The 1980's were a different era. Big hair. Shoulder pads. Dress for Success. Business people were still having cocktails at lunch and cigarette smokers were not yet relegated to the alley for a fix. It was a time of conspicuous consumption, and most upscale food trends were decidedly French.
One of those upscale restaurants lived in the lobby of my office building. Well, not my building - but you know what I mean. Rising star Ed Janos was the Executive Chef, and Helen Baumgartner was the Pastry Chef. I ate there at least 3 times a week, usually for lunch but sometimes for dinner. After work, we'd wander in for drinks - champagne was my usual choice - it was, after all, the 80's. Sometimes on a slow weeknight, I'd just ask Ed to 'make me something to eat', and he'd create some wonderful off-menu dishes. The Money Tree is long gone. I don't know where Helen is today, but Ed and his wife are doing well in Denver at their new place, Cook's Fresh Market.
I had many wonderful meals at The Money Tree, but three things stand forefront in my memory after all these years, and I have finally come up with acceptable representations of all three. This is the last of the three, and this one took a long time to find. Helen made a very simple, yet elegant almond cake topped with nuts and caramel. On the menu it was called Bundernuss Torte. Now I have searched high and low for years for a recipe for bundernuss, but I keep finding that bundernuss is a tart, not a cake. It's usually a nut crust, filled with almond paste, and topped with nuts and caramel. But it definitely looks like a little pie or tart. Nothing I could find remotely resembles a rich almond cake. At least, not until SousChef's sister moved.
The kids were all grown, her husband had recently died, and she downsized from that big old house in the country to a smaller place closer to the grandkids. She found a shelf full of old cookbooks at the bottom of her pantry, and none of her kids wanted 'those old things'. So I inherited the treasure. It's taken a while to browse through all of them, but I discovered something that turned the entire haul into a jewel. In a 30 year old copy of Ford Times Favorite Recipes was Helen Baumgartner's Almond Cake. It was a compilation of recipes from restaurants in all the towns in which Ford had plants and offices. It showed a picture of the restaurant, a short story about the chef, and a featured recipe. And there was The Money Tree - and the cake! I just had to try it.
I had to adjust the recipe some. You could tell she was working in large quantities, (the recipe was for several cakes) and the instructions were a little loose, (bake til done!) so I've made some adjustments here. But the flavor was exactly what I remembered.
Recipe after the jump.
This is an interpretation of a classic bundernuss tart, replacing the almond paste with an almond pound cake baked right in the walnut crust.
6 ounces flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 pound cold butter
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cup finely ground walnuts
First, this makes too much. But I really didn't want to make it too difficult by telling you to use 2/3 of an egg yolk. I used the whole batch, and had to do some trimming, as you'll see later. So use about 2/3 of it OR make a double batch and make 3 crusts out of it.
Pulse flour and sugar in the food processor until combined. Cut the butter into chunks and add to processor. Pulse until mixture is crumbly.
Dump the mixture out onto the counter. Make a well in the center and put in the egg yolk. Sprinkle the walnuts over the top. Use a pastry scraper to blend them all together. Finish kneading by hand.
Form 2/3 of the dough into a disc; wrap in plastic; and chill for 30 minutes. Save the rest for another time.
Meanwhile, line the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan with a circle of parchment.
Roll the chilled dough between 2 sheets of plastic or waxed paper to about 11 inches.
Gently lay the soft dough in the bottom of the prepared pan, allowing it to come about 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Don't come any higher or you'll have the 'crown' that shows in my pics, and that's not a good thing.
Almond Pound Cake
1/4 pound almond paste
1/4 pound sugar
1/4 pound butter (partially softened to 65F)
2 1/2 eggs (Sorry. Just break one into a dish, mix it up with a fork, and measure out about half.)
1 tsp vanilla
3 ounces sifted cake flour
8 ounces whole mixed nuts
Beat the almond paste and the sugar in a mixer until well combined and smooth.
Add butter and cream until smooth and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
Stir in flour by hand, until well blended.
Spoon the batter into the pastry shell and level the top.
Bake at 350F about 35-45 minutes, until top is lightly golden and springs back when touched lightly.
Cool for about 10 minutes, then remove sides from pan.
This is what you don't want - but I don't have another picture. The excess crust that was too high in the pan gets overcooked and crunchy. It also made the cake crack at the edges as it cooled. I had to do some surgery and cut off the top. It worked, but I won't make that mistake again.
3/4 cup sugar
2 tlbs light corn syrup
6 tlbs butter, cut in chunks
1/3 cup heavy cream
While the sugars are cooking, scald the cream. You can do this in the microwave.
Place corn syrup and sugar in a small, heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Use a wet pastry brush to keep any sugar crystals off the sides of the pan. A lid also helps, by condensing the steam and letting it wash back down the sides. Try not to stir after the melting begins - swirl the pan if necessary. Continue cooking and swirling until the caramel is golden.
Stir in the butter, then add the cream and blend well.
To finish, pour about half the glaze over the nuts, trying to cover them completely. THe excess will drip over the sides.
Serve the cake slightly warm, and drizzle more warm glaze over each slice. It's best with some softly whipped cream.