Blood oranges are in season, and I never tire of cutting into them to see that gorgeous inside. When I saw a bag on sale at Trader Joe’s I knew I wanted to bake something that showed off the beautiful color, so I cobbled together some recipe ideas from online to come up with this– a moist, dense cake that emphasizes the oranges themselves.
I’ll start off by admitting that this cake, while impressive to look at and tasty to eat, was not my favorite dessert in the world. It was pleasantly rustic and lasted forever without going stale, but it wasn’t quite sweet enough for me (I think I over-caramelized the sugar, making the caramel a touch bitter) and not as moist as I’d hoped. It did display my blood oranges nicely, though, so props for that! I think this works better as a breakfast-style cake, served with some vanilla yogurt or sweetened ricotta on the side, rather than a real dessert. That being said, it would make a fabulous addition to your brunch table, so feel free to give it a shot if you like bitter orange!
Lately my daughter has been watching the show Shaun the Sheep, by Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame). During an episode entitled “The Farmer’s Llamas,” her eye was immediately caught by this cake, which is featured only for a few moments:
She was so interested in it that in a fit of reckless abandon, I promised to make it for her once she’d achieved a specific level of proficiency in one of her school activities. And here we are.
One thing I noticed about the cake was that it’s really not a cake at all– it’s a molded jelly dessert. You can tell that the top tier is pure jelly, the middle one is jelly with orange slices in it, and the bottom one is molded jelly with some kind of cream mixed in to make it more opaque (it can’t be cake, it’s too smooth). However, while we enjoy gelatin desserts we like cake better in our house, so we decided to compromise.
Having made one fancy entremet, I was eager to try another one– this time, I decided to forego the silicone mold and restrict myself to a plain round shape, which would hopefully lend itself well to a dark chocolate mirror glaze. Finding myself with an extra jar of marmalade, I thought I’d combine it with dark chocolate and some chocolate-hazelnut spread.
This entremet has a base layer of chocolate brownie (cakey, not fudgy, to keep the dessert from being too dense), a thin layer of Nutella-coated cornflakes (a substitute for feutilline), and a layer of orange marmalade, all encased in a chocolate-hazelnut mousse and covered in chocolate mirror glaze. I decorated with some candied orange slices, chocolate ganache truffles, and some edible paint made from gold luster dust and vodka.
The finished dessert was excellent– the mousse was light yet rich, the cornflakes added some much-appreciated crunch (though the chilled nutella was slightly hard to cut through– next time I might add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to soften it a bit), and the marmalade was a nice contrast in flavor. And of course, it was one of the most gorgeous desserts I’ve ever made, so there’s that…
One good thing about this whole lockdown thing is that with all this time at home, I’ve got plenty of time to babysit rising bread dough, which means more home-baked bread! My latest attempt was a batch of orange-flavored buns, which I saw on an online video and decided to try. The buns have a healthy amount of orange zest and a bit of orange juice in the dough, so there’s a hint of orange flavor in the finished buns despite their not being sweet at all. They were quite tasty when toasted and spread with butter, though.
The dough was extremely loose and took 2 hours to rise properly– a fact that filled me with no little trepidation– but despite making half as many buns as the original recipe claimed, they did turn out soft and fluffy, and they stayed soft overnight.
Lately I’ve been searching for a favorite store-bought orange marmalade– one that’s got the perfect balance of bitterness, sweetness, and orange flavor. Of course, marmalades that don’t turn out to be perfect have to go somewhere, and rather than waste my buttered toast on sub-par marmalade, I’ve been trying to figure out creative uses for the extras.
This cake (made from Bonne Maman marmalade, which had too much jelly and not enough peel for me) combined the idea of a cake with jam swirled into the batter, with the ricotta/chocolate/orange flavor profile of my favorite cupcakes in the world. I was kind of going for a cannoli flavor– heavy on the ricotta with a kiss of chocolate and orange to make it interesting.
This past Christmas I received something I’ve had on my wish list for a while– a silicone baking mat specially made for macarons. It has raised circles all over it that you pipe your batter into, and the tiny ridge around the edge helps contain the batter and direct it upwards to make perfect “feet” on your identical circular macarons. I admit to being a little skeptical at how well it would work, but it ended up being amazing! I was able to pipe 48 small (okay, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than I’d ordinarily want) macarons onto a single baking sheet without worrying about them oozing into each other, and they turned out beautifully!
I’m absolutely going to get a second mat so I can bake up a 4-egg-white batch of macarons all at once (I had exactly enough batter to fill the sheet twice).
So remember how I made candied citrus peel with the peels left over from my yogurt panna cotta citrus tart? Well, taking my leftovers game to a new level, I’m using the citrus syrup left over from my candied peel in yet another recipe! This cake is dense and moist, fragrant with orange flavor and slightly sticky from the syrup. The cornmeal and almonds help the cake keep its shape so it’s perfect for eating out of hand by the slice, and the overall flavor is just breakfast-like enough that you don’t feel guilty for doing so! (I had some for breakfast the other day with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and regret nothing.)
Another plus is that the recipe doesn’t require a mixer– I enjoy a light, fluffy butter cake as much as the next person, but lugging out my stand mixer and then cleaning it is kind of a pain, so it’s great to have a whisk-only recipe once in a while. And the melting here means no waiting for butter to soften!
Did I mention that it’s flourless and therefore gluten-free? Just another reason to give it a try…
After making the panna cotta tart with all those different kinds of citrus, I had a bunch of peel left over, so of course I had to do something with it! And since I love candied peel, this seemed like a great opportunity. I had grapefruit, Cara Cara orange, and blood orange peel to work with (the clementine peel was too thin and the kumquats required a different technique).
While I’d made candied lemon peel before it hadn’t firmed up as well as I’d expected, instead staying kind of soft and soggy– fine for use in ice cream or baking, but not so great for snacking. I decided this time to try a different recipe from David Lebovitz, who has some great recipes both on his website and in his books. It was basically the same as the other recipe, calling for blanching the peels (three times this time since grapefruit can be bitter) and then boiling in sugar syrup.
Oddly, my grapefruit peels refused to turn translucent, staying stubbornly white while the other peels turned just fine. After boiling and boiling well past the estimated time in the recipe, I finally decided to just let it go and set everything out to dry together overnight. They turned out better than I’d anticipated– still soft, but not squishy or soggy.
Since I like my peel chewy rather than soft, I let these dry on the baking pan, coated in sugar, for a good 24 hours after the initial overnight drying period. They were much better after the lengthy drying time, and I couldn’t stop snacking on them!
I recently took a class on French tarts at my local culinary school, just for fun. I had a great time– I’d never worked with pastry rings before (as opposed to removable-bottom tart pans), nor had I ever made a classic pate sucree to roll into the ultra-thin and ultra-refined French-style tarts. Turns out it’s really easy to do, and the results are fabulous!
Since we had extra dough left to take home, I decided to put it to use making some tart recipes of my own creation. Eschewing rich, heavy fillings (like caramel or chocolate) for the moment, I instead went with something lighter for my first try– a yogurt panna cotta. I find that I don’t make panna cotta nearly enough, probably because it’s so simple that it doesn’t feel “exciting.” So adding it to a tart with a fruity garnish was a natural way to gussy it up a bit and make it interesting.
Every year for Thanksgiving, we go to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner– and every year, I bring some kind of baked good to share. Over the years, I’ve developed some criteria to maximize people’s enjoyment of my creation: It has to keep well at room temperature, because the fridge is full already. It has to be easy and neat to eat, so people don’t have to get out plates or forks to get a piece. And it has to be a cake or loaf of some kind (rather than individually-portioned cookies, etc.) because while people are sometimes reluctant to grab an entire cookie or cupcake between meals, they’re always happy to slice off just a teeny-weeny bit to snack on as they pass by.
This bundt cake is perfect for the occasion– it’s got a dense, fine crumb that lets it hold together well when people pick up a slice, it’s not so sweet or decadent that people feel guilty about grabbing some, and it’s appropriately festive, being chock-full of cranberries and pecans. And yes, the flavor combination may sound familiar from my Cranberry-Orange Walnut Muffin recipe, but this cake is a lot richer and denser than the light, fluffy muffins, making it just the right dessert for a family event.