Reading it, I can readily identify - growing up in Singapore meant being accustomed to an abundance of all manner of fruit. From momo to mangosteen (fruits revered in Asia as much for their rich symbolism as for their utter deliciousness), from raspberries to rhubarb (less familiar imports from faraway temperate climes, and thus correspondingly deemed more exotic), it was all available here.
Oranges? You could find them anywhere and everywhere - all too easy to take for granted. The joys of Seville marmalade or a perfumed khoresh would not be experienced till later in life - as a child, I turned my nose up at what seemed to my ignorant eyes to be neither terribly special or rare. It really wasn't until I started to cook, to enter the fantasy realms bound by the covers of books such as Claudia Roden's A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, that I began to appreciate the orange for its beauty and potential.
In fact, one of the first cakes I ever attempted to make comes from that much-beloved Penguin paperback - an orange and almond cake that, from written word alone, already glistened with so much sensual Moorish promise, a promise that seemed to me all the more intoxicating having on occasion eaten at London's Momo and Moro and having been seduced each and every time by their heady Arabic-Hispanic blend of magic. The cake, it goes without saying being a Claudia Roden recipe, turned out well - a boost not only of sunshine-on-a-plate on an otherwise dull grey day, but of confidence to my tentative baking foray.
I had bought some organic, unwaxed oranges with the vague intent of marmalade of some sort. One thing, as always, leads to another.
Adapted from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures. No ordinary marmalade, this - the oranges are sliced into whole pinwheels, which not only gives the resulting conserves a jewel-like allure, but ultimately out-marmalades marmalade on account of being altogether more intense in flavour and memorable in texture. Using Earl Grey as an underpinning adds nuance to the citrus character, seeing as the essential oil used to flavour the tea comes from the peel of the Bergamot orange. For that matter, Earl Grey works well with most citrus (witness the exquisite kumquat and Earl Grey mousse cake the fabulous Keiko of Nordljus created).
Any good loose-leaf Earl Grey tea will do for these conserves; I used my favourite Mariage Frères blend.
1.2 kg, plus 3, unwaxed oranges
750 gm Granny Smith apples
1.1 kg, plus 200 gm, caster sugar
750 ml, plus 200 ml, plus 200 ml water
5 Tbsp Earl Grey tea
Juice of 1 small lemon
Rinse the apples in cold water. Dry. Remove stems and quarter them without peeling or removing the cores. Place in a preserving pan, cover with 750 ml water, bring to a boil over high heat. Once water comes to a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the apples are soft. Collect the pectin-rich juice (this is what will assist the set later) by pouring the mixture through a chinois. Discard the apples (or save to make a compote). Filter the juice a second time through wet-then-wrung cheesecloth. Let the juice run freely so as not to force more sediment through than will already occur. Cover and refrigerate the juice overnight.
Next day, ladle out 500 ml of apple juice without disturbing the sediment that has sunk to the bottom; leaving sediment behind ensures a clear, as opposed to cloudy, jam.
Squeeze the 1.2kg of oranges. Measure out 500 ml of juice. Save the pips in a cheesecloth bag.
Rinse the 3 additional oranges in cold water. Dry. Slice into thin rounds. Carefully pry out pips and add to the cheescloth bag. Secure bag with kitchen string. In a preserving pan, poach the orange slices with 200 gm sugar and 200 ml water until they appear translucent, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the apple juice, orange juice, 1.1 kg sugar, lemon juice and bagged pips. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Continue cooking on high heat for 15 minutes, stirring constantly and skimming vigilantly.
Meanwhile, bring 200ml water to a boil. Pour onto the tea. Steep for 3 minutes. Strain and discard the spent tea. Add infusion to the pan. Return to a boil and remove the cheesecloth bag of pips. Check the set - either use a candy thermometer (the temperature has to reach 221°F/105°C), or put a few drops on a cold plate to monitor the consistency. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars immediately and seal.
Besides turning breakfast from simple to special, these conserves, I've discovered, lend well to dessert ideas.
The very recipe that first opened my eyes to the possibilities of orange. A bit of back-story. My original copy of that book had subsequently been misplaced or mis-appropriated. In its place, I had acquired the revised hardcover Knopf edition. Sadly, as fantastic a book this updated tome is, it also omits the flourless orange and almond Sephardic specialty I so well remember. The inclusion of cooked and pureed whole oranges not only gives the cake a beguiling depth of flavour, it also ensures a cake that's dense and moist, that keeps well and in fact improves with keeping. It's unlike any other, with a delectable dampness that borders on the creamy, making the texture reminiscent more of pudding or one of those sponges drenched with syrup post-baking rather than what one ordinarily thinks of as cake. Fortunately, so good is this cake it's made its way into a rather large clutch of more contemporary titles as so many inspired variants - fascinating stuff for anyone obsessed with recipe provenance. For instance, there's the one in Crazy Water Pickled Lemons; the addition of a little flour and the reduction in the number of eggs produces a cake with a more conventional crumb. Or there's the orange and almond number in Sam & Sam Clark's The Moro Cookbook, which soaks a zest-flecked flourless almond torta (leavened with whipped egg whites) that's not unlike a dacquoise in texture with a spiced orange syrup. Or the clementine cake in Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, using cooked clementines in lieu of oranges.
The recipe I now use and like most also happens to be the one closest to the original and forthrightly attributed to Ms. Roden, from Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion; that it should be included in this astounding compendium from one of Australia's most respected chefs/cookery authors seems surprising until you realize there does not seem to be a good cafe in Sydney or Melbourne that does not serve some version of this classic cake.
What's more, it's a piece of cake. How easy? The time you'll take to read the following (adapted from The Cook's Companion) is probably all the time you'll need to pull it together, minus the boiling and baking times:
Barely cover 2 large unwaxed oranges in a medium-sized pot with water. Bring to a boil, clamp on a lid, lower heat to a simmer, and simmer for 1 hour. Lift out oranges, allow to cool, cut open, remove and discard the pips. Chop oranges up, including the rind. Preheat oven to 190°C. Butter and flour a 24cm non-stick heavy-gauge springform tin you trust to be leakproof (the batter is very wet). Blend chopped oranges and 6 eggs thoroughly in a food processor or blender. Stir together 250 gm ground almonds, 250 gm caster sugar and 1 tsp double-action baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg-orange mixture, whisking to combine. Scrape batter into prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour; the cake is done when it's a deep golden brown, has come away slightly from the sides of the tin, and the top springs back when touched. If cake is still very wet, cook a little longer. Cool completely in tin before turning out gently. Store, tightly wrapped, in fridge.
Gorgeous with a dollop of kaymak, clotted cream, crème fraîche, or some such like. I went with the marmalade and orange flower cream - a mixture of mascarpone and Greek yoghurt flavoured with orange marmalade and orange flower water - Diana Henry suggests as the accompaniment to her recipe here seeing as I had plenty of the above conserves to spare.
Earl Grey Infused White Chocolate Ganache Tartlets
I simply couldn't resist using the pretty orange pinwheels for tartlets of some sort, although on hindsight, they'd probably look nice overlapped like so many tiles on a large tart too. So dark chocolate pâte sablée shells, filled with a white chocolate ganache - white chocolate, while possibly not to most people's taste on its own, is an excellent foil to assertive flavours like coffee, tea or citrus. I wanted a pronounced Earl Grey flavour without drawing out the bitter tannins so went for a layered approach - the cold cream sits overnight with the tea, the next day it is strained then brought to the boil with fresh tea leaves and finely grated orange zest, strained again, then used to make the ganache. When the mixture is smooth, a small splash each of Grand Marnier or Cointreau and orange flower water.