I have just finished reading Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. You have to read most of the book before you understand the significance of the title, but it is worth it. Although not as famous as Chocolat, and certainly a darker novel, I actually found this story more interesting and compelling, because there are many mysteries that only unravel slowly as the narrative goes on. If, like me, you are an impatient reader, this technique drives you forward, hungry to read the next instalment.
The story is told partly in the present and partly by flashbacks through the eyes of Framboise, an elderly widow with a secret past. Framboise's mother used to suffer from crippling migraines which were preceded by olfactory hallucinations of oranges. For this reason, oranges take on great significance in the story as the young Framboise learns that she can put her mother "down for the count" by furtively placing orange skins under the stove, so that the orange oils warmed and permeated the house, and in turn, tricked Framboise's mother into believing she was about to have another migraine.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of oranges in their natural state, as they are often difficult to peel and messy to eat. However, oranges in baking is a different matter, and there is nothing like orange (or other citrus) zest or juice to add a little sunshine and punch to baked goods.
The May 2009 edition of Delicious magazine is labelled "The Ultimate Italian edition", and is filled with Italian recipes from many different food writers, including Maggie Beer and Jamie Oliver. Gracing the front cover is the most amazing looking cake, and I knew that I had to make it as soon as I saw it. The cake is Valli Little's Orange & Hazelnut Torta. It is unusual in that it contains a whole orange, skin and all.
Valli dressed her cake with sugared rosemary and orange syrup and marscapone cream, but as mine was always destined to go to work, these accompaniments were not very practical. Accordingly, I converted the syrup into a glaze, and left off the rosemary and cream.
This cake is absolutely delicious! It is very moist because of the orange and carrots and butter it contains, and the citrus/toasted nuts combination was irresistable to me. It also seemed to be appreciated by the wider population, as the whole cake disappeared by just after lunch. (I no longer have a sizeable team to share my baked goods with, so I just placed it in the staff kitchen for everyone to share.)
To make my "no frills" version of this cake, you will need:
1 thin-skinned orange (preferably seedless)
225g chopped butter
280g grated carrot
225g brown sugar
1 1/2 cups hazelnut meal (I made my own)
2 cups self raising four
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (I used Cointreau)
50g roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts
Put the orange in a saucepan of simmering water and simmer for 45 minutes with the lid on the pan. Remove the orange from the water and cool.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, an grease and line a 24cm springform pan.
Divide the orange into quarters, remove the remnant of the stem, and remove the seeds (if any), but leave the skin on. Place the orange segments, grated carrot, butter and sugar into a food processor and puree. Add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time, combining each before adding the next. Add the hazelnut meal and pulse the mixture for a few seconds until just combined.
Pour the batter into a large bowl, then fold in the sifted flour using a rubber spatula. Spread the batter into the prepared springform pan, and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the cake from the oven and cool it in the tin for 10 minutes before demoulding onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
To make the glaze, place the marmalade and orange liqueur into a saucepan, and stir over medium heat until the marmalade has dissolved. Strain the mixture into a bowl to remove the orange peel, then stir the toasted hazelnuts into the strained jam. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake and spread over the top using a pastry brush.
If you like the citrus/nut flavour combination, do make this cake. It is easy, relatively quick (once the orange has been cooked and cooled!) and results in a moist, flavourful cake that is miles removed from the icing and cream-sodden confections that you find in so many bakeshops these days.
In honour of mothers everywhere, including mine and Framboise's (sorry about the oranges!), I am sending this to my friend (and a mother herself) Ivy at Kopiaste for her Celebrating Mother's Day event.