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.
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.