Do you like oranges? And if you do, are you a moderate fan, or could you eat oranges until you change colour?
Here we definitely belong to the second category. I am surrounded by orange lovers. My sister once had some serious talks with her doctor about orange addiction – allegedly vitamin A toxic effects are to be considered if you eat a kilo of oranges per day, six months a year. Since when I am here in Calabria, I have been eating comparable amounts as well: the father of my partner grows oranges, mandarins and lemons, and with great trepidation we have watched the oranges get better and better as the season progresses. They will keep improving until March apparently, but trust me when I say they are already the best oranges I’ve ever eaten. They are so good I even forgot to cook with them, apart from the occasional salad. And I do love orange desserts.
Finally I brought myself to make a cake. The inspiration came from the theme for the next Sugar High Friday, hosted by Z’s Cup Of Tea. The intriguing theme chosen by Zoe this month is grain-free baking. I started to think about baked desserts with no grains I cook on a regular basis, and I remembered this cake I had spotted in Claudia Roden’s book. It is a typical Jewish cake for Passover, when Jews can’t eat chametz, or potentially leavened food. I have always liked this cake, though it tastes very intense. A good recipe to try once again with the excellent oranges I have here, and with the added bonus of being dairy-free as well. I did not have the book with me, so I tried googling for proportions, and came up with a few twists.
I borrowed from Martha Stewart the idea of the topping, and it made a huge difference. Instinctively I thought it would have been a mistake to make a very orangey cake even more orangey, but I was wrong. The topping works perfectly and balances the cake: it brings out the slightly bitter note in the orange, which would otherwise be lost in the nutty, almond-laced bottom. The syrup moistens the cake to a compulsive level, and takes off any residual egginess of the eggs. It probably helped that I used local almonds, delicious, fresh and tasty, and of course good oranges make a huge difference. All in all, this is probably one of the best cakes I’ve ever baked, with a great taste-to-guilt and difficulty-to-guilt ratio. Something to remember when I go back to snowland.
Orange and almond cake
For the cake:
2 organic oranges
200 gr almonds, skin on
200 gr granulated sugar
For the topping:
about 120 gr sugar
120 ml water
3 organic oranges
Start by cooking the oranges, both for the cake and for the filling. I scrub them well, cover them with water and cook for about 30 min. in a pressure cooker, until oranges are soft. It you don’t have a pressure cooked this is going to take about 1 1/2 hours. Drain them from the water when they are soft. When the oranges are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and remove any pips.
Meanwhile prepare the almond meal. You can buy it, if you are in a hurry, but home-made ground almonds do taste better and their slightly coarser consistency adds something to the cake. You can skip the skinning stage as well if you don’t have time, but almonds with skin do taste consistently better. To skin the almonds, put them in a pot of boiling water, let them rest for a few minutes, then drain them a few at a time and squeeze them with your fingers so that the skin comes off. Pat the almonds dry with a towel and blend them to a fine powder – a few larger bits are ok. If it gets too similar to a paste, add a bit of sugar, taken from the total amount.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. Break the eggs in a large bowl and mix in the sugar. Add in the coarsely chopped two oranges, and blend with a hand blender, or a regular one, until slightly chunky. If you don’t have one (my hand blender broke while making this recipe) you can chop the oranges very finely, or use any tool to mash the oranges. A slightly irregular texture is quite attractive here. Mix in the almond flour or paste until well incorporated.
Pour the batter into an oven dish – I used a 13X23 cm one. This cake does not rise, but you don’t want it to be too thick, because it is so tasty. I did not need to oil my non stick pan, but if unsure about yours, use a bit of light vegetable oil or almond oil to prevent sticking. Cook for about an hour, until the edges are slightly golden and the center is well set (but still a bit humid).
While the cake is cooking, make the topping. Cut the remaining oranges into chunks. Adjust sugar amount based on how sweet are your oranges. Mix water and sugar, bring to the boil, then add the chopped oranges. Mix well and let cook on a low flame until the oranges are glossy, mixing occasionally. This will take about half an hour.
Let the cake cool completely before eating. Arrange the oranges on top, together with any remaining syrup, before serving. It keeps well for a day – possibly longer, if you have no orange lovers around.