Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Exotic...Orange?

In a lovely essay entitled "Pith and Skin" from Diana Henry's Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, the author describes how she went from regarding oranges as, well, ordinary, to the beautiful things they really are thanks to a visit to Mallorca and a sighting of magnificent orange groves.

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.

Orange with Earl Grey Tea Conserves

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.

Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern Orange Cake, with Marmalade and Orange Flower Cream

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.


Blogger Cathy said...

Jocelyn - what beautiful preserves and what lovely desserts they've inspired! It all sounds and looks so good!

11:45 am, July 20, 2006  
Blogger Krithika said...

Wow ! look at the pics - fabulous ! middle eastern orange cakes look so delicious

9:05 pm, July 20, 2006  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

I have obviously been away for way too long. I love the new look of your site and, as always, your photos are spectacular.

Thanks for creating some wonderful dishes using some of my favorite things - like earl grey tea, in particular.

Thanks so much for sharing.

10:29 pm, July 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything looks amazing as usual! I really like the look of the jewels! :) Thanks for sharing the recipes!

I also really like the Grilled White Peach with Mascarpone Foam & Jamon in your post below. I am going to try it out for a dinner I am hosting this weekend, but for lack of ingredients, I am using nectarines, ricotta, and prosciutto...You think it will work? I hope so... :)

12:57 am, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Jen said...

I feel they same way you do about oranges, as always your pictures are breathtaking, those little orange cakes look to die for and you seem to always have the perfect accessories to go with the food.

1:40 am, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

I have made the clementine cake in Nigella Lawson's book. It is wonderful and keeps very well. I adore Claudia Roden and only have the new edition of the book. Thank you for including an approximation of her recipe here.

2:41 am, July 21, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

My favourite way with oranges is homemade orange ice cream with caramelised zest and infused with cardamon topped with dark chocolate sauce! Chopped pistachios finishes it off real nicely - kinda middle eastern, indianish ice cream. Yum.

2:02 pm, July 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredible Blog - I'm from Austria - and as most people who respond here love cooking, eating and seeing food presented well. This blog definitely leaves you feeling like chucking that management job and starting to cook ;-)
I'll be doing more cooking again in the near future, that's for certain. Thanks to kuiadore!

8:38 pm, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Lovely, J. I wish that I still had oranges on my trees right now, but I think I'll have to wait another few weeks. I'll just keep waiting on my meyer lemons (they'll ripen first), while I'm thinking about that middle eastern orange cake!

8:59 pm, July 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you've touched on a crucial point which is that so many of us (unfortunately) have been subjected for far too long to the bland supermarket orange that is uniform in taste and colour, and that has been treated with a steady supply of pesticides and other chemicals.

The sight, smell and taste of a pure orange must be a thing of beauty!

As always, your creations are so inspiring!

11:35 pm, July 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joycelyn, I was reading Diana Henry and Claudia Roden's books recently and have bookmarked quite a few things - and I must bookmark even more after seeing your beautiful creations! I especially love the look/sound of the earl grey infused white chocolate tart (as you may imagine :)), just thinking of it makes me drool... Thank you for *another* wonderful, inspiring post.

9:16 am, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the conserves! They were fab with the croissants. I'm thinking of using the rest in a jelly roll with Earl Grey-infused whipped cream.

11:17 am, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful as always and inspiring. It just shows how empty my cookbook shelf is. I might just make me a list for birthdays and christmas wishlists. Cheeky, huh? Mariage Freres will be next on my list for when i visit France next!

6:57 pm, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Amongst the minority dishes of the Middle East, there are some which are particularly Sephardic Jewish in origin. Besides peculiarities due to their religious dietary laws, such as the use of oil and vegetable cooking fats instead of butter or samna (clarified butter), the Jews brought with them their favourite dishes from previous homelands. He main feature of Sephardic cooking as distinct from Middle Eastern cooking is the evidence of Spanish or Portuguese influence.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the tie of the Inquisition, thousands of Jews left Spain and Portugal after a thousand years of life in the Peninsula. Many headed towards the countries of the Middle East. The local Arab Jews, overwhelmed by their superior intellect, high rank and refined social manners, copied and adopted their language, manners and customs, as well as their dishes. These dishes, similar to those prepared in Spain today – some still bearing Spanish names – are still faithfully prepared by Middle Eastern Jews. Among them are cakes baked specially for the Jewish Passover, made with ground almonds, instead of flour. During Passover dried breadcrumbs are not used, nor is the baking tin floured. Instead, fine matzo meal is substituted for both.

