Sunday, November 09, 2008

Recipe: Orange Cake

Its been awhile since I've made anything to really talk about. Not because I haven't been baking but because the photography conditions were poor, the products were kid-friendly and somehow in the mix I'd lost the dessert mojo. The dry spell had been as uninspiring as the markets.

This last week though, I had a moment of rare sunshine in dessert land, when through the bleak disbelief, I found myself dreaming of citrus and orange. Not just any orange though but a sweet steamy sexy orange flavour, something mystical and Mediterranean, something with both a warm browned mist and a heady note of orange blossom clarity.

There is only one recipe I know of that really brings out the heat and fullness of an orange cake and it is actually quite Moroccan in origin. The oranges are boiled in a little water until they are cooked, soft and syrupy. (If you can't wait an hour, then you can prick them and microwave them for 8 minutes and they should bleed out their juices, which you can then serve as a spooning sauce over the cake).

Then the cake batter is assembled with ground almond instead of flour, from which the cake derives it's dense yet succulent texture. The entire orange, except the seeds, is blended with the eggs and ground almond to form a thick batter, streaked through with speckles of orange peel.

I used vanilla paste to up the ante on the taste and dribbled in some grand marnier for good measure (though you could also use Cointreau or even Brandy, I suspect). Here is the recipe, which worked exactly for me. I plated the squares of cake with a spoon of the orange syrup from the cooking of the oranges, a dollop of mixed whipped and ice cream (though you can use creme fraiche or marscapone) and some sliced strawberries.

Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern Cake:

1. Barely cover 2 large unwaxed oranges in a medium-sized pot with water. Bring to a boil, clamp on a lid, lower heat to a simmer, and simmer for 1-2 hours. Lift out oranges, allow to cool, cut open, remove and discard the pips. Chop oranges up, including the rind.

If you don't want to wait, prick the oranges all over with a fork and place them in a covered container (prefably with a drip tray) and microwave for 8 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 190°C. Line a 24cm non-stick heavy-gauge springform tin you trust to be leakproof (the batter is very wet) with wax paper, or butter and flour the surfaces.

3. Blend chopped oranges and 6 eggs thoroughly in a food processor or blender. Add 250 gm ground almonds, 250 gm caster sugar and 1 tsp double-action baking powder and blend. Add 1 Tbsp of vanilla paste and 1 Tbsp of Grand Marnier.

4. Scrape batter into prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour; the cake is done when it's a deep golden brown, has come away slightly from the sides of the tin, and the top springs back when touched. If cake is still very wet, cook a little longer.

5. Cool in tin before turning out gently. I find it easiest to slice up the cake when it is hot (or you can heat your knife by passing the blade through an open flame) and when the crust has not yet set. You can store the cake on a cling- wrapped plate, in the fridge. I like the cake warm but the next day, there is, I think, an accentuation of the depth and nuance of the orange flavour.

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