Many, many years ago, whenever my grandparents would land at LAX from Sydney, Australia, their first stop was at the Culver City cottage of Trinh Le. Trinh Le was a petite old lady who packed a powerful punch. She was a devout Buddhist who had run an orphanage in Vietnam. Widowed in the Vietnam War, she brought her daughter and orphaned niece to Los Angeles, where she became acupuncturist to the stars. Madonna was a regular and Sylvester Stallone would fly her to be on location whenever he was making a Rambo movie.
One hot day, I dropped my grandparents for an appointment at Trin Le’s house. I greeted her “I really want to lose weight.”
“No bread, no pasta for you!” she replied in her blunt, no nonsense way.
That night, Rachel and I were walking on the Third Street Promenade and I relayed the story. “She said no bread and no pasta. Do you think I can eat cake?” I joked.
Over the years, Trinh Le helped Rachel and I and some of our friends on our journeys to motherhood.
Then she retired to devote herself to her Buddhist worship and her garden. I needed to find a new acupuncturist for my last pregnancy. My husband decided he also wanted to try acupuncture in an effort to lose weight and boost his immunity. The new acupuncturist told him the same thing. No bread. No pasta. No white flour.
Alan is much more disciplined than I and he began living a (mostly) gluten-free life. Ezekiel bread became his best friend. And I had to change my baking repertoire.
For desserts, I started making a fabulous chocolate torte, pavlova with berries, Rocky Road and chocolate bark. I explored baking with almond flour. I made plain almond cakes and almond cakes with dried apricots and crushed walnuts, pecans and pistachios. Following in the footsteps of many Sephardic bakers before me, I always used orange juice as the liquid in my cakes.
Rachel’s TurnAbout ten years ago, I was at my cousin Rachel’s home for Thanksgiving and one of the guests, Fabienne, brought the most delicious almond cake. She is an amazing baker who prepares the desserts at Shilo’s Steakhouse on Pico Boulevard, where her beautiful and talented daughter Chloe Nesbuth is the executive chef.Fabienne graciously gave me the recipe and I started baking almond cakes all the time. Over the years, I’ve adjusted the recipe to make the cake bigger by adding more eggs and more almond flour and a bit healthier by using a little less sugar.My daughter Rebekah took over the baking in our house. Hers is even better than mine, more like the famous and very popular French almond cake Financier.Of course, in France the cake is made with delicious butter which we can’t use. Rebekah likes to make hers with coconut oil, but the recipe works with avocado oil as well.For centuries, Sephardic women have soaked almonds and ground them to make almond cakes.I’m sure Trinh Le would have approved of almond cake (occasionally)!
Almond Cake Recipe
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut or avocado oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Confectioners sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F.In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, then add sugar.Beat to a creamy consistency, then add oil and mix well.
Add almond extract, almond flour and baking powder and mix to a smooth batter.Pour the batter into a springform cake tin lined with parchment paper.Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.Let cool and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.
Vary the flavor of this cake by adding lemon zest, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, dried fruit or nuts.Perfect for Passover and gluten-free guests.