I was recently commissioned to make a wedding cake that captured the essence of southern Spain. The traditional white iced fruit cake was not the brief, but a cake that was pudding and cake combined but still looked like a wedding cake. The palette of colours were corals and oranges with leaf green as a contrast. It was suggested maybe a cake flavoured with oranges and decorated with crushed pistachios as a contrast.
There is a rich cake that is found all around the Mediterranean which uses only four ingredients, almonds, eggs, sugar and citrus fruits, no flour. I have made it using oranges, lemons, clementines and of course limes being on a lime farm, all of which work really well. I was served a version in Portugal that was made with a mixture of the flesh of Angels Hair Gourd and oranges. This flesh is quite sweet and when cooked separates out into strands, hence the name. You can buy it here in tins ready cooked with lots of sugar to preserve it. It is quite sickly sweet, but when mixed with other things or used as a filling in pies is rather nice. The cake was cooked to a wonderful caramelised – not burnt – crisp around the edges and deliciously rich. I have intended to try cooking this version myself but haven’t got round to it yet, when I do I will report back to you the method.
When I came to be describing the options of orange cakes to the bride, the description of the flourless orange and almond cake elicited a “mmmh” that told me it had to be the one. I was confident that the cake would taste good, but how to get a plain cake of a burnt orange colour to look glamorous and festive? Layers of cream were not an option as the temperatures here were still in the 30’s even though it was late September. Then one of my friends came up with the genius suggestion of edible gold leaf. I hadn’t used this before, so was a bit nervous about it, but the idea of cracked gleaming gold with a background of burnt orange for the walls of the cake to contrast with the topping of deep green crushed pistachios, was irresistible.
The cake was served with a mascarpone and fresh cream mix, and a generous sprinkling of lime sherbert and more of the crushed pistachios.
For a 20-24 cm cake tin that will serve about 10 -12 people.
500 gms oranges, or other citrus
8 large eggs
350 grams ground almonds
275 grams sugar (300 grams if using lemons or limes)
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
If the oranges are large cut them into 4 or 8, likewise for lemons, for smaller fruit leave them whole. Put the fruit in a pan with just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour until the skins are soft. Check from time to time that they have not boiled dry, adding a little water if they are too dry.
Drain reserving the liquid. Remove any pips and put the fruit into the processor and process until a pulp.
While this is cooking line the cake tin with baking paper or buttered greaseproof paper.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat enough to amalgamate.
Stir in the rest of the ingredients, the fruit pulp, sugar, ground almonds and baking powder bit by bit until all is well blended.
Pour the cake mix into the tin and bake for 40 minutes at 180 C then turn the oven down to 160 C and bake for a furthur 20 minutes. To ensure that the cake is cooked in the middle, a skewer or cake tester pushed into the centre should come out clean. if not bake the cake for another 10 minutes at 160 C and test again.
Let the cake cool completely in its tin before removing it and its lining paper. This is one of those cakes that is better at least a day after baking, so can be made a couple of days in advance of being needed.
For a less formal occasion than a wedding the cake can be decorated with a dusting of icing sugar just before serving, or it can be topped with crushed pistachios. Use some of the leftover orange cooking liquid. Heat a little with a couple of spoons of sugar to make a syrup. Let this cool and then brush the top of the cake with it before sprinkling over the crushed pistachios. These will absorb the syrup and darken nicely if left for a few hours.
To make lime sherbert (or lemon which is just as good), sprinkle a thin layer of sugar onto a tray. Take unwaxed limes and using the finest rasp on the grater, grate the zest onto the sugar. You need enough zest for a thin layer all over the sugar. With you finger gently rub the zest into the sugar. Spread it out as evenly as you can on the tray again and put in a warmish dry place to dry out.
As it dries it will do so in clumps, so break these up every few hours. Once it is totally dry it is ready to use as a zingy garnish on sweet dishes. It will keep for a couple of weeks if stored in an air tight jar.