Now that the holiday rush is over and the decorations put away, isn't it wonderful to spend an evening with friends? I mean seriously, what else is there to do this month? You really don't need a reason; last fall, I invited friends over and we shared a bottle of good wine to celebrate one's job loss, another's awful job and the third quitting her job. It was fabulous.
But when such lovely occasions arise, the question - if you're hosting - is what to serve? My main housekeeping strategy is one I call "lowering my standards" (I got this good advice from my mother), but even I need to clean the place when people are showing up, and this all takes time. This is where a "back pocket dessert" really comes in handy. A true back pocket dessert should be able to be produced in 15 minutes or less including hands-on time and cleanup, made with stuff you already have in the house and taste fabulous. Now my staples may be different than yours, but I'd like to share one of my favorites: Almond Cake. This delicious cake has only 7 ingredients: almond flour, butter, eggs, sugar, almonds, almond extract and flour. Obviously this is not good for anyone with a tree nut allergy, but for the rest of us, it's great! The ingredients mix in one bowl, and aside from the chore of cutting a circle of parchment to put in the bottom of your cake pan, the cake is in the oven in about the time it takes to preheat it - and your friends will swoon over this dessert. It tastes like marzipan made into a crispy, buttery cake; you can even add some liqueur or top it with sliced almonds and sugar (as in the photo above) if you want to take it to the next level.
Besides quick preparation time and amazing flavor, another advantage to this back pocket dessert is that it's super portable. Since it's baked and transported in a cake pan, you could just about punt it over a goal post and it would still look and taste great. Several years ago, I brought a torte that I had spent a couple of hours glazing in three colors of chocolate to a holiday party. I had made the torte in a springform pan, removed the rim to glaze the torte and then placed the glazed torte on a plate for transport. I drove to the party with my seat all the way back, the plate with the torte between my legs. Everything was fine until I realized I had almost missed a turn, so I banked the torte with my knees and made a right...but then realized a quick left immediately followed! As the car lurched up the steep driveway, the torte skidded off the plate, flying towards the (vacant) passenger seat. I reached out my hand and palmed it right back onto the plate. After parking the car, I looked down. My hand was clean, but my beautiful, 3-color, watermarked chocolate torte had a giant handprint covering the entire top! I quickly went into the party, and when the hostess asked me what I'd brought, I told her "flying chocolate torte". We still laugh about that, but thankfully once the first couple of pieces were cut, you really couldn't tell. With this almond cake, you turn it out to remove the parchment but can return it to the pan for transport; safe in the pan, it could go to a party under the seat of your car and as long as it didn't get dirty, it would be perfectly good! So ideal.
So rather than think too much about the long nights, brutal cold or massive piles of snow, call a couple of friends, give your house a cursory cleaning, and make yourself an almond cake. It goes well with coffee, fresh berries, whipping cream or all three, and is good at any time of day your friends can join you. Please do this; you will have a wonderful time!