Homage to the Orange (and an Orange Almond Cake recipe)
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Yes, I know. It’s been awhile since the red clogs have clacked their way into a new post. You may have been wondering -what’s the Red Clog Blogger UP TO? Does she have Blogstipation?
Being at a loss for words isn’t exactly my issue. In more than fifty years, there were precisely 2 times when I was on mute. The first was a random day at age 3 or 4 when I wore a fetching yellow dress and simply decided not to talk. At all. For an entire day. My parents were worried to pieces about this 180 degree shift in my behavior. One moment they had a loquacious little girl and the next, there were no sounds. I can’t explain what came over me then, but by the following day, I was back to my rapid-fire, incessant speech.
Fast forward a couple decades to December 1981. I was studying in Vienna, Austria and interning at the United Nations. I had just finished my very last final exam – a brutal assessment of the depth of my knowledge of Austrian Literature – when my father appeared, entirely unexpected, in the foyer of the stunning, baroque Palais Kinsky which housed my educational program. Then I was truly “speech-less.” But like a well-fed Alpine waterfall, the words have been flowing smoothly ever since.
So it wasn’t a loss for words that kept me off these pages. Travel? Well, yes, there was some– twice to Portland, then San Francisco, Seattle, Palm Desert. There was also a ridiculous amount of cooking – even after the ritual victuals of Thanksgiving and the annual holiday treat platters groaning with over a dozen different kinds of cookies, bars, truffles, barks, mini-loaf cakes, etc. Matter of fact, my cooking journal confirms that I made at least 50 different dishes between late November and Feb 10th.
Mostly I’ve been thinking. About life, death, why we are here, worthy work, being an only child with precious few relatives, and the legacies of those who I miss quite a bit. Heavy stuff. And while I didn’t come away with answers, it did occur to me that the season – Jan/Feb – typically does this to me. Like burrowing creatures everywhere, I lapse into a (mental) hibernation.
I’m now ready to emerge from my den and get back to the important matters at hand – food and travel! Today I am paying homage to the orange. It’s an orange homage! And it comes with a really fantastic recipe that you will wonder how you lived without. But first, let me say that I have seen first-hand, a similar respect of the humble orange in my travels this past year. In England, the favorite marmalade is made with “Seville” oranges from Spain. In Seville, orange trees are a common and abundant sight, whether in public spaces, grandiose gardens, (yes, you Alhambra), or even the most modest of family homes.
And in Morocco, orange trees are used in courtyards and foyers of family homes and riads to overpower undesirable odors as the sweet floral scent perfumes the air.
A typical Moroccan dessert is sliced oranges, perhaps garnished with a few dates slices, cinnamon and mint leaves.
As for my own history with the orange, the earliest memory occurred when I was about seven years old. I grew up in suburban Boston where winters could be fun; ice-skating, building snowmen, coming in red-faced from the biting cold for hot cocoa and cookies. But by Valentine’s Day, we were DONE. It was no fun walking to school in frigid temps, slipping on ice, and sporting crackly, dry hands and chapped lips. Also, everyone got sick; a cold, the flu or scarlet fever (me).
It was exactly at this point when a white cardboard box would arrive in our winter wonderland driveway. The outside of the package promised a bushel of “Florida Citrus.”
Dispatched from my grandparents in Jacksonville, it contained gorgeous orbs of sweet oranges, nestled within a soft bed of green “grass”. It was as if we had just been presented with the crown jewels, and trust me, no weather-beaten New Englander would have preferred a ruby or emerald at this point in the season. We meted out the consumption of these precious fruits and when the last one was finally gone, my mom would carefully set aside the box and re-use it for off-season clothing storage. Regardless of the contents, I always felt joy in lifting the Florida Citrus box lid to uncover what lay inside.
So it pleases me greatly that one of these boxes has survived, after nearly half a century. It also pleases me greatly that I now live in sunny California with my own prolific orange tree in the front yard. As if on cue, during my Jan-Feb mental hibernation time , this tree proffers an abundance of incredible oranges- huge, juicy, and delicious. We eat them over the counter with syrup dripping from our chins. We juice them. We squeeze them over vegetables. We add them to smoothies. Orange slices flavor our water. The zest is grated into countless dishes. And recently, I stumbled upon a killer recipe for orange almond cake. It’s easy (SO EASY!), fast (SO FAST!), gluten free, dairy free, loaded with Vitamin C, and insanely delicious. No kidding, I’ve made it three times this week already.
The cake hails from Tuscany and we (the cake and I) became instant best friends at a recent dinner party. On this occasion, I met a group of women who had recently travelled together to Italy. While there, they participated in a cooking class and this was the grand finale of their home-cooked meal. Luckily for us, it was also the grand finale of our meal that night.
Now ORANGE you glad you can enjoy it too? ?
So regardless of where you live, whether the Groundhog has forecasted accurately, and how chapped your lips and hands are right now, I promise this cake will make you feel warm and wonderful.
Orange Almond Cake
2 oranges, preferably seedless
1 cup sugar
2 cups freshly ground almonds (you can use almond flour, however I prefer the less consistent and crunchier texture of freshly ground almonds)
1 teaspoon baking powder
Decorative topping of your choice (entirely optional, see below)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the base of a 9” springform pan and put a round of fitted parchment on top of the buttered pan bottom. This will make it easier to remove the cake when baked.
Wash the oranges and cut them in half. Remove any stem remnants as well as seeds (my oranges are seedless, see if you can find seedless ones to make this easier).
Place orange halves in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with top or plastic wrap, and microwave for 15 minutes on high power. (the oranges and the bowl itself will get very hot; take care when handling, especially watch for steam burns when you remove the cover – use gloves! Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything….)
Cool a few minutes and then place in food processor (yes – skins and all) and process until you have a puree.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and then add the sugar, ground almonds, and baking powder. Mix until combined. Incorporate the orange puree.
Pour mixture into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 60 min. After about 45 minutes, check the cake to ensure the top isn’t getting too brown. If this is the case, cover with a piece of foil to prevent further darkening. The cake is done when the top feels firm and the center is solid, not wobbly.
Cool for 30 minutes, remove cake from the pan. The finished cake can be topped with confectioner’s sugar (I place a doily on the cake and sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on top for a pretty pattern), or drizzled with chocolate, decorated with candied orange or orange zest, or dollops of whipped cream.