Thursday 31 January 2013

Toscakaka (Caramel Almond Cake)

About a week ago, I spotted this recipe and pencilled it in for the end of February. After testing it for the first time, I sent the draft to mum for her to try. Her pupil declared it the best cake she'd ever eaten and asked to take some home for her parents. They made the same claim.

I made it again yesterday and handed half to a friend. A few hours later, I got four texts in quick succession:
'That cake is delicious.'

It seemed cruel to keep the recipe under wraps for a month. Besides, it's the perfect way to celebrate the end of January.

I found the recipe in Signe Johanson's fantastic book from last year, Scandilicious Baking. I've only tried two recipes so far but they've both been excellent.

Signe notes that this is "the quintessential Scandi cake". In an inspired move, she adapts the tradition by adding salt to the topping. After my first test, I decided to toast the flaked almonds - I think the texture and flavour is better.

Toscakaka is essentially a simple whisked sponge topped with a gooey caramel almond topping that seeps into the cake and hardens on top to a crunchy praline. The edges, in particular, are irresistible. It reminds me of the famous Chez Panisse Almond Tart - and that's a very good thing.

The only difficult part is persuading yourself to leave the topping alone instead of picking bits off and then, ashamed by your uncouth behaviour, trying to make it look like you didn't.

In Signe's book and my other book on Scandinavian baking, Puccini's opera 'Tosca' is suggested as a source for the name. You can watch the Royal Opera House's 2011 production online - I'm listening to it as I write.

The second half of the name also caught my eye. 'kaka' is the Swedish word for cake, which is the same as the original Old Norse word (Old Norse is the medieval ancestor of Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Danish). Though the etymology is still debated, it is thought that our word 'cake' was borrowed from Old Norse in the 13th century, like many other common words (medieval loanwords from French, Latin and Norse were my favourite part of my brief time studying the development of English).

At that time, cake would have meant a yeasted bread, not a light, fluffy sponge created by whipped eggs and baking powder, cloaked in buttery caramel and crisp nuts.

Finally, two things:

1/ My first ever proper recipe feature is out in the March Issue of Sainsbury's Magazine! I've known about this for about nine months so it's amazing to finally see it in print and get to show you. It's crazy to see my recipes in a magazine-style shoot, without the context of my writing and photography. You'll find the feature on pages 68-70 and there's another little bit with me on page 7. The are three recipes: pecan sticky buns, cocoa-rolled passionfruit truffles and proper caramel popcorn.

2/ I've been reading and revisiting a lot of my food books recently. I thought it'd be good to collect my favourites somewhere. In the end I made a Pinterest board (it's easy to keep adding to and links to amazon). You can find it through the photo link on the sidebar (the photo is of some of my food bookshelves) or here. I'm including recipe-based, memoir, history and reference books.

Toscakaka (Swedish Caramel Almond Cake)
(adapted from Signe Johansen's Scandilicious Baking)

For the cake:
70ml milk
1 tsp lemon juice
75g unsalted butter
3 eggs
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp fine sea salt

For the topping:
150g flaked almonds
125g butter
125g light brown sugar
50ml milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional, could replace with vanilla)*

Preheat oven to 160C/320F. Grease a deep 9" round tin (preferably with a removable bottom) and line the bottom with baking parchment. Stir the lemon juice into the milk and leave to sit (to make buttermilk, you can replace with 75ml if you have it on hand). Toast the almond flakes in a oven tray for 5-7 minutes until they're a light golden brown, then set aside.

Melt the butter for the cake in a medium saucepan then pour into a bowl and leave to cool (keep the pan to use later). Whip the eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a stand mixer on high for 5 minutes (time this if at all possible), until the mixture is a creamy colour and very thick (when you remove the whisk, the trail should stay visible for at least 5 seconds). While it whisks, sieve the flour, baking powder and salt together. Sieve 1/3 of the flour mixture over the egg bowl then gently fold in with a big metal spoon or large spatula (see this video to see how). Drizzle half of the milk over the top and fold in. Repeat with the next 1/3 of flour, the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour. Finally drizzle half of the butter over the top, fold in, then repeat with the remaining butter. Be very gentle but thorough, scraping the bottom - it's easy to get little pockets of flour but you need to conserve as much volume as you can. Carefully transfer to the tin by scraping it gently out from as little height as possible.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set (a toothpick should be able to be removed cleanly - it needs to be cooked to support the topping). While it bakes, make the topping. Place the butter, sugar, milk, salt and espresso powder into the saucepan and stir as the butter melts. Keep heating for a few minutes - it should bubble and thicken slightly. Stir in the almonds and set aside. When the cake is ready, turn the oven up to 200C/390F, remove the cake to a rack and spoon the glaze over the top. Spread the almonds out into an even layer. Place back into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes until the glaze is darkened and bubbling. Cool for a five minutes then slide a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen the sides and remove the cake to a rack.

