Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Blood Orange-Syrup Loaf Cake

Most people who bake have a couple of tried-and-true recipes that they turn to whenever they feel like baking, but aren’t sure what to make or don’t want to experiment too much. For me, one of those cakes is Nigella’s Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake. The cake is quick and easy to make and doesn’t use any fancy ingredients – everything can basically be found in my kitchen at all times. What makes this cake so great is that once the cake is done, you poke a bunch of holes in it and pour the syrup – a mixture of lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar - over it, letting the warm cake absorb all of that sugary goodness. The acidity of the lemon juice provides a nice contrast to the sweetness of the sugar and adds a freshness to it, plus adding the syrup keeps the cake moist for days. This is not a fancy cake to serve as dessert at a dinner party, but it’s a wonderful afternoon cake to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch at One Market with a couple of friends and former co-workers. (I’ve been meaning to write a post about that, but in the meantime you can read what Buttered BlasphAmy had to say about it) Our dessert was a blood orange financier with mascarpone ice cream, and it was truly delicious. A financier, as it turns out, is a type of French pastry, similar to a sponge cake and is usually made with ground almonds. This was my first time eating a financier, and while delicious what stood out for me was the blood orange. On the outside blood oranges can look just like regular oranges, although some of them do have a reddish tint to them. They generally taste sweeter than regular oranges; the flavor has been described as having hints of raspberries, but what really stands out is the color: a deep-red crimson, sometimes almost purple flesh – such a surprise when you cut them open.

So when I got the urge to bake the other day, I decided that since blood oranges are currently in season I would use them instead of lemons in the loaf cake. First, however, I had to track down these elusive crimson globes – not as easy as I thought it would be. My first stop at Safeway yielded nothing, although a nice employee pointed me towards the Cara Cara navel oranges (which can have pinkish-colored flesh, like a pink grapefruit) when I asked for blood oranges and even went so far as to get a knife and slice me a piece of one. While juicy and delicious, it was not what I was looking for; I wanted that crimson interior. Nothing at Trader Joe’s either, but fortunately a trip to Real Food Co. on Fillmore was more successful, and I found blood oranges there of an unknown variety. When I happened to be at Whole Foods the next day I also picked up a few of the Moro variety which is supposed to be the most colorful of the three types of blood oranges.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I cut one open and gazed upon this:

Kinda looks like a regular orange, doesn’t it? Not exactly what I would refer to as “deep maroon interior”, is it now Sunkist? Now, it could be that this particular blood orange was not ripe enough or whatever, but still…not what I was expecting, and certainly not from a product bought at Whole Foods which is always so particular about their produce.

Fortunately, my unknown type from Real Food Co. came through:

That's what I’m talking about! Just look at that color. Truly glorious! This is what the juice looked like when I made the syrup:

Once the cake was baked and out of the oven, I poked it all over to make tiny holes for the syrup to seep into the cake.

And then you pour the syrup over the warm cake:

Now comes the hard part: you wait. This is probably the worst part for me, because you absolutely have to wait until the cake is completely cool before you take it out of the pan and cut it. If you don't, the cake will crumble. Mind you, it will taste just as delicious, but I do recommend waiting, however hard it might be. The cake will be sticky from syrup, but it will be incredibly moist and last for a few days if you wrap it well. (That is, if you don't eat it the whole thing immediately :-)

I was hoping that some of that blood orange color would permeate the cake all the way through, but as you can see it's mostly yellow with a bit of red tint at the top. Nonetheless, it tasted amazing - sweet, but not overly so, although next time I might add a bit of lemon juice or use less sugar in the syrup, since oranges are sweeter than lemons, and you don't want a cloyingly sweet cake.

Blood Orange-Syrup Loaf Cake

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake in How to Be a Domestic Goddess

For the cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
zest of 1 blood orange
1 cup and 1 tablespoon self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons milk

For the syrup:
Juice of 1 1/2 blood oranges (approx. 4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

9 x 5-inch loaf pan, lined with parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 F and line the pan with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and sugar first, then add the eggs and blood orange zest, beating them in well. Add the flour flour and salt, folding gently but thoroughly, and then the milk. Spoon into prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. A cake tester should come out clean.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Put blood orange juice and confectioner’s sugar in a small saucepan, cook on a low heat until all the sugar dissolves.

Remove the cake from the oven and immediately puncture the cake all over with a cake tester, and pour over the syrup. Make sure that the middle absorbs it as well as the sides. Don't take try to take the cake out of the pan until it is completely cold or it will crumble.

Serves 8-10.