A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was planning to make a ‘Middle Eastern’ orange cake. It goes by this name because this type of cake was brought to the attention of a wide audience in 1968, with the publication of A book of Middle Eastern food by Claudia Roden.
I have made several modifications to the original recipe: I add raw spices to the liquid in which I poach the oranges, which makes for a subtle spice infusion of the orange skin; the cooked orange is cut finely, rather than pureed; powdered spices are added to the cake mix; and, with the availability of non-stick cooking equipment, I don’t need to apply any butter and flour to the inside of the cake tins. On top of that, I have increased most of the quantities by one-sixth, to provide sufficient for two cakes.
The recipe produces a dessert-style cake, rich in flavour but light in the belly. This is how our latest batch turned out, with the small pieces of orange rind just visible.
Previously, we have made the cake using navel or blood oranges, in season. The latter produces a vibrant colour, as it did when we prepared it for our wedding feast in 2006.
This time, we took advice from one of the team at our favourite greengrocer and used a variety of navel orange branded as ‘Cara Cara ruby navel’. The flesh of this navel can be similar in hue to that of a blood orange; in our case, it was more like a rich, orange ochre. The skin stayed intact throughout the simmering and, in the finished cake, its flavour had hints of candied orange.
We call the cake cooked when the egg has completely set, but it still emerges as very moist, (because we prefer to use more orange than in the original recipe). This means that you have to handle it carefully and, in warm weather or for extended storage, you should prevent the growth of fungus/mould by keeping it in your refrigerator, taking it out up to one hour before serving.
Overall, it is not an especially difficult cake to make, but the end result is complex and deeply satisfying.
4 medium oranges (total weight between 800g and 900g – no need to be precise)
3-4 cardamom pods, 4-6 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks
3cm piece of fresh ginger, cut into batons
7 eggs, beaten
290g raw sugar
290g ground almonds
1 tsp mixed spice, ½ tsp ginger powder
1 tsp baking powder (optional)
- Beginning with cold water, simmer oranges and whole spices in a covered saucepan until tender (about 1½ to 2 hours) (use a saucepan that holds the oranges snugly in one layer). Remove the oranges from the water and allow them to cool.
- Cut the oranges open, remove any pips and chop finely. (I use about 85% of the cooked orange in the actual cake and discard the rest. I introduced this practice because sometimes an orange splits while simmering. The texture and flavour around and under the split will be inferior, so cut out any split sections before chopping.) (Maggie also likes to remove the navel, the stem-join and, when halved, the white core of each orange.)
- Using a coarse sieve, strain the juices from the chopped orange over a bowl and reserve just half of the liquid to make the cake.
- Line the base of two 20cm non-stick springform tins with baking paper. (If you use a tin that is NOT non-stick, grease the sides with vegetable or olive oil just before you pour in the batter.)
- Preheat oven to 175C.
- Combine chopped oranges and other ingredients in a mixmaster, in a sequence of: eggs & sugar (beat for 4 minutes); oranges, strained juice and spices (beat for 2 minutes); almonds (& baking powder) (beat for 1 minute).
- Pour batter into tins and bake for 35-40 minutes. (With all that sugar, the cake will brown too quickly if the oven temperature is too high. Check and adjust after the first 10 minutes of baking.)
- Cool partly in tin (6 minutes) before gently turning out.
If you would prefer to make just one cake, as I sometimes do, use 4 eggs and measure the other quantities in a similar proportion, ie four sevenths or 57%. This sized cake will take 40-45 minutes to cook.