10 September 2010
Spring in Melbourne means many things: the green and gold lushness of wattle, the breath-taking beauty of blossom trees, the cheery daisies and daffodils and the sight of many-a-gardener mowing, sowing and weeding away on sunny afternoons. Unless of course it is grey and drizzly. Or so windy it could blow the hair off your scalp. That too is part 'n' parcel of Melbourne spring. This time of the year is also when families and friends are seen across the city's parks and gardens, having barbeques, playing with their dogs and kids and sometimes just snoozing. It's also time for fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies and what you can cook with them.
Since coming to Melbourne, I've had a new appreciation for cooking (baking rather) with seasonal fruits and veggies. Perhaps it has to do with the many cooking shows or perhaps because now I am cooking full-time instead of just as a hobby. It also makes me appreciate anew my mother's cooking. I never really noticed how she cooked with seasonal vegetables when I was living in India. So many learning opportunities lost...
The first time I had an orange cake was last year. My immediate in-laws were down for Diwali and Mum (Ma would be my mother) had baked this beautiful orange cake. It had finely grated orange zest (the peel) cooked in an absolutely divine orange syrup on it. The cake was soft, moist and so flavorsome, I had a hard time stopping at three slices. Stupid me though, I was so busy eating the cake and then finishing my Diwali-dinner preps -- kebab, Mughlai biryani, gulab jamun -- that I completely forgot asking her for the recipe.
I'd been searching for a good orange cake recipe since. Early this year I tried an orange cake recipe -- Whole Orange Syrup Cake - -from Tamarra Milstein's 'Bake Your Cake and Eat It Too'. The cake calls for both flour and almond-meal, a but of a pain if you ask me and used buttermilk and marmalade, both of which I don't usually have in my pantry. The result was tasty but nowhere close to satisfying the craving I had for Mum's orange cake. Till about a month ago.
A dear friend and (then) almost full-term pregnant friend of mine came over to see Mia, my then-two-month-old daughter. As she walked in, I noticed she was carrying this delicate-looking, drippy cake... I nearly cried out when I bit into the cake. It was EXACTLY what I wanted. Moist, rich and absolutely singing with orangy flavours. She told me it was her mother-in-law's recipe, very easy to make and used only almond meal and no flour.
I've made the cake twice now. Once for my mothers' group and once for myself (grin). It's a hit and I love it. Without making this story any longer, here's the recipe.
Eggs 6 large
Almond meal* 180 g
Caster/castor sugar* 250 g
Baking powder* 1 1/2 tsp
Vanilla essence* 1 tsp
Rind of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup castor/caster sugar
1. I have used navel oranges; mandarins work just as well. In India, regular oranges (think they're mandarins) or 'keenu' can also be used.
2. When using the oranges and orange rind it is important to take the white pith out, else the cake could be bitter.
3. How to make your own almond meal: Buying whole almonds is often cheaper than buying almond meal. Old, stored almond meal can also acquire a stale odour. If you can be bothered making your own almond meal here's how.
You will need spice grinder/ mixer/ coffee grinder, 1 cup skin-on almonds and 1-2 TBS granulated white sugar. Blend together the sugar and almonds till you get a flour-like consistency. The sugar is added so it absorbs the oil released by the almonds and to prevent the meal from clumping.
4. How to make castor/caster sugar: Measure granulated sugar, put in blender/grinder, blend!
5. You'll need to use gluten-free baking powder to have a gluten-free cake.
6. Vanilla essence: If you can't buy pure vanilla extract (it's expensive), use vanilla essence and not imitation vanilla as it can leave somewhat bitter aftertaste. If you've already bought the latter, use it (lesser than essence amount) and don't tell anyone.
1. Pre-heat oven to 180 deg celsius, with rack on the bottom-most shelf. Line a 8 inch/ 9 inch (23 cms roughly) springform tin with baking paper and set aside.
2. Boil whole oranges (skin on) for 35 minutes. Drain the water. Wash in cold water, drain, fill with cold water and boil again for 10-15 minutes. (You could just boil once and use, but double boiling ensures bitterness from rind is removed). Drain and set aside.
3. Place eggs in mixing bowl/blender and beat for 4-5 minutes till frothy. Set aside.
4. Once cool, chop oranges into eighths -- remove as much pith as you can -- then beat to pulp in mixer/ blender.
5. Add almond meal, baking powder, sugar, vanilla essence and a pinch of salt, beat together till mixed.
6. Add eggs and beat again till ingredients are incorporated.
7. Pour/spoon into the baking tin and bake for 55-60 minutes till cake tester/needle inserted into the centre of cake comes out clean.
8. Leave cake in tin to cool for 15 minutes.
2. Return to the saucepan along with the sugar and orange juice. Bring to boil then reduce heat and cook till syrup thickens. Turn off heat and allow syrup to cool.
Assembly: Invert cooled cake onto plate/serving tray. Prick the top with a skewer or fork. Pour the syrup and serve.
Sources: Joy of Baking, Georgie Bell, Taste.com.au,