Best eaten once it's cooled to room temperature, though I have to admit to trying a warm slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It keeps well in an airtight tin for two days and is still alright on the third.

(Makes about 8-10 slices)

*Coffee isn't a traditional addition but I think it's delicious. Up to you.

(Updated 27/07/15)

A few more almond posts:
2012: Chez Panisse Almond Tart
2010: Raspberry and Almond Layer Cake
2009: Lemon and Almond Cake


  1. I saw this on facebook and couldn't resist !! I have to make this, it's an obligation ! haha
    Congrats for your recipe feature by the way :)

  2. Those Scandinavians know how to make a good cake! The sticky, buttery almonds look heavenly. I love your book recommendations, I've been really getting into food history lately and haven't been sure of where to start reading about the history of cake so your pinterest board has been invaluable! Thank you.

  3. What a gorgeous cake! This sounds super delicious too :)

  4. We made this cake and it was fantastic. It is definitely one of my favourite cakes. Everyone that I have given a piece to has been blown away by it. Yum!

  5. Carol Postlethwaite31 January 2013 at 22:02

    Congratulations on your Sainsbury's feature ! I looked at your photo and thought, hang on I know her, then read the blurb and have to admit I got little teary I was so proud of you! Great start to the year and to the next phase of your life :-)

  6. I agree that the almond topping is addictive and indispensable here. I would even suggest making it on its own as a kind of almond brittle. Beautiful photos once again, lovely writing. You always deliver :)

  7. This looks incredible! Sometimes you just can't beat a 'simple' looking cake. Also, congrats on the magazine feature!

  8. oh my...that crust of almonds! O.O

  9. I recently purchased Signe's book and this is the cake that caught my eye. It looks amazing, I'm going to have to move it up on the list of things to make...

  10. Abbe@This is How I Cook1 February 2013 at 13:11

    Love glazes on cakes. So different than frostings. Congrats on your article and now I guess I'll have to look for this cookbook!

  11. This sounds seriously yummy - I love the idea of that crunchy, sticky topping although I fear I would be the person who ate all the top off the rest of the cake! :-)

  12. Congratulations in the feature in the Sainsbury's magazine, how exciting! This cake sounds just perfect, that sticky almond crust sounds like the perfect complement to the sponge beneath.

  13. I love toscakaka! We have a type of pastry in Sweden called mazarin (it's a bit like a cherry bake well but without the cherry) and sometimes you make them with toscatopping instead of the normal icing. Love it!

  14. I have the Beatrice Ojakangas book you mentioned, and have actually had this recipe bookmarked to try for quite some time...looks like I'd better get on that ASAP!

  15. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:22

    Do tell me how your obligatory cake goes, I'd love to hear :)

  16. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:23

    That's awesome! I'm going to keep adding to the board - I still have a lot of others on my shelves and I have a big stack of to-read ones too.

  17. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:24

    It really is delicious - I keep daydreaming about those edges.

  18. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:24

    Thanks mum :)

  19. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:25

    Aww! That's so lovely. The next phase is looking really exciting - I think this is going to be a good year.

  20. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:27

    Ooh yes - though one of my favourite bits is the caramel-soaked cake (and it's probably a bit soft for brittle on its own). I'm so pleased you think I'm consistent - that's a really lovely compliment, thank you.

  21. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:27

    I love a good simple cake, especially as this time of year. There's something very comforting about them.

  22. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:28

    You have to try this Steph! I think you'll love it.

  23. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:29

    I'm amazed I hadn't noticed it before - I think there's three big pictures of it! I hope you do try it, it's really quite something.

  24. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:29

    Me too - I'm not always a big icing fan, so it's great to have other ways to make a simple cake special. Do have a look at the book, it's beautifully done.

  25. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:30

    Haha! I had most trouble with the first one when it got to the three day stage when the cake itself wasn't as perfect - then the edges came off... but the cake is really lovely, too! It balances it out.

  26. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:32

    It really is - you should try it, I think you'd like it. It's pretty quick, too.

  27. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:35

    Ooh, that sounds interesting - thank you for telling me! I love hearing about regional specialities. I've just had a look in Signe's book and she does have a recipe for it (on p.175 if anyone's interested) - she sprinkles red currants into the batter before it bakes. What sort of icing does it normally have?

  28. poiresauchocolat1 February 2013 at 20:38

    You should! I chose Signe's version because of the salt and brown sugar in the topping and the buttermilk in the cake (and because of the pictures and it already being in metric). I'm sure Beatrice's will be delicious too.

