Salt-sprinkled pastry cake (with chocolate almond filling)

Salt-sprinkled pastry cake

Salt-sprinkled pastry cake

In my dream this morning, I made a film. I haven’t made a film in nearly thirteen years, and like all neglected things, films frequently work their way into my dreams. Unlike most forsaken activities, my dream films aren’t the source of anxiety. They don’t appear as starving pets I’ve forgotten to feed, or children I’ve abandoned somewhere, or tests I haven’t studied for. My dream films are perfect. They’re strange, of course, because they follow a dream logic, which makes them odder and better than surreal films, which are frequently too carefully calculated to be very honest or beautiful. My films look exactly the way I want them to look, each frame so lovely it’s sealed in glass. And they say exactly what I want them to say. In real life I don’t have anything interesting to say, but I never stop talking (you may have noticed!). In my films I have a perfect thing to say, and I say it perfectly, with grace and space and spirit. In my dreams, my films are never finished, but a large portion is done, and done well, and frequently I have an epiphany on just how I’ll finish it. It’s good to wake from these dreams – I wake happy, but a little disappointed, of course, because there is no film. We saw Sleepwalk with Me last night, and the main character says this, “I really feel like our whole lives, no matter how low our self esteem gets, there’s a part of us that thinks, ‘I have a secret, special skill that no one knows about.'” Well, I know what he means. I remember in high school having this talk with a friend. She was sure, she knew without a doubt, but in a way that she couldn’t even talk about, she knew that one day she’d be a successful musician. And I knew that one day I’d be a writer, a good and important writer. I’d write novels or plays, and they’d be beautiful and everyone would like them. And I’d make films, too. Perfect films. Don’t laugh, but when I was in my twenties, working on my first film, I was walking down the street feeling good. I had bright red nail polish on, and I remember imagining the New York Times reporter who was interviewing me – you know, the one who was interviewing me because of my brilliantly received film – I imagined her mentioning my bright red nail polish. I’m just not so sure any more, about having the special secret skill, but I guess my sleeping brain thinks I do. I wonder when you lose that faith in yourself. I’ve started novels, and been in a passion of hopefulness about them, only to find myself one day holding reams of paper that suddenly feel like wasted paper, with wasted words representing many wasted hours. And my films took about three years each, start to finish, but I was in love with them the whole time. You have to be! And now I watch them, I see where they’re flawed. At times that’s all I can see. It can leave you feeling very discouraged! Very scared to try! I hope nobody tells my dream self! And thank god for my boys, because they don’t have just one secret special skill, they have every skill in the whole world! They can be anything they want and they’re going to be wonderful at whatever they try.

salted top cake

salted top cake

Last week I mentioned Joan Aiken’s Go Saddle the Sea, and I quoted a passage in which she mentioned a pastry cake with salt sprinkled on top. Well! That image, of a pastry cake with salt sprinkled on top, has haunted me ever since. What is a pastry cake? I can’t find a recipe for one anywhere. Is it pastry or is it cake? I could just see it! I could just taste it! So I decided to make it. I made a pastry type of dough, with mostly butter and flour, but I added an egg and some vanilla and leavening. Then I rolled it into thin layers, stacked on top of one another, to give it an airiness of sorts (I hoped). Then I made a filling of ground almonds, bittersweet chocolate, cinnamon and sweetened condensed milk, because I thought it would be nice and dark and spicy and caramelly, and go well with the salty top. I was so pleased with this stupid cake. I took it out of the oven and it was love at first scent. It smelled sweet and complicated. It has a pleasant weight, but felt a bit hollow, too, which was a good sign because I was worried it wouldn’t have cooked all the way through and would be damp and unpleasant. I waited a while to cut into it, in a fever of anticipation and worry. It’s lovely! It’s like a big cookie with a wonderful filling, and a top crusty with sparkling sugar and salt. I’m very happy about it!

Here’s Darn That Dream by Billie Holiday, which I used in one of my first short films.


2 cups flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (1/2 cup)
1 egg
2 t vanilla
1/4 cup ice water (+/-)

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, bs, and bp. With your fingers, work in the butter till you have a coarse crumbly consistency. (You can also freeze and grate in the butter, if you like) Mix in the egg and vanilla, and then add just enough water to make a workable dough. Knead for a minute or two to be sure that everything is well-incorporated. Form into a disc. Wrap in foil and chill for at least half an hour.


1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 egg, beaten (reserve 1 T to coat the top)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 T butter
pinch salt

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Combine everything but the chocolate chips in a blender or food processor and process until fairly smooth. It doesn’t need to be completely smooth – it can still have some recognizable bits of almond.


A few crumbs of butter
a few teaspoons of sugar
1 t coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425. Butter and flour a 9 or 10 inch springform pan.

Break the dough into 4 balls. On a well-floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a rough circle, about 8 inches wide and 1/4 inch thick. Place this in the springform pan, and dot the surface with a few bits of butter, and sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over.

Roll the second ball of dough into a similarly-sized disk and place it on the first. Spread half the chocolate chips on, leaving an inch-wide margin all around. Heap the almond mixture in the middle, it will spread out all by itself. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over in an even layer.

Roll out the third ball of dough into a similarly-sized circle and place it over the filling. Dot the surface with a few crumbs of butter and sprinkle with a thin layer of sugar.

Roll out the final ball of dough into a rough circle 8 inches wide by 1/4 inch thick. Place this on top of the cake. Brush the surface with egg. Sprinkle a few teaspoons of sugar over to make a thin, even coating. Sprinkle the teaspoon of salt over that.

Bake at 425 for fifteen minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for another ten. The cake should be nicely browned and firm to the touch, and should sound sort of hollow when tapped.


4 thoughts on “Salt-sprinkled pastry cake (with chocolate almond filling)

  1. Wow, this looks amazing! I shall pass your recipe (and site!) on to Joan’s grand daughter a chocolate lover who is also a much more intrepid cook than me – although I did experiment with cheese and apple pies that came up in another story and they were quite tasty…

  2. Pingback: Clementine almond pastry cake | Out of the Ordinary

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