Barely Sweet

If you read my blog astutely, not that I expect you to, but you may have noticed that I posted Allan and I went on a trip to Slovenia and Croatia.  Now, I had every intention of giving day by day coverage of our discoveries, but I forgot the charger for my camera and I burned out the battery on day 2.  Without photos, let’s face it you don’t have much of a blog.  I took some pictures with Allan’s phone and I may dribble those out over time, but I missed the big photo op.

But maybe it’s better this way.  Maybe Slovenia and Croatia just became part of me and I will reveal how they changed me through small revelations.  That is actually true, and I noticed that tonight.  I always have a quart of strawberries in my fridge these days because they are so beautiful and abundant in Tunisia, right now.  We don’t eat much dessert at our house, but the weather has turned chilly again, and the sea is stormy, and Allan and I aren’t feeling our best, so our son made a gorgeous chicken soup with homemade dumplings for dinner.  I decided I could at least contribute a little cake to have with our strawberries.  I saw a recipe today for a cornmeal cake, which I hoped would be like just about every dessert we had on our trip:  barely sweet.  The desserts were heavily fruit laden, think strudel,  with just a hint of sweetness.  I commented several times that the dessert could almost be a side dish.  This cornmeal cake has that very touch of sweetness and a really nice corn crunchiness (I used a coarsely ground cornmeal), while being fork tender at the center.  It was just what I wanted to have.

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Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: f/2.8

Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries

From Fresh From the Farmers’ Market by Janet Fletcher

  • Unsalted butter and cornmeal for preparing the pan
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides, then dust with cornmeal, shaking out excess.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy.  Add sugar gradually and beat, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice, until creamy and light.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add lemon zest.
  4. Combine milk and vanilla extract.  With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with milk.  Beat just until blended, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice.  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.
  5. Bake until top is golden brown and firm to the touch, 35-40 minutes.
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Whole Orange Cake

Thanksgiving is coming up this week, but we won’t be at home for Thanksgiving Day.  Having Thursday and the connecting Friday off from work creates an irresistible draw to do some regional traveling.  I’ll tell you later in the week where we will be.  Never-the-less, I feel like doing some festive cooking.
We are just on the cusp of orange season.  I won’t add them to the What’s in Season list yet because they’re still a tinge green and a tiny bit sour, comparatively, but the scent of oranges does conjure the holidays, in my mind.
I’ve been waiting a few weeks to try this whole orange cake.  It seems to be an Australian country wives’ recipe, but I had to do so much converting that this recipe is mine now.  If you want to check the original or if you prefer metric measurements, here is the link.  Otherwise, you should just trust me.  I am very much in the mood for a cake with the marmalade-like brightness this cake implies.  Ground almonds will temper that mood enough.  Then, it will be soaked in an orange rind and dessert wine syrup.
We stock our wine cellar at a winery not far from Hammamet called Domaine Atlas.  Pictured below is the actual Bredy wheelbarrow of wine cases we bought the last time we were there.  Mind you, we entertain a lot.  Each time we are there, we stick in a few bottles of their dessert wine which comes in clear,  unlabeled bottles. The Australian recipe calls for botrytis-style dessert wine.  Botrytisis really a controlled decomposition process which is why it is fondly referred to as “noble rot”.  I don’t know how noble our local product is, but it is suitable for sipping and cooking.

When I took this photograph, I had in mind one of those magazine set ups like oranges + almonds + dessert wine using actual plus signs, but I don’t know how to do all that so the key ingredients are  just all there mingling in a group.

Whole Orange & Almond Cake with Dessert Wine Syrup


Ingredients (serves 8)
3 large oranges 
Melted butter (to grease  pan)
5 eggs 
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2 cups almond meal 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder 
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups dessert wine
1 tsp. thyme, lavender buds, or Herbes de Provence (optional)
Double cream, to serve
Method
1. Place 2 oranges in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Drain. Return oranges to the pan and repeat process (this will reduce the bitterness of the peel). Return oranges to the pan once again and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, adding more water when necessary to keep oranges covered, for 1 hour or until oranges are very tender. Drain. Set aside for 2 hours or until cooled to room temperature.
2. Preheat oven to 325′ F. Brush a round 8 inch cake pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base with parchment paper. Cut oranges into quarters. Remove the white cores and any seeds. Place in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
3. Use an electric beater to whisk the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale. Stir in the orange puree. Add the almond meal, flour and baking powder, and stir until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan and use the back of a spoon to smooth the surface. Bake in preheated oven for 1 1/4 hours or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
4. Meanwhile, use a zester to remove the rind from the remaining orange.  Juice the orange and place in a medium saucepan along with the rind, wine, remaining sugar and herbs. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until syrup thickens slightly. Remove from heat.
5. Turn cake onto a wire rack over a baking tray. Spoon the hot syrup over the warm cake. Set aside for 30 minutes to cool. Cut cake into wedges and place on serving plates. Drizzle with any remaining syrup and serve with double cream, if desired.