I recently had a great baking opportunity; one of those things that comes along only because one very kind person happened to mention (more like spruik) my baking to someone in need of a helping hand. The brief: provide a simple yet impressive dessert for around 12 people for 7 nights, one night each week for 7 weeks. It may not sound like much, but this was a brilliant opportunity: it meant that I could,
- bake regularly for several weeks at a time – which is a rarity at the moment
- deliberately spend time cultivating ideas and experimenting with desserts and flavours because I only needed to make a small batch to feed a dozen rather than just churn out brownies to feed 200 people
- be more selective about what I chose to bake – it didn’t need to be efficient or cheap, I could branch out, try different things and feel free to either do something I know and trust, or try something new
And so, with every intention of being experimental and breaking-ground in my own baking I inevitably got caught up in the busyness of life and only experimented a few times, not every time. However, despite the lack of experimentation (imagine chemical test tubes and Bunsen burners), I was able to try things I would normally overlook, that whilst not being ground-breaking, they were simply different from my usual repertoire of recipes and therefore slightly experimental (just less crazed scientist and more in-a-bit-of-a-rush worker). And so, we have this beautiful thing: Orange and Almond Cakes. They may not seem different or experimental, but they are surprising, impressive and delicious! Brief met (and horizons slightly broadened)!
Orange and Almond Cakes
Adapted from here
MAKES about 15 | 30 minutes in total
200g unsalted butter
200g demerara sugar or golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
200g almond meal
100g plain flour
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup (250ml) orange juice
30ml orange blossom water
5 cardamom pods, crushed
125g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan-forced. Grease two 12-hole muffin trays with canola oil and set aside.
Beat butter and sugar for a few minutes in a stand mixer until pale.
Add the eggs one at a time, making sure to beat well after each egg.
Add the vanilla, then the almond meal, polenta, orange zest, orange blossom water and baking powder a bit at a time – this is just so you don’t ‘overwhelm’ the mixture. It may still look a little grainy from the sugar, but it will cook just fine.
Pour the mixture into the muffin holes, filling about two-thirds full. You won’t fill all 24 holes, but in my estimations you will fill at least 15. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted comes out almost clean – a few moist crumbs are a good sign!
- While the cakes are cooking, make the syrup: combine orange juice, orange blossom water, sugar and cardamom pods in a small saucepan over low heat.
- Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly until the syrup has reduced and is somewhat thickened. Strain if desired.
Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, if not completely before removing from the tin. It may help to run a butter knife around the outside of each cake to loosen it before removing completely.
Brush each cake generously with the syrup, or just drizzle on top, and finish with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt, and some fresh violets if you happen to have some on hand!
- To make this gluten free, substitute gluten-free flour for the plain flour, or just use an extra 100g of almond meal
- The cardamom pods are optional as they have a very strong, perfumy flavour. You could substitiute nutmeg or cloves if you still want a spicy, earthy flavour in the syrup.
- These will keep for 3 days in the pantry, or 1 week in the fridge – but they may require a quick reheat in the microwave before serving.
- These can be frozen quite successfully. Leave on a bench to thaw for about 1 hour.
- Orange blossom water can generally be found in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean supermarkets – I recommend BasFoods on Victoria street, or perhaps Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney road.