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.