Since I am in Paris and cannot be home on this Mother's Day - and La Fête des Mères is a big deal in France, after all! - I decided to compose a post to honor my mother. I owe her completely for my love of food, and for my foundation in the kitchen arts. She taught me to bake chocolate chip cookies long ago as my childhood speciality (which were the top sellers of my not-for-profit "Kid's Bakery"!) and gave me a solid education in cooking skills, from cutting up whole chickens to measuring flour properly. She is trained in nutritional science, but always said that she really learned to cook from her mother, and not her university food classes; I can truly say that I also really learned to cook from my mother, and so the tradition continues.
While my mom is quite skilled in cooking, and successfully creates a wide range of foods that continually expands, her most remarkable use of the kitchen is for the purpose of hospitality. One day I hope to have a kitchen like hers: welcoming to all, generous to a fault, always abundant with fresh and tasty food. I don't always tell her this, but I love the fact that I never know who will be in my home when I set foot in the door, and that I never have to hesitate to invite more people, no matter who they are. Because of her, I see food as something to be shared and enjoyed with others. When I've considered starting a bakery or catering business, I have always backed away from it because it removes the essence of what I enjoy about cooking: giving the food away. And Mom continues to have patience for the smallest kitchen questions, which always seem to worry me for hours.
To celebrate my mother, I would like to share a recipe that she has made famous in our town - and it will only do her justice if the recipe is given out as generously as the tortes themselves. This almond torte recipe was given to her by a family friend, and ever since then it is a constant presence in our house. Its simple sophistication works well as a gift and for special occasions, as it may be made ahead of time, stored at room temperature wrapped in plastic for weeks, frozen for longer, or mailed without incident. As it sits, over time it becomes more chewy (a quality I value), and it fits perfectly in a gallon-size freezer bag. It should be served sliced in very small wedges, as it is quite rich.
Mom's Almond Torte
1 1/2 C sugar
3/4 C melted butter
2 1/2 T almond paste*
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
handful of sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 10" iron skillet or pie plate with foil. Beat together sugar, melted butter, and almond paste until well combined (if the almond paste starts out soft enough, it shouldn't still be in clumps after being beaten in). Add eggs and almond extract. Then mix in flour, salt, and baking powder.
Pour into foil-lined pan, even out the batter with a rubber scraper, and sprinkle the top with a light layer of granulated sugar and sliced almonds, which should be pressed in individually so that they do not fall off after baking.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once well browned on top and the edges are cracked all around, a chewier torte may be achieved by turning off oven, cracking open oven door, and leaving torte in the oven for another 10 minutes (Mom's discovery! I've learned that mistakes can improve an item sometimes.).
Cool in pan. Store with foil on the bottom until ready to serve.
So, Mom, I'm enjoying good food in Paris for you today. Next year in Paris, Maman?
*This is 1/3 of the Odensa 7-oz. almond paste tube; if you purchase this, you should squeeze the tube while in the store to make sure it gives to the touch - sometimes the paste can grow hard on the shelf, which is not ideal. Almond paste can also be purchased in a can at Cost Plus World Market, and this can be a good deal.