I check my watch – plenty of time before the guests get here – and permit myself a little hint of a smile: my ability to juggle all my many and varied commitments is a constant source of pride to me. I pass the mirror-shiny eye-level oven and pause briefly to smooth my cerise cashmere cardigan over my perfectly proportioned hips. I turn on the oven to heat up, slip on my stylish yet quirky vintage apron and plug in my Empire Red KitchenAid. To the sounds of tinkly jazz and the contented squeals of children playing in the playroom, I start the mystical baking process. Soon the eggs are mixing with indecent familiarity with the decadent cocoa powder, the fragrant ground almonds and the voluptuous folds of orange puree. My husband sneaks up behind me for a hug, playfully dips his finger in the cocoa powder and leaves a little dot of it on my nose – he’s such a sweetie! Soon I am pouring the batter into the springform pan and popping the cake in the oven, pausing only to scrape a dollop of batter out of the mixing bowl and licking it off with a small groan of pleasure. Ah, life is good.
As some of you may have deduced from the above paragraph, I have, at this late stage of my life, taken a considered decision to experiment with halluconeginic drugs, and this is the result of that decision.
Just checking if you are awake. Here’s how it REALLY went down. Read recipe briefly on Friday. Attempt a few hours later to remember what items on the list I did not have; attempt to relay this to grumpy husband who has been bribed to go grocery shopping alone. Two days later, retrieve recipe and lay ingredients out on counter at about 6pm. Discover that oranges need to be boiled for 2 hours first. Cue swearing. Debate for a while whether my oranges are or aren’t thin-sknned. Insult them a little and they don’t seem to react, so assume they must be thick-skinned. Ah well. Proceed to use them anyway. When orange puree is ready and cooled 3 hours later, re-inspect other ingredients. Only have half the amount of ground almonds required. More cursing. Rummage around in cupboard for ten minutes and find whole blanched almonds only a little past their use-by date - they will have to do. Whizz almonds in processor until sufficiently ground and set aside. Mix all ingredients, add freshly-ground almonds, grease tin, pour batter and pop in oven. Breathe sigh of relief. Start Operation Clean-up. Discover the one packet of ground almonds that I DID have, neatly unopened on the counter. Cue mammoth Tourettes-like outburst of swearing and Rumpelstiltzkin-like leaping up and down in rage. Whip cake out of oven with scant regard for personal safety. Use soup ladle to spoon most of mixture out of baking tin and back into mixing bowl. Fight with baking parchment that is attempting to accompany batter out of tin. Add forgotten almonds to the batter, re-mix, pour back into baking tin, practically toss cake back in oven – at circa 21h00. Remove cake from oven at 22h00, go to bed in a state of stress and self-flagellation, beside grumpy husband muttering darkly about lack of promised dessert and his wife’s shocking languge.
If baking is such a vortex of chaos in my house, you may be asking why I do it at all – and it would be a fair question! The answer lies in the lengths we will go to for our sisters. You see, when my adored and adorable sister-from-another-mother Meeta and Saucy Spice Jamie stayed over at my house for #ahafest last year, they both bought springform baking tins. I already had one, so we thought it might be fun all to use our near-identical baking tins to bake the same recipe in three different countries. Kind of like the Sisterhood of the Travelling Cake. A recipe was duly picked while Meeta and I were leafing through Nigella Lawson’s Feast one night before bed, and faster than you can say Take on Me, I had agreed to bake a cake for the first time in two years or so.
But the million dollar question you are asking yourself after reading the slightly chaotic story of the cake’s gestation is… did they all live happily ever after? Oh yes they did! This apparently bullet-proof cake recipe survived my evil machinations and Nick got his dessert. Somewhat like the Heston Blumenthal Christmas pudding with a candied orange in the centre, the orange puree not only infused this cake with flavour but also with a moistness that was very, very appealing; and I loved the texture that the almonds gave. It’s also a huge bonus that it is dairy-free and flourless, so perfect for friends who are eating gluten-free or vegetarian. As always, I tinkered with the recipe a little with the addition of Cointreau and cardamom, both of which worked well to add a spicy warmth to the cake. Although Nigella suggests that the cake is equaly good un-iