My son is five years old, young and innocent and tender with his soft, smooth skin and ice blue eyes that bare a striking resemblance to my own. His memory astounds me, his ability to vividly remember details with a poetic sensibility. Exactly one year ago, he recalls, we meandered through a blazing whirlwind of snow, a creamy white blanket woven onto the tar. We cautiously navigated the highway, not a speck of black in sight. Listening to the Beatles’ “A Day in a Life” on repeat as we ambled toward a magical wolf conservatory, the words stretched in the background: “And though the holes were rather small/They had to count them all.”
We spoke in hushed tones, whispering over the lyrics, which felt apropos as he counted the falling snowflakes just outside the translucent glass window. Beside the music, he recalls his soft breath in the cold car, like an illusive ghost manifesting between his winter-chapped lips, and the sweat building beneath his thick layers of snow clothes.
Regal peaks of snow did nothing to obscure the magical wolves, only highlight their grandiosity. As the snow continued to fall, thick swoops of swirling white, icy airborne whirlpools, threatened our view of the wolves. He felt calm, albeit cold and stiff. Lagging behind the group, he stood captive, eerily inert, staring into the haunting eyes of a wolf named Zephyr.
He recalled the magical wolves and the dream-like day as he gripped his deeply loved, deeply worn plush version of the wolf, patting the top of its head, matted from sweat and spit and hours of admiration. Stuffed Zephyr turns one this week and we are celebrating with cake; cake topped with a snowy white swirl of cardamom vanilla frosting and cherry red marzipan Valentine hearts.
The cake was gluten-free, made with almond, white rice and coconut flours for a dense, sticky texture. I often play with almond flour and marzipan, but rarely bake entirely gluten-free. My pantry was stocked with a variety of non-wheat flours, marzipan and sweetened condensed milk. Sweet cravings led way to a handsome cake, sturdy and nutty and lightly golden and extremely conducive to layering, although I only made one 9-inch cake. It held shape incredibly well and would function beautifully as a stacked cake, stately and architectural with its long straight lines and angular shape, raspberry or blackberry jam between the layers, thick frosting on top.
For our wolf celebration, I tenderly rolled out red marzipan, which my son stamped into petite hearts. As I prepped the batter I imagined small squares of cake, mosaics, individually frosted with aromatic cardamom icing and topped with marzipan. The cake was lovely on the first day, and we devoured our pieces happily, but it was divine on the second day, the crumb more relaxed and tender, the flavor nuttier and milkier.
Looking out the window, pieces of cake in hand, we could feel that snow was inevitable, a shroud of cold moisture clinging to the glass. I walked over to our record player and put on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band just before we blew out a candle to honor the beautiful wolves.
Gluten-Free Condensed Milk Maripan Cake, Cardamom Frosting, Marzipan Hearts
7 ounces almond paste
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup condensed milk
1/3 cup rice flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
1 1/2 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 3/4 cups gluten-free confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 ounces marzipan
Food coloring (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
2. Combine the almond paste, almond flour and sugar in a food processor and blend until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles course meal. Add the butter and vanilla and process until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, scraping down the sides of the food processor.
3. In a medium bowl, add rice flour, coconut flour, salt and baking powder. Transfer the wet ingredients to a large bowl and fold in condensed milk and flour mixture until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
4. Pour cake batter into the prepared baking sheet and smooth out the batter with an offset spatula. Bake until lightly golden, about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for about 20 minutes, then gently flip the cake onto a clean surface. Remove parchment paper and cool completely.
5. To make the frosting, add butter to an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add 1 cup sugar, cardamom, milk and vanilla. Beat, on medium speed, until smooth. Add remaining sugar and beat until frosting is thick and creamy.
6. To assemble, add a few drops of food coloring to marzipan and knead until well mixed. Dust a work surface with confectioners’ sugar and roll out marzipan to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out heart shapes using a cookie cutter. Set aside.
7. Cut cake into small squares. Spread each piece with frosting and dot with a marzipan heart.
Yield: Makes 1 cake.