Graceanna’s Almond-Butter Cake

Like everyone else, I’ve lost count of how many ways this Christmas is different. My beloved sisters and their families, who usually visit here from out of state, are staying home. Six months ago, Mom moved away from her big, beautiful house where we celebrated 25 beautiful Christmases. Tonight, Christmas Eve, instead of our customarily big, jovial gathering, there will be three of us — Mom, my husband, and me — in her new lovely apartment where we’re grateful to toast our healthy little trio. The menu is our usual gorgeous affair, starring Marshall’s exquisite smoked prime rib, so there’s no lack of lavish foods. And at some point, we will enjoy coffee with Graceanna’s sublime almond-butter cake. That’s a tradition I couldn’t let go: For more years than I can recall, Mom’s gracious neighbor Graceanna arrived on Christmas Eve afternoon bearing her signature gift, a perfect treat that’s so rich we could made it last a day or two. More like shortbread than cake, it’s a simple creation I discovered is ridiculously easy to make. Graceanna generously shared the recipe, which I baked and gave to my neighbors this year, and I offer here. Maybe it will become a tradition for others, too. Even if we cannot be with everyone we love, we can keep the traditions going till we gather again.

Makes 3 (6-inch) cakes

1 ½ cups sugar

¾ cup melted butter

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

 4 tablespoons sliced almonds

1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter side of 3 (6-inch) pans (see Note, below). Cut parchment rounds to fit bottoms of pans.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat on low for 30 seconds. (You can do this by hand; just be prepared to stir, stir, stir a lot to blend everything well.) Add eggs and beat another 30 seconds. Add almond and vanilla extracts, stirring to combine. Add salt and slowly add flour, beating to mix well. Spread batter evenly into pans. Sprinkle tops evenly with sliced almonds and coarse sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on wire racks for 30 minutes; remove from pans. Enjoy with hot coffee or tea.

Note: In an online search, I found a set of 3 (6-inch) non-stick pans with removable bottoms, and they’re ideal. They’ll be just right for tarts and other pastries, too.

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