We’ve reached peak citrus season here in Melbourne, as the last squint of winter makes room for Spring’s expanding skies and warmer weather. To our delight, this means more deliveries of homegrown Vitamin C to play with; lemons from my sister-in-law Tanya’s tree being the latest.
We had our friends Alana and Nick, who are expecting a baby any day now, over for dinner the other night, to wish them well over a home cooked meal while there was still time. It felt right to include a fancy cake into this dinner – we were celebrating, after all – and it felt even better for that cake to be made from something lovingly picked only a day earlier.
It’s a crazy scenario, actually… I grew up with Alana outside Washington DC, and now, 13 years after we parted ways for college, we find ourselves living 10 minutes apart in Australia, waiting for our babies to be born only three months apart. Wild. And great. And, a scenario I know all too well: expecting a child – an enormous life event – so far away from family. It’s always my hope that doing something small, like having a relaxed dinner together, shows our friends that they have a village here, too, and that we are so excited for them.
This is a spin on a Jamie Oliver recipe which uses oranges in both the cake and the syrup. The original is beautiful, but after playing with sweet and sour citrus, I prefer the more complex – and slightly less sweet – combination of navel oranges, mandarins and lemons. I used a ratio of about 1/2 orange to 1/4 each mandarin and lemon juice or peel, which worked well.
The cardamom, orange blossom and citrus-infused syrup pairs so well with the delicate cake, especially with a tangy dollop of creme fraiche or plain yogurt. To save the best for last, it is dead easy to make, leaving more time to linger and enjoy a piece with friends, as we did, or with a bowl of strong coffee.
- 200g unsalted butter
- 200g raw sugar
- 3 free range eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 2 heaped tbsp lemon zest
- 2 tsp orange blossom water
- 200g almond meal
- 100g coarse polenta
- 1 tsp gluten free baking powder (or regular)
- 1 cup fresh mixed citrus juice (I used 1/2c orange, 1/4c mandarin, 1/4 lemon juices)
- 125g raw sugar
- 5 cardamom pods, squashed with the back of a knife
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- Plain yogurt or creme fraiche
- Lemon zest
- Additional syrup
Preheat the oven to 160C / 325 F. Grease a 10" springform pan and line with baking paper.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer (or in a stand mixer) until pale and fluffy. The raw sugar will still look grainy - this is totally fine. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and orange blossom water and mix until just combined.
In a separate bowl, mix the almond meal, polenta and baking powder. Add to the wet ingredients and beat slowly until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick - if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. If not, continue baking in 5 minute intervals. Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile make the syrup: combine the citrus juice, sugar and squashed cardamom pods in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow the mixture to simmer for 8-10 minutes, until thickened slightly (it will continue to thicken as it cools). Remove the syrup from the heat, and stir in the orange blossom water.
Remove the cake from the tin. Poke small holes in the top of the cake with a skewer, and brush the with about 1/4 cup of the syrup, or more to taste. Serve slices with extra syrup, a spoonful of plain yogurt or creme fraiche, and fresh lemon zest.
This recipe is gently adapted in method and ingredients from Jamie Oliver's Orange & Polenta Cake recipe, found here: goo.gl/NUyDww