Is “almond flour” just ground-up almonds? Can it be used in place of flour in cakes?
Almond flour is composed of ground-up almonds. If the almonds are blanched to remove their brown skins before grinding, the resulting coarse powder may be called almond flour. Almond meal is the same but may be made from nuts with or without their skins. You can’t substitute almond flour or meal for wheat flour willy-nilly because almond flour contains less starch and more fat than flour, and it lacks the proteins glutenin and gliadin, which produce gluten, the stretchy network of proteins responsible for the structure that helps batters and doughs made with wheat flour hold air and stay together. Substitutions would lead to super-dense cakes that fall apart. However, almond meal is often used in addition to regular flour to add flavor and tenderize cookies and cakes. The delicacy of madeleines and the short and crumbly texture of Linzertorte can be attributed to the combination of almond and ordinary flour. We often use ground almonds in cookies and cakes in the test kitchen, but we usually start with whole nuts that we grind ourselves in the food processor. When overprocessed, nuts may turn to a paste (think peanut butter), so sometimes recipes call for grinding the nuts along with some or all of the sugar or wheat flour.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Don’t use almond flour or almond meal in place of wheat flour, but ground almonds used with regular flour will tenderize baked goods.