Our search for a cake that bakes up reliably tender and moist led us to gâteau Nantais, a dessert that originated in Nantes, a trading port in western France. Numerous ingredients from the country’s colonies passed through this port; two of them—almonds and rum—ended up giving the city’s namesake cake a tender advantage.
Gâteau Nantais is made mostly from finely ground almonds, whose high fat content of which (along with a lack of gluten) creates a more tender crumb. And when it is still hot from the oven, the cake is brushed with a rum-infused syrup, which seeps deep inside, adding moisture.
We loved the moist, dense crumb this combination created, but added complexity to the syrup by infusing it with allspice and black peppercorns, which complemented the dark rum. And though a finishing rum-spiked glaze is traditional, we felt that was a bit over the top. We preferred a lemon glaze, which brightened and lightened the richer flavors. Slivered almonds scattered on the surface reinforced the almond in the batter and added textural contrast.