On the weekend my family celebrated two birthdays; my fiance's and my mother's. So of course I had to make a very special cake. I decided to make a cake that I'd been itching to make for quite a while - a flourless orange and almond cake using whole oranges. I first saw this being made while watching an episode of SBS Food Safari but I soon discovered that it's quite a well known cake, apparently served quite often in cafes.
Its origins lie in the traditions of Sephardic Jewish culture and is a cake that is commonly eaten during passover, however, several famous cookbook authors have versions of this recipe in their books including Stephanie Alexander's, A Cook's Companion, and Nigella Lawson's, How To Eat, who makes hers with Clementines instead of oranges. Probably the most famous version though, and the one that can probably take the original credit for making the recipe accessible to a wider range of people, is Claudia Roden's. She calls it Middle Eastern Orange Cake in her book A New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
I must say I was extremely impressed with this cake its texture was moist and luscious, almost creamy, and the taste was wonderfully complex with the pith and peel of the orange giving it an intriguing exotic accent. The top and bottom of the cake where it been baked to a beautiful golden brown hue had a delicate marmalade-like flavour, and in fact marmalade was the dominant aroma that wafted through the house when it was in the oven.
This beautiful cake appealed to me with its simplicity but the result is anything but - what you get is a cake with huge depth of flavour, and is quite simply, the essence of orange.
Oh did I mention that everyone LOVED it? And, as luck would it have no-one in my family knew of the cake, despite it being quite famous really, and so they gave me all the credit for it being so delicious. But the credit isn't mine at all; it was easy to cook, even in my awful oven with its inability to ever stay at a constant temperature (no-one ever ask me to make a sponge cake). Its a well circulated recipe and of course there are lots of other blog entries about it all over the internet.
Here is one absolutely lovely entry at Kuidaore, that includes a couple of other recipes that are orange related that I read while having a look around online. This site is well worth a look just for the beautiful photography.
I consulted my copy of The Cook's Companion to make this cake although I did follow Joycelyn's lead here and only boiled my oranges for 1 hour which I found to work very well.
My own notes on the recipe would be to use Naval oranges if they are in season as they are the sweetest and they don't have any pips. Also, I would suggest using organic oranges from a supplier that doesn't irrigate their trees as they will be sweeter than the irrigated variety. If not using organic oranges wash the skin very thoroughly in water and vinegar and then rinse. On the cooking time; my cake took over an hour to cook completely (probably due to my stupid oven) but if yours seems to be taking a little longer too I think it would be hard to overcook it so if you're not sure its done leave it in the oven for a little bit longer.
2 large unwaxed oranges
250 gms ground almonds or almond meal
250 gms (or a little less) of caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
icing sugar to dust
Barely cover 2 large unwaxed oranges in a medium-sized pot with water. Bring to a boil, put a lid on the pot, lower heat to a simmer, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Lift out oranges, allow to cool, cut open, remove and discard the pips if there are any. Chop oranges up, including the rind.
Preheat oven to 190°C. Oil and flour a 24cm non-stick springform tin. Blend chopped oranges and 6 eggs thoroughly in a food processor or blender. Stir together 250 gm ground almonds, 250 gm caster sugar and 1 tsp baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg-orange mixture, stirring to combine. Pour 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.
Cool completely in tin before turning out gently. Store, tightly wrapped, in fridge until serving. This is one of those cakes that get better the next day.
Serve dusted with icing sugar. Sift over; it will melt, and sift another layer over just prior to serving.
I also served mine with slices of fresh peeled orange (Stephanie Alexander suggests serving it with fresh orange) and a marscarpone cream flavoured with orange blossom water and honey.
Orange Blossom Marscarpone Cream
250 gms marscarpone cream
250 gms thickened cream
honey to taste (approx. 1/3 cup)
orange blossom water to taste (approx. 2 tsp)
1 slice candied orange, chopped (my candied orange was about 1 year old and drier and more intense in flavour than when bought very fresh)
Beat marsarpone cheese and cream together in a bowl. Add honey and orange blossom to taste and sprinkle with chopped pistachios and candied orange.