  29. Natasha Steinberg1 February 2013 at 21:31

    That mound of sliced almond covered in caramel atop that cake is making me swoon! Not sure it gets much better than that!

  30. poiresauchocolat2 February 2013 at 13:34

    It had me swooning too when I made it. Though actually, I was panicking when I was trying to take that photograph and get it back into the oven - but the times before :)

  31. Emma this cake looks amazing - cannot wait to try it. I've also been trying to perfect a Swedish hazelnut cake recipe that a friend's mum gave me but it keeps sinking in the middle! Any tips would be great, think it's something to do with my hazelnut mix not being fine enough...

  32. Bookmarked! :D
    congratulations on your article, that's reallyreallyreally awesome!

  33. Just like a fondant type icing, really. Nothing interesting (in my opinion)

  34. poiresauchocolat3 February 2013 at 17:49

    Swedish hazelnut cake sounds delicious - do you know what they call it? I'd love to see the recipe. As for the sinking, I'd probably have to try the recipe. Could be the hazelnuts - or the oven temperature, tin size, amount of leavening/beating, opening the door early etc. Hard to say!

  35. poiresauchocolat3 February 2013 at 17:50

    I hope you make it, it's a lovely recipe. Thanks for the congratulations!

  36. Looked good, tastes delicious. Wonderful inspiration, thank you.

  37. Hi Emma,

    I have followed your blog for a long time and have tried lots of recipes - this one looks like it will be next on the list! I have just made your Tarta de Santiago for a friend who is gluten intolerant and it went down a storm - do you think the flour in this recipe could be substituted in any way so that I can share another cake with her?

  38. poiresauchocolat6 February 2013 at 10:07

    Ooh did you try it? Fantastic.

  39. poiresauchocolat6 February 2013 at 10:08

    I'm afraid I'm not much of an expert on gluten free flours, but I guess that you could exchange it - not quite sure how/with what! Sorry. So glad you liked the Tarta and other recipes!

  40. Adelina Marghidan7 February 2013 at 21:16

    Dear Emma,
    I have been following your blog and tempted to do one of your cakes! I made this one tonight and we couldn't wait to taste it while was still warm. We all liked and tomorrow we will try again to compare if better the next day. I love to read your stories and find you very inspiring. Lots of success.

  41. poiresauchocolat7 February 2013 at 21:44

    That's great! I'd love to hear what you think about it being warm or cold.

  42. I baked this yesterday. Amazing. LOVED THE TOPPING. Yummmm...But my cake is abit flat (I remove the cake out of the oven too quickly...I just want to drizzle the topping..) The flavor is amazing. GOSHHH.

  43. Being that Lent is just days away, this is the first thing I am baking after Easter. It looks incredible.

    And congrats on your magazine piece!

  44. Hehe, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Even if it was a little flat from over-enthusiasm ;)

  45. This cake is fantastic! We baked it yesterday to celebrate as our first bake in a new oven after weeks of our useless broken one sitting there. Despite a slight miscommunication between us which found us putting in nearly double the required butter, it has turned out beautifully, if a little rich and buttery! Just love Swedish style cakes, thankyou for the recipe.

  46. I think it'd be a lovely Easter cake - I hope you enjoy it then!

  47. Haha oh dear! You can never have too much butter. Glad it was still good!

  48. This was still amazing 3 days after. I wasn't allowed to take home any leftovers as it was too popular!

  49. Haha! It's a popular one. Glad it kept well, too.

  50. carol postlethwaite16 February 2013 at 22:42

    Need. a. bigger. tin. !!! Having said that other than a good piece of parchment to protect the oven floor this turned out brilliantly :-)

  51. Oh dear, my tin is rather deep - sorry! I'll add a note into the recipe. Glad you enjoyed it anyway!

  52. Made this for a dinner party this weekend and everyone loved it - thank you very much for the recipe, I'll definitely be making this again.

  53. I'm so pleased you enjoyed it. I want to make it again too!

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  56. Annabelle Reid6 March 2013 at 09:39

    Made this twice in 10 days. The first time absolutely perfect. What a delicious cake, I love the contrast between the crunchy topping and the cake below. My colleagures at worked also loved it. Sadly the second time I made it I used a different cake tin (8" instead of 9") and I didn't adjust the cooking time accordingly. When I took it out to add the topping I should have heeded my instinct that said the it wasn't cooked enough; it was a bit wobbly. When I poured the topping on half of it sank thru the cake. Obviously the cake was not cooked enough and was not able to support the weight of the topping so it sank. I finished cooking the cake and took it into work and people still liked it. Some liked it even more with than the perfect first attempt. Personally I like to have lots of crunchy topping. Lesson learned: use the right size cake tin or adjust timings accordingly.

  57. poiresauchocolat6 March 2013 at 09:47

    Looks like you've been doing quite a bit of baking! So pleased you like this too. It's a good point with the change in tin size - but also, trust your instincts! You're usually right. The cake does needs to be set (even if it's not 100% cooked through) by the time you add the topping and weigh it down or it'll sink, as you found out. I bet the combined cakey-topping bit was delicious, though.

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  61. Hi Emma, As I and my work colleagues loved this cake so much I am going to make it again. I was wondering whether you think it would work with using brown butter in place of the normal melted butter. Since discovering, thanks to you, brown butter I have now become a fan. On another point please advise what size eggs you generally use. Many thanks, Annabelle

  62. poiresauchocolat12 March 2013 at 08:34

    Hi Annabelle - I'm sure brown butter would work. Let me know how it goes, I'd wondered about trying it with bb (and I'm so pleased I could introduce you to it!). Also I always buy large eggs. Hope that helps.

  63. Hi Emma, just to let you know I tried this cake again,in the correct sized tin, and it was great. I used brown butter but I can't say I could really taste it in the cake so will go back to the original recipe.

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  89. Delicious salty sweet almond cake. Better than a cafe cake. Scandelicious.

  90. poiresauchocolat21 July 2013 at 18:03

    I'm so pleased you liked it!

  91. Hi Emma, I've been following your blog for months, but finally managed to try one of your recipes last week. I made Toscakaka and it was a huge hit. I had a little bit of a problem getting it out of the springform pan (the caramel almond topping stuck to the wall of the tin). I've learnt my lesson... line with parchment paper next time. But what a fabulous cake! Excellent with a little vanilla ice-cream. I'm definitely making it again, because it doesn't take a lot of work but looks and tastes absolutely amazing! Thank you.

  92. poiresauchocolat29 July 2013 at 09:31

    Hi! I'm so pleased you liked the cake even though it stuck. Not sure why it did, I haven't heard of it doing so before, but as you say, a bit of paper should do the trick :)

  93. What a gorgeous looking cake. Sadly, it hasn't made it over to Denmark as far as I know, I'll have to try making it soon

  94. poiresauchocolat5 August 2013 at 12:09

    I hope you do try it, it's a lovely cake :) Let me know how it goes if you do.

  95. I made it this evening with a mix of hazelnuts and almonds. It's absolutely beautiful.

  96. poiresauchocolat8 August 2013 at 21:11

    Ooh wow, hazelnuts! Sounds wonderful.

  97. My goodness gracious. I made this with browned butter instead of melted and had it as my birthday breakfast this morning and it is ever so delicious. Thanks for the recipe!

  98. So pleased you enjoyed it! Brown butter sounds like a great idea.

  99. Ah! I made this today and all went well, that is until i took it out of the oven and the cake layer was FLAT. About 1 cm in total height! Why me!?

    The only option i can think of is that the egg and sugar mixture never became thick but had more volume and was light and fluffy?

    What do you think caused this? ): i would really like to make it again.


  100. poiresauchocolat1 October 2013 at 12:17

    Oh dear, that sounds very odd - I can't imagine how even just the ingredients with no rise could be 1cm thick! It could be a problem with the whipping or folding too vigorously. Also it could be opening the oven door too early (it needs to be golden and set before you remove it or open the door)? Did you forget an ingredient, perhaps the baking powder? The right size tin? I've never heard of a problem with this cake, I'm sorry to hear it didn't work out for you.

  101. This is possibly the best choice for my mum's birthday - she loves almonds and anything sweet, also seems simple enough to be made after a busy workday :) Thank you for sharing!

  102. Cooked this for the first time 3 weeks ago, have made it many times since as it has become a firmly requested favourite of friends! I put almond extract into the topping instead of coffee or vanilla. It is amazing the next day! Thank you!

  103. So pleased you enjoyed it!

  104. Thanks for this recipe. I've made this 3x, all good but they tasted different- Can you recommend how to covert the ingredients (sugar, milk, flour, etc) into volume, ie cups/tsp/tbsp? Thanks!

  105. I think the reason will be the natural variation in using volume - I really do recommend getting a pair so scales, they're so much easier to bake with and so accurate. When I convert from US to UK I tend to use this guide as a reference. Hope that helps & glad you like the recipe!

  106. I just came second in our firm bake-off with my first go at this cake - it was a huge hit, thanks!

  107. That's brilliant! Thanks for letting me know.

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  109. This is just out of the oven and smelling delish. My family are Swedish and we often bake from the wonderful 'Sju Sorters Kakor' which you can also now get in English, it's called 'Swedish Cakes and Cookies'. I've often thought about baking the Tosca cake from there and have never got round to it. I saw this and immediately had to make it! Thanks for the tip about the coffee - I was unsure but added a generous pinch and it really added a more complex flavour to the caramel.

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