I remember when I moved to Sydney when I was 13 and I first met a relative, who was honest to goodness a fabulous cook and baker. I remember the Christmas feast of ’94 or ’95, which still remains the best dinner I ever had. And I also remember his Orange Cake. In fact my whole family remembers that cake, usually with a glassy, dreamlike expression. The orange cake will always be a favourite and amidst all the fantastic desserts that I’ve eaten, I’ve always humbly returned to it more in love than ever.
Sadly the official recipe for my uncle’s god of cakes has been lost and I’ve been on a hunt for replacement recipes to satiate my love. And the recipes all vary – some use more eggs than dry ingredients while others use more almond meal than eggs. So naturally, I’m going to try both versions – the first here is the more egg-centric recipe.
A must for a moist, intensely flavoured orange cake is the absence of flour and butter which tends to either dry out the cake, make it too crumbly, greasy, stodgy or dense or simpy dulls the flavour and aroma of the oranges. Because of the amount of eggs in this recipe, the cake ends up unbelievably moist that it’s almost like a baked custard or wet pudding rather than cake. It’s no wonder that it’s a favourite at Jewish Passover (oops, forgot to mention that the baking powder must be omitted – thanks to a lovely reader Joanna for the reminder!).
As for the citrus, I always prefer the oranges to be boiled, pureed and added to the cake. Frankly the addition of plain old orange juice and/or rind just isn’t enough as I like it to be intense. The boiling method cooks the oranges for about 2 hours or so until it’s soft enough to puree finely and to remove the bitterness. This method also requires you to drain and refresh the water at least 3 times. The reason for this is so the oranges don’t end up re-absorbing the bitterness that has seeped into the water. It’s a bit of a long process but it’s worth it and if you wish you could always do it in advance. Just allow the oranges to cool down completely then place in a bag or container and refrigerate it until you’re ready to bake.
The smell that emanates while it’s baking is simply glorious. The only bad thing when I bake this cake is that it never lasts long. An unfortunate consequence in a family of orange cake lovers.