practicing on the keyboard at home, repeating the disjointed notes over and over until I hoped I had mastered them.

It was during these practices that my father would sometimes wander into the room and take over the keys; though wholly self-taught, he had such an ear for music that he could easily reproduce my melodies in their entirety. What's more, he would infuse them with nuance and a character deeper than the notes themselves.

In that simple exercise I saw what it mean to be an artist.

I had a similar feeling of revelation when I had the opportunity to review François Payard's third book, Chocolate Epiphany (Clarkson Potter, 2008). Though a fairly-proficient home baker, I could not help but be awed by the chocolate creations featured within. From the straightforward to the fanciful to the elegant, Payard (with Anne E. McBride) presents confections as beautiful as they are delicious.

Though focused solely on chocolate, the book covers a surprising breadth of recipes. After the helpful introductory guide, breakfast and brunch dishes are offered first, followed by chapters highlighting specific dessert forms (cookies, cakes and mousses, among others). The recipes encompass both the traditional and the unexpected, with classic favourites placed alongside inventive combinations of flavours and textures. There is no prejudice regarding chocolate varieties, with white, milk and dark all given the opportunity to shine.

As to be expected with his pedigree, the acclaimed pastry chef, James Beard Award winner and owner of a collection of pâtisseries/bistros includes recipes that are somewhat intimidating at first glance. These require a good deal of patience, reasonable skill and, in many cases, specialty equipment.

For example, the American Opera Cake calls for no less than four separate component recipes and three pages of instructions. That said, the expertly-detailed steps allow for stunning results that merit the effort. Between the chocolate cake layers Payard ingeniously switches the classic coffee buttercream filling for a peanut version alternated with a decadent peanut butter ganache. If that was not enough, a dark chocolate ganache is finally poured over all. The finished cake is a masterpiece of textures and a show-stopping celebration dessert to say the least.

Equally impressive are the Chocolate Pavlovas with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. Here Payard innovates by reconfiguring the form from a simple flat base into a full sphere of meringue filled with liqueur-laced mousse and topped with a flourish of mascarpone cream. Again, this is a recipe that one should carefully read before attempting, but the instructions are well laid out, concise and easy to follow.

Amongst these rather grand recipes Payard sprinkles in some beatifully-simple ones. Triple Chocolate Financiers (recipe) are a perfect little treat alongside coffee, Chocolate Rice Crispies are a bit of kitchy fun, and Chocolate Blinis elevate breakfast to a whole new level.

I was particularly fond of the Chocolate Meringue Tart (pictured, above). A cocoa makeover of the lemon meringue version from his childhood, Payard creates a recipe that is easy to assemble but with outstanding results. His Sweet Tart Dough comes together quickly and is a joy to work with. It is baked until golden, then filled with a luscious dark chocolate filling and crowned with peaks of scorched Swiss Meringue. Absolutely delicious.

One caveat, I did end up with an excess of filling even though I followed the recipe to the specific weight measurement of each ingredient.

Rounding out the contents is an indispensable chapter of basics; buttercreams, Crème Anglaise, doughs, and often-used base cakes are explained here, with tips and tricks usually only learned with years of experience. For those wishing to replicate the exquisite decorations that adorn many of the desserts, there are also step-by-step directions to creations like chocolate fans, drops, sticks, and shards.

The sumptuous photographs by Rogerio Voltan are tempting to say the least; with tightly cropped images that beautifully convey the various textures and elements of the recipes. My only complaint is that I could not find photo captions for the desserts featured on the chapter cover pages. While this information is included in the general index, the omission of labels alongside the specific images might be frustrating to those who find it difficult to match the photos with the corresponding recipe.

Nonetheless, Chocolate Epiphany is decadence at its best; truly an opus of cacao bean, with a Maestro's passion and expertise leading the way.

Some recipes from the book can be found online here and here.


Cover image courtesy Clarkson Potter.

With our impending arrival well on its way, we are currently attempting to reiterate the importance of sharing to our first born. Though his universe has happily (and steadily) revolved around Ben for the past two years, we have come to the point when patience, respect and understanding are becoming part of our daily conversations.

I am terribly thankful for his gaggle of contemporaries who help him in his education. He has had to learn that not everyone plays with blocks in exactly the same way, that many little hands can create stories with the Little People and that cuddles can be given to cousins and friends - not just Mummies and Daddies. He has started to learn to take his time with those younger, to allow for the independence of those older, and to realize that he is not the only one who would like a cookie. He has seen that our lives are interconnected with those of others; we share our days and ourselves, as well as our toys.

Such is the case with our Valentine's Day festivities. Even though Sean and I will have our own evening out, the day itself is saved for the shared celebration of both the sweethearts in my life. Each bring me such happy contentment, Benjamin will see that instead of choosing just one (something I could never do), I would rather choose to spoil everyone. He will see that treats, consideration and hugs can be shared equally, and that there is as much joy in the giving as in the receiving.

A weeknight family dinner calls for a dessert that is special but does not take too much attention away from enjoying everyone's company. Nothing too elaborate or fussy, an offering as perfectly sweet as those gathered around the table.

This cake is dense and moist, with the fine texture of a pound cake. The richness of butter and cream cheese is underscored by mellow almond and luscious bits of white chocolate that only almost melt into the batter. Perfect on its own, sublime when topped with raspberry sauce, and decadently stodgy as the base of a midwinter trifle - it is sure to send more than one heart aflutter.

If one happens to have miniature tube or Bundt pans, this batter makes adorable little plated desserts; the perfect size for two, or in our case three, forks to share.

White chocolate almond cake
From a variety of inspirations.

Ingredients
Melted butter for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup finely chopped white chocolate

Almond simple syrup (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Using a pastry brush or kitchen towel, lightly coat a 10" tube pan with melted butter.

Sift together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with an electric beater, cream together the softened butter, cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides again and beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

With the mixer on low, add the flour in two additions, alternating with the milk. Mix until just combined. With the mixer still on low (or with a rubber spatula), stir in the white chocolate. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, mounding the edges up slightly and leaving a bit of a furrow through the middle. Hit the pan against the counter to remove any trapped air bubbles.

While cake is baking, combine the water, sugar and almond extract in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup becomes thick.

The cakes should be done after 75-85 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Allow to cool in pan, on a wire rack, for 10 minutes.

Turn the cake out onto the rack (see note) and, use a pastry brush to coat the cake entirely with the syrup. Allow to cool completely.

Notes:

• You will want to suspend the rack over a sheet pan to catch the excess glaze. A spoon can also be used to glaze the cake, but I prefer the finer finish a pastry brush offers.
• For a citrus variation, omit the almond extract and white chocolate from the cake. Add 1 teaspoon grated zest of your choice and one tablespoon of freshly-squeezed juice replaces the same amount of milk. For the syrup, omit the extract and substitute juice for the water.
• For a chocolate chip version, the white chocolate can be substituted with 3/4 cup bittersweet and the almond extract can be omitted (but this is not necessary). The syrup is made more of a glaze, substituting the extract with 1 teaspoon cocoa powder and boiling the mixture gently for 5 minutes. Spoon this over the top of the cake, allowing it to dribble down the sides.