Herbal, sweet, and bitter; some versions weak, others strong — not everyone loves amaro, the widely varied Italian digestif originally sold as a health tonic in the early 19th century. You still see bottles lining enoteca shelves. I love it and often sip it straight or over a cube or two of ice. It’s invigorating like an alcoholic wheatgrass shot. On the culinary front, I use it for flavor, primarily in sweet preparations — sometimes with creams or granitas, and other times in baking: This cake, for example, in which amaro’s green herbaceousness melds beautifully with a thick almond paste batter and glaze accent.
Makes one 8-inch cake or multiple smaller ones
- 1½ cups almond paste
- 5 large eggs, whisked
- ¼ cup organic cornstarch
- Scant ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 3 tablespoons amaro
Ingredients for the amaro glaze
- Scant 1 cup organic confectioner's sugar
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon amaro
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Butter an 8-inch pan, generously and evenly sprinkle with flour, and tap out any excess.(Alternatively, you can use multiple smaller pans for a cluster of tiny cakes.)
3. Break the almond paste into a food processor and give a few quick pulses; you’re looking for medium-size, pebbly pieces.
4. Add the eggs and process until very smooth.
5. Sprinkle in the cornstarch and salt, and pulse a few times, then add the butter and amaro. Blend once more before transferring to the prepared pan(s).
6. Bake until deeply golden and set in the center; you’re going to want to test this cake — a toothpick should come out clean before pulling it from the oven — for tiny cakes, this is usually 40 to 45 minutes, longer for larger cakes.
7. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 20 to 30 minutes (very small cakes can be turned out after about 5 minutes), then transfer directly to the cooling rack. Let cool completely before glazing.
8. To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioner's sugar and amaro. Keep whisking until the glaze is free of lumps.
9. Flood the top(s) of the cake(s), allowing the glaze to run over the sides. Alternatively, you can top each slice of cake with berries that have been tossed with a splash of amaro and sprinkled with brown sugar.
Be sure to buy almond paste, not marzipan. There is a difference.
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Photo courtesy of the author