Today: a confession. I love weird recipes. Anything that involves an unexpected method or bizarre ingredient immediately catches my attention. I remember years ago watching slack-jawed as Nigella Lawson confidently boiled a whole ham in Coca-Cola and thinking first “Is she bananas?” and then not long after, “I have got to try that.” Honestly, I wasn’t even that excited about making bagels until I found out that it involved poaching the raw dough in boiling water before baking—but when I did find out, I couldn’t wait to get started.
I’m not exactly sure why I’m drawn to these sorts of strange, seemingly-illogical recipe components, but generally I have a feeling that if a trusted source is telling you to do something crazy with your ingredients, it’s often because there’s a good reason behind it. Also, I think of my sister’s often-cited observation of me, characteristically made through gritted teeth: “You’ve always got to be different, don’t you?”
So here’s to strange recipes. This one comes via the very reliable and inimitable Martha Rose Shulman and it involves boiling a couple of oranges for 2 hours. That was me, hook, line and sinker. But of course, I couldn’t resist tweaking it, not because I thought the original needed editing (one must never second-guess Martha), but because, well, I guess I do have to be different. My changes involved adding some vanilla extract and topping the whole experiment with an orange glaze.
For these additions, I was working from memory. I was on a mission to recreate a dessert I’ve had twice now at Polpo. OMG, Polpo. Delicious, inventive, not-at-all-bothered-to-wait-two-and-a-half-hours-before-getting-a-table Polpo. All I can say to you is go. Go there. Make haste. But if you can’t get there, then make this cake. Or if you were there last week and cannot stop thinking about the dense, floral, nutty dessert you had, then make this cake. It is delicious and it will make your whole house smell like an orange grove.
Flourless Orange & Almond Cake
(adapted from Martha Rose Shulman)
2 medium sized oranges, well scrubbed plus 3 Tbsp orange juice
1 cup sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 ½ c. ground almonds
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 c. icing sugar
Mascarpone or Greek yogurt to serve (optional)
Directions: Place the oranges in a heavy bottomed sauce pan, covered with water and simmer for 2 hours. Carefully fish them out of the cooking water and set aside to cool, reserving the water. When they are cool enough to handle, slice them in half and remove any seeds. Place the halved oranges in the bowl of a food processor and mix until a smooth paste is formed. Measure out 1 ¼ cups of orange paste and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 180 degrees C. Grease and flour a 9 or 10 inch springform pan and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla extract and mix with an electric mixer on high speed until light and foamy—about 4 minutes. Add in ground almonds and continue mixing for another minute or so until all the ingredients are incorporated. Next, add the orange paste a third at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and bake for 55-60 minutes on the second-lowest oven rack. The top of the cake should be uniformly browned and a toothpick inserted into the centre will come out clean. Set aside to cool, preferably somewhere near the oven to keep it from cooling too quickly and going flat.
To make the orange glaze, reduce the orange cooking water until roughly 4 Tbsp of liquid remain. Add 3Tbsp. fresh orange juice and remove from heat. Add in the icing sugar and stir to dissolve any lumps. Once the cake and the glaze have cooled, spoon the glaze over the top of the cake and along the sides. Avoid pouring the glaze or this will allow the glaze to pool in the centre, making the cake soggy. Use only what you need of the glaze to get a uniformly shiny surface on the cake.Serve with mascarpone or greek yogurt. Justify eating a slice for breakfast the next morning (it’s practically fruit).