These cakes, which are half pudding, half cake, can never fail. If they are undercooked they make a fine dessert with cream. They are too moist ever to be overcooked or to dry up.
Orange and Almond Cake

3 large oranges 250 g (8 oz) sugar
6 eggs 1 teaspoon baking powder
250 g (8 oz) ground almonds Butter and flour, for cake tin

Wash and boil the oranges (unpeeled) in a little water for nearly 2 hours (or ½ an hour in a pressure cooker). Let them cool, then cut them open and remove the pips. Turn the oranges into a pulp by rubbing them through a sieve or by putting them in an electric blender.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients, mix thoroughly and pour in a buttered and floured cake tin with a removable base if possible. Bake in a preheated moderately hot oven (190° C / 375°F / Mark 5) for about an hour. If still very wet, leave it in the oven for a little longer. Cool in the tin before turning out. This is a very moist cake that may serve as a dessert.

Another Orange and Almond Cake

5 eggs 1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 teacup sugar 1 tablespoon orange blossom
¾ teacup ground almonds water
¼ teacup matzo meal or fine dry Butter and flour, for cake tin
white breadcrumbs
Beat the eggs well in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into a buttered and floured cake tin and bake in a preheated moderate oven (180°C / 350°F / Mark 4) for about ¾ hour. Cool in the tin and then turn out.

11:24 pm, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These little orange cakes and tartlets look divine! One mouthful and they disappear! This Mariage Freres selection is great!

6:11 am, July 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gorgeous gorgeous! I love how vibrant your oranges look! I love the little morsels of orange cake - the fruits do seem so well suited to Mediterranean/Middle Eastern desserts, don't they?

6:53 am, July 23, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

Another jaw-dropping post !
Exquisite pictures and delicious text. Always a delight to check in here :)

9:17 pm, July 23, 2006  
Blogger sooishi said...

Gosh everything in your post look so delicate, and delicious...

9:55 pm, July 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, I agree with you completely - oranges, by virtue of being sold everywhere, year round, have lost that sense of desirability many other fruits have. I was never such a big fan either until one spring when I went to Italy and found oranges as big as melons that were some of the sweetest, most fragrant things I have ever eaten. You have created some truly beautiful orange masterpieces here, including that flourless orange cake which I have been meaning to try for ages...

And of course I'm so glad to see you mention Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons! It's been an exercise in self-restraint not to post anything more from it myself, mainly because I've done so many I'm worried about copyright violations... :)

12:39 am, July 25, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

Thanks for the scrummy conserves. It's delicious! M had them with our newly arrived organic biodynamic yoghurt and I had it with some brioche. No prizes for guessing what we're going to do with the rest. Two words: Butter cake.

10:49 am, July 25, 2006  
Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

Beautiful! I frequently make the orange almond cake for Passover. The first time I was afraid it was a typo (boil whole oranges for an hour?!?), but it works.

9:46 pm, July 26, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

J - reading your blog and looking at your equisite creations always triggers a serious inferiority complex in me. Yet, masochistically, I keep coming back for more:)
Gorgeous. All of them!

7:22 am, July 27, 2006  
Blogger cb said...

J: I'm a little late to this beautiful post, but I wanted to suggest reading, if you haven't already, a book called "Oranges" by John McPhee. It is one of my favorite books, a perfect little thing (like that orange cake with marmalade and orange flower cream). I have given the book as a gift more times than I can remember. You won't find recipes inside, but as a lover of oranges, you may enjoy the tale.

8:14 pm, August 25, 2006  
Blogger Shazar said...

Yum - thank you .. I made the orange cake for a special birthday and it was just as delicious as it sounds - and so easy to make!

9:59 pm, September 23, 2007  
Anonymous arashi kensho said...

very delicious... i like it!!

12:35 am, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Shri said...

Loved this post! thankyou for sharing the recipe.

10:08 pm, February 25, 2012  

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