The electric feeling in the air before a snowstorm reminds me of being little again. There's a giddiness and a building anticipation; throughout the city, the energy feels heightened. The grocery stores are busier, everyone seems chattier. The television screens inside nail salons and sports bars hum with red headlines promising "up to 6 inches!" and images of handsome weathermen interspersed with still shots of previous winters: Central Park blanketed in snow, cabs swerved on icy roads, and so on.
I fall asleep with a tingling feeling, waiting for something--anything--to arrive. I wake up twice in the night and pull back the heavy floor-length curtains that cover the French doors leading out onto our terrace. At first, nothing. The second time, nothing. In the morning I open my eyes early. It's barely 7 AM and outside the world is quiet and still but a few soft flakes are already falling. "It's snowing!" I whisper to him. He's finally sleeping soundly, after tossing and turning all night long, and I don't wake him even though I want to. I fall back asleep for a little.
The morning is busy. I go to a yoga + meditation class. The lights in the studio are being fixed, so the teacher lines the long mirrored room with candles. One side of the room is made up of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the street, and the effect of the weather is beautiful: the room glows inside with soft light while snow falls thickly outside, the fat flakes drifting softly past the balcony. I walk home, stopping at the new bakery on the corner for a chocolate chip scone and one of their pretty miniature pain d'epi, a rustic bread shaped into points and stuffed with bits of bacon, grainy mustard, and cheese.
I stand under a hot shower at home until I'm finally warm. Cheeks rosy and flushed from the steam of the hot bathroom, I dry my hair and dress in a soft sweater and jeans. He's sitting on the couch, watching a movie (this is how I know he isn't feeling well). The hours pass as I make coffee and breakfast, bake some cookies, and clean the kitchen.
Our small kitchen opens into the high-ceilinged living room, so even though I'm puttering about doing my own thing, it's comforting to have someone's presence close by. I drop a load of laundry in the washer. Stock the bathroom with soap. Prep a pan of spaghetti squash to roast for dinner (we'll have it with a Roman-style braised lamb shoulder that sits in a soup-y bowl of fresh peas, white wine, leeks, tarragon, and rosemary).
Stepping outside in the afternoon is like walking into a snow globe. The air is hushed and still, as snow comes down faster, piling up in drifts on the street corners. The sidewalk is slick and slippery and I walk cautiously. Every inch of my exposed skin is cold, although I pulled on my heaviest parka and a fleece-lined winter hat and gloves. The Christmas trees for sale on the corner of 74th and Amsterdam are blanketed in snow. Framed by the strands of twinkling white lights and ribbon-bedecked wreaths being sold alongside them, they form a picture-perfect holiday scene, like a Christmas postcard in real life.
As the sky turns dusky and then changes into an inky blue, then black, I watch as the snow keeps coming down, glittering in the light of the streetlamps. I love the city like this: soft and vulnerable, its hard lines and dirty edges softened and covered entirely in a brilliant, clean white blanket of snow.
Next time you have a snow day, go outside and get as cold as possible. Run around, sled down a hill, capture some flakes on your tongue. Walk until you're breathless and you've got a rivulet of icy cold slush inside your left sock and you can barely fumble for your zipper with your numbed fingers. Then come inside and get warm. Shower and put on thick pajamas and turn on the oven. Make this cake. Watch a movie (I recommend "The Holiday" because Jude Law is dreaminess incarnate) and eat something wintry like shepherd's pie or chicken soup with cheesy biscuits, and then have this cake for dessert.
The frosting swirls just so happen to resemble snowdrifts, and that's a happy coincidence, so let's call this snow day cake. If you don't like almond, this is not your cake. The cake itself is very delicate with a tender crumb thanks to a touch of almond flour, and the batter is scented with almond extract.
The frosting is a DREAM: it uses an interesting technique, where you cook flour with milk before adding the butter. It's sort of like a buttercream, but less sweet with a lighter, satiny, silky texture that's almost mousse-like. It too, has almond extract, but you could leave that out or use vanilla instead if you prefer.
Almond Sheet Cake
Makes one 9" x 13" cake
For the cake
2 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 (9 1/2 ounces) cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup (6 ounces) milk
1/3 cup almond flour or meal
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9" x 13" cake pan.
Whisk together the flour and baking powder; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until each is well-incorporated. Add the almond extract and mix well.
Add the flour mixture and the milk in three additions, alternating between each. Mix until the batter comes together.
Mix in the almond flour.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth with a spatula to level the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let the cake cool completely in the pan before frosting.
For the frosting
1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Add the milk, flour, and salt to a medium saucepan and whisk until smooth.
Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to boil (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes until the mixture is warm but not hot. (If the mixture is too warm, it'll melt the butter in the next step.)
With an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar and almond extract until very light and fluffy. Add the warm milk mixture, one spoonful at a time, until the frosting gets pillowy and smooth. Frost the cooled cake and serve!