Inventing orange cake: recipe, experiments, variations.

My head works in strange ways. I know this, and I understand why; brains are like sponges, constantly soaking up information and detail and everything that surrounds us in the environment through which we progress, and then it sifts, sorts and processes this information into chunks that can be useful. Eventually one pile of stuff that could be useful will spill over into the “yes, this is actually useful” pile and things happen.

As a result the headspace found itself looking at recipes for GF cakes made by boiling oranges. Some of them said “boil orange in water, then puree”. Some said “boil orange, drain, then puree”. Then they blethered on about eggs and almonds and (in some cases) polenta. I’m not a huge fan of cornmeal so didn’t pay much attention to this.

A recipe I read had a bunch of eggs, comparatively little sugar and almonds, and boatloads of orange puree. Hm. No fat in there. I was reminded of a conversation I had with Mum about the book Red velvet cake & heartache which seemed to use a lot of fruit purees instead of butter/marge/oil. Can fruit puree really be a suitable replacement for fat?

I made that particular recipe and it was a disaster (won’t link to it). It set, rather than baked, and came out very much like a (French, not English) flan. It tasted… well, ok. A bit like an orange omelette. So I went back to the drawing board and planned out a recipe as if I were making a fruit sponge. I whisked the eggs & sugar together, added some self-raising flour & baking powder, and thought “ah, what the hell” & bunged in a handful of dried fruit as well, for flavour. I boiled up some orange syrup & painted the cake with that, too.

It came out ok, but a little bitter (to my mind, you may think otherwise). So I made some orange mascarpone and topped & filled with that. Much better, but that bitter note still hung around; I think what it needs is the oranges to be boiled a bit longer, or maybe have fruit that doesn’t have quite such thick pith, like maybe limes or tangerines. Some people liked the bitter note, by the way – it’s more like a vintage marmalade than anything else – but I’d still like to drop it a bit more.

It looks like this, anyway:


and the recipe is here:

Ingredients: 2 oranges, 2 eggs, 125g soft brown sugar, 150g ground almonds, 50g self-raising flour, 1/2tsp baking powder, 100g mixed dried fruit.

In a saucepan cover 2 decent-sized oranges with cold water, put the lid on and bring to the boil, then simmer for at least 2 hours. You want the oranges to have no resistance when you push a knife in. If you can push a spoon in, so much the better. Leave to cool in the water then drain and puree using whatever method you find easiest. I don’t have a food processor but do have a stick blender, and that works fine.

Grease & flour a 8″ cake tin, line the base with parchment, and turn the oven onto GM4 (whatever that might be in °C – 180 or thereabouts).

In a big bowl whisk together the eggs & sugar until thick and foamy. The way to tell if it’s ready is to pull out the whisk and see if the runoff leaves a visible trail on the surface before sinking back into the mix; the “ribbon” effect. Into this, fold 250g of the orange puree until well mixed, then add the almonds, flour & BP (again, fold this in, we want to keep the eggs as frothy as possible), then fold in the fruit.

Pour into the tin, and bake for at least an hour. If the top looks like it’s singeing then loosely cover with foil, but it’ll probably be fine. It’s ready when a skewer comes out clean, but beware – the mix can still be quite soft and you can get a clean skewer. This cake will cope with being overcooked, so give it another ten minutes if you’re unsure. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

Right, the orange syrup: take the water the oranges boiled in and reduce it until you’ve got about two tablespoon’s worth of liquid (this isn’t strictly speaking necessary, but there’s a lot of pectin in there and it helps the syrup set). Juice two oranges, and in a small pan boil this juice with 2 tbsp of sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Pour in the reduced liquid from before (if using), then boil for two minutes. Strain, then use the syrup to paint the cake.

The orange mascarpone is easy; 250g mascarpone and whatever syrup you’ve got left. There’s enough to put a thin layer in the middle and to top the cake. Then sprinkle some orange zest over the top. That’s it!

There’s variations to try here; the fruit pulp, for starters. I made a type of this cake by boiling 2 oranges and a lemon. I think fruit pulp could be used as a replacement for butter in many types of cake, too; plums, probably cooking apples, maybe rhubarb could be used to replace the fat. Worth a try. The cake itself is tasty by itself and doesn’t need the syrup or mascarpone unless you really want it – and it is fatless as long as you don’t cover it with the cheese. The cake could be GF too, if you use GF flour or polenta.

Have fun!

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One Response to Inventing orange cake: recipe, experiments, variations.

  1. I had a similar dilemma recently, when I really wanted to make a hazelnut and orange cake but there weren’t any recipes for it. I tried looking at orange cakes and they vary so much! Couldn’t be bothered with boiling oranges so I just juiced them. Your cake certainly does look delicious though: the mascarpone is a nice touch 🙂

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