Orange Almond Cake
[Citrus, ground almonds and sugar. You can't go wrong. Since the recipe's debut on the blog, I've tweaked it a bit in that I add a touch more sugar and always serve the cake with a hot chocolate sauce. Grinding your own blanched almonds creates a nice rustic texture, but if it's utter elegance you're looking for, try to locate some almond flour AKA almond meal. The crumb will be finer and more delicate. But the flavors will still beguile.]
Fate has been tempting me to make this recipe. I first encountered it in one of Claudia Roden's cookbooks. Then at the Chowhound Message Boards, which eventually led me to Nigella's famed version with clementines. It's flourless. Virtually fool-proof. You can make it a couple of days ahead and it's even better that way. For a mid-week dinner party, it was the perfect dessert.
I had earmarked this recipe at the start of winter, when crates of clementines were everywhere. By the time I got to it, however, my clementines were lost and gone away. Upon some consultation with my pastry chef friends and references to other recipes, I figured out I need not be limited by the preachings of one domestic goddess. The organic oranges from George Cunningham's San Diego farm were as electric as a neon sign, its fragrance buzzing above the display at my favorite store in town, Liberty Heights Fresh. But of course, you could play around with clementines, grapefruits, and Meyer lemons.
The premise of the recipe is to poach the fruit whole until they're knife-tender all the way through. This takes about 2 hours of simmering in a pot of water. After that, it's all food-processor work. Process the fruit until you get a fragrant squidgy purée. Then you add the eggs, ground almonds, sugar, a touch of baking powder, and extracts. In this version, I added a touch of vanilla and orange-flower water, just for kicks.
All recipes call for a springform pan. But since mine went missing two years ago (I have yet to replace it, cheesecakes have not been a priority lately), I opted for two 9-inch cake pans. I filled them to about 1/2-inch to the top. They barely rose above that in the oven. The result? A great smelling kitchen and one of the moistest and pretty cakes I've ever created. I baked it on a Sunday night and snuck a little piece from the crust. Pure orange with a richness from the ground almonds.
I served it the following Tuesday night. The menu: Braised Chicken with Chard and Tomatoes—Fontina-Spiked Polenta—Belgian Endive and Baby Spinach Salad with Bleu d'Auvergne, Pecans, and Golden Raisins.
Sprinkling some superfine sugar on top really plays off the the texture of the almonds. A little whipped cream (barely sweetened with a splash of the orange flower water) and a generous shaving of chocolate were the only embellishments. Next time, I think I'll drizzle a dark chocolate sauce over it. Chocolate, citrus, and almonds. Just a few of my favorite things.
Orange Almond Cake
3 oranges (or 6 clementines, tangerines, or 4 Meyer lemons) * water for boiling * 6 eggs * 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (1/4 cup more for lemons) * 2 1/2 cups ground almonds * 1 teaspoon baking powder * superfine sugar for dusting * whipped cream * dark chocolate shavings
Place the fruit in the pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about two hours until it's tender all the way through (pierces easily with a knife, "like butta" as they say). Cut the fruit in quarters and fish out the white pips (the big chunk of white membrance usually at two points in the fruit). Then put the fruit into the food processor and puree. Pith, skin, and fruit—everything.
Add the eggs and pulse until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into two prepared 9-inch cake pans or one 8-inch springform pan (buttered and parchment-lined). Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about an hour. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan. When it's cooled, unmold and sprinkle with superfine sugar. Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
*You can make the cake ahead. It keeps for up to four days. After that the cake will resemble anything that sits still outside in a Seattle winter—mold and perhaps even moss will start to grow.
*You can even make components of the recipe in advance. For instance, I ground my own almonds (with the blanched slivered almonds from the bulk bin) one day to use later in the week. And you can poach the oranges to use another day. Just keep them covered and in the fridge until you're ready for some CuisinArt fun.