Okay, so you know that Riverdog Farm keeps me well-supplied with winter and spring citrus: if you read The Kale Chronicles frequently, you will notice that lemons, tangerines and oranges show up in a lot of my recipes from November on. I’ve given you Swedish rye bread with orange and anise, orange-sesame vinaigrette, tahini-citrus salad dressing, orange-fennel salad, orange-cumin bread, tangerine curd, orange muffins, lemon sponge pie and Shaker lemon pie, lemon bars with a coconut brown sugar crust, a recipe for home-candied citrus peel. And then there is all of the stuff I don’t blog about: the orange zest and juice stirred into French toast, the lemon squeezed onto roast vegetables and greens and stuffed into chicken cavities. And still the tangerines roll on.

original watercolor painting of clementine bundt cake

Clementine Cake. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

A pound of Murcott tangerines rolled in last week and coincidentally I ran across a recipe for a clementine cake on Smitten Kitchen. Now, Deb can cook, and she got the recipe from Nigella Lawson, who makes her living as a cook. Separately, they insisted that I could boil my pound of tangerines for a couple of hours and then incorporate them into a gluten-free cake. Deb voiced the doubts anyone would surely have about this recipe. Would it be bitter? Would it rise? Would anybody eat it?

I needed to try this because it would use a whole pound of tangerines at one fell swoop and because I was going to a singing party at the home of a gluten-free friend yesterday and because it was such an odd method of making a cake, particularly the part about boiling a pound of whole tangerines. Deb had suggested that this cake got better as it sat and Mom suggested that I make it on Friday afternoon for the Saturday afternoon party.

I put my pound of tangerines into a saucepan, covered them with water and brought them to a boil and then let them cook for two hours. No, I did not peel them or seed them. I didn’t even wash them since they were organically grown and I would be using the nicely acidulated cooking water for some lucky outdoor plants.

While the tangerines cooked, I had plenty of time to prepare the other ingredients. I started with whole, skin-on almonds because I needed 2 and 1/3 cups of ground almonds. I tried running them through the meat grinder, but they only gummed up the works and ground unevenly as well. Then I realized I had a large Vietnamese mortar and pestle and started pounding away — after all I had two hours to wait for the tangerines (You modern types could use your food processors or buy ground almonds at the store: I enjoy knowing I can get ground almonds and some exercise at the same time). I scooped the first batch up with a 1/3 cup measure and put them in a small mixing bowl and started another batch. When I got tired of pounding, I took a break to take six large eggs out to sit at room temperature. While the eggs warmed, I went back to my mortar and pestle. When I had measured out enough pounded almonds, I set them aside in the small mixing bowl and turned my attention to the eggs.

I made a genoise once: it took me two tries to get it right. What I learned from making genoise is that you can get eggs or egg yolks to incorporate a lot of air and triple in volume like egg whites — you just have to beat them for a long time. I turned on my electric mixer at cake-mixing speed and eventually cranked it up higher and watched the volume of the eggs increase and the color get paler. When the eggs were three-quarters of the way up the bowl I started adding sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, until I had incorporated 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of sugar. I did not even think about scanting the sugar because this cake was going to contain tangerine skin and pith — all of it.

About now, the tangerines in the pot hit the two-hour mark so I used a cooking fork to remove them from the water and set them on my cutting board. While they cooled, I added my ground almonds slowly to the egg sugar mixture with the 1 heaping teaspoon of baking powder. I then preheated the oven to 375 with a rack in the central position and took out my precious bottle of Mosaic blood orange oil to grease a bundt pan. Hedging my bets, I sprinkled a generous tablespoon full of sugar over the oiled pan.

Then, as instructed, I sliced my tangerines in half and extracted all of the seeds. You must do this because citrus seeds are excessively bitter. I then used a chef’s knife to chop all of the tangerines as finely as I could, catching the juice in a bowl (the one the almonds had been in earlier), When they were chopped pretty evenly with just a few larger pieces of peel here and there I put them into the mixer with the other ingredients and let it run for two or three minutes.

The resulting batter was a beautiful thing — foamy, pale orange, flecked with bits of bright orange and brown. I tasted it cautiously. It had a slight bitter edge, but would be edible. The recipe made enough for me to make a small test cake in a rice bowl in addition to the big bundt so I was able to sample the finished cake without disturbing the party edition.

I baked my small cake for thirty minutes, at which point a toothpick came out dry. I left the big one in for ten more minutes and it, too, passed the toothpick test. We ate the rice bowl cake warm, only noting that it had a tendency to fall apart.

Saturday I took the other cake to the party. I ran a knife around the edges (which had pulled away from the pan) and upended it on a plate: it came out cleanly. The hostess, who eats gluten-free, liked it. One man asked for the recipe. The woman who has a baking contract with me asked if I would make her one next time she was in town. They sent me home with perhaps one small serving.

What did I think? I thought it was good. Perhaps not great. You have to excuse me for not being a big cake fan in any case. Other people like cake. People who liked cake liked this. One man asked for the recipe. One woman mentioned liking the bitter marmalade-like tang, although she wondered if she would like it with a tangerine juice and powdered sugar glaze. I did find it a bit hard to slice — it was rather soft and moist. I offer it to my gluten-free friends as a possible cake, not too hard to make, not too many ingredients and another use for the rolling river of tangerines.

Food notes: if this cake interests you, be sure to check out the comments on Nigella Lawson’s site: people have done some creative things with spices, made it into a Christmas cake, etc.

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