Several religious holidays come with the arrival of spring. Passover is on the horizon on April 15 and Easter is soon, too; this is an important holiday for the strongly Catholic Southern Louisiana. I’m making a Lemon Almond Sponge Cake with Fresh Strawberries for dessert. Louisiana strawberries are in season here; they add flavor to the dessert and make it a colorful presentation. This cake meets the challenge of being made without flour and leavening for Passover.
Passover desserts present a special challenge, especially cakes. A cake without flour or leavening is missing key ingredients. My mother-in-law has a handy solution, she makes meringue shells filled with fresh fruit for dessert. The beaten egg whites add the volume to the meringue shells. Sponge cakes use the same idea; the beaten egg whites add volume to the cake.
For flour I used potato flour and almond flour. Neither of these have gluten — so the cake is appropriate for those on a gluten-free diet. The negative side of using these flours for cakes is that they don’t give structure to the cake since they don’t contain gluten. Matzoh cake meal can also be used in Passover cakes, but it has the same problem. The resulting sponge cakes are denser and drier that other cakes.
Lemon zest and juice added to the cake increase flavor as well as chopped almonds. For moisture, I made a lemon syrup, added it to the strawberries and poured this over top of the cake. However, this probably isn’t necessary. The second time, I added lemon juice and sugar to the strawberries and served them along with the cake.
Lemon Almond Sponge Cake
My approach to making the cake was:
- Make a small cake, so it didn’t have far to fall in the cake pan–as sponge cakes tend to fall somewhat after baking. Use flours appropriate for Passover. These have the symbol showing they have been approved for the special Passover holiday.
- Use a separating tubular cake pan, so the center of the cake will bake quicker and more evenly. Parchment paper made it easy to separate the cake from the bottom of the cake pan. Trace the parchment paper on the bottom of the cake pan; cut out; then fold in fourths and lay over the bottom of the pan as a guide to cut out the center hole. Lightly oil both the bottom of the cake pan and the parchment paper, but not the sides of the cake pan.
- Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, adding some sugar for structure, The egg whites will not entirely stand up when lifted with a spatula (this is dry peaks). I use large eggs (not extra large) and let them come to room temperature.
- Carefully fold the flours and egg whites into the batter. The volume you produce here will be the size of the cake; it doesn’t rise during baking.
- Use Meyer lemons. These large lemons, the size of a small orange, have a mild flavor and are less astringent than concentrated lemon juice. I wouldn’t substitute lemon concentrate in this recipe.
- As an option, add chopped almonds to the batter. This added crunchiness but I didn’t find it added much flavor and omitted it on my second try.
- The first time, I poured a lemon syrup over the top of the cake to make it more moist. However, the cake had plenty of lemon flavor. The second time, I added lemon juice, zest and sugar to the strawberries served on the side.
A couple of simple kitchen tools make cake preparation easier. I’ve got a drawer full of inexpensive gadgets. An egg separator helps to separate the egg whites from the egg yolks. Egg whites won’t beat if any yolk mixed in. I’ve had my old vegetable grater for years. It is easy to hold and the lemon zest falls in the center. The juicer is convenient for making juice from one lemon.
Lemon Almond Sponge Cake Recipe
- 1 cup slivered almonds, divided
- 1 Meyer lemon
- 1 cup sugar, divided, plus 1/4 cup for chopped almonds
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1/2 cup potato flour (alternately use matzoh cake meal)
- 2 pints fresh strawberries (about 2 cups, sliced), plus 1/4 – 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp almond extract (optional)
- fresh mint for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut parchment paper out to fit bottom of spring-form, tubular cake pan. Oil bottom of cake pan, place parchment paper on bottom and lightly oil it, too.
Optional: in small food processor, chop 1/2 cup almonds with the additional 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.
Use lemon grater to grate the rind of one Meyer lemon. Use 1 Tbsp zest in the cake, any remaining add add to fresh strawberries. Juice the lemon; it will make about 1/3 cup. Use 2 Tbsp in the cake, the rest add to fresh strawberries. Set aside.
Separate the egg yolks and whites. Set the whites aside. Beat the egg yolks in mixer on high speed until yellow and lemony in color, gradually beating in 3/4 cup sugar.
By hand, mix in about half of the almond and cake flours, add 2 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice and stir in the remaining flours. Do not over mix.
Stir in the chopped almonds, if using these.
In a separate and clean mixing boil, with clean, dry beaters, beat the egg whites on high speed to soft peaks, gradually beating in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in about 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter. Then gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.
Pour the batter into the cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. The top of the cake will be nicely brown.
Cool in cake pan on counter about 10 – 15 minutes. Loosen the edges and center of cake pan with knife, invert onto a plate and cool. Remove the parchment paper. I then re-inverted the cake onto a serving platter and cooled entirely. Alternately, you could remove the cake and place it directly on cake platter, so the bottom side is up (this is how angel food cakes are served).
Strawberries: While the cake is baking, slice and chop most of the strawberries, leaving several for garnish. For strawberry syrup, place the remaining lemon juice and zest, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in small non-metal sauce pan on stove. Bring to boil and reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, reduce in volume by about 1/3. Remove from heat, cool and mix in with sliced strawberries. Alternately, mix sliced strawberries with 1/4 cup sugar, remaining lemon juice and zest and 1/8 tsp almond extract. Add additional sugar if strawberries/lemon is too tart.
Pour some of the strawberries over the top of the cake. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup slivered almonds over the top of the cake. Garnish with fresh whole strawberries and fresh mint sprigs.
Serve the cake with remaining sliced strawberries. Enjoy!
Alternative to making cake:
As an alternative to making the cake, use 1/2 cup matzoh cake meal in place of the potato flour. Matzoh cake meal is finely ground matzoh and it can be found in many stores during Passover season. This is not a gluten-free cake as, ironically, matzoh comes from flour. More on this in the next post.
This is a delicious cake, great for both Passover, Easter or any spring occasion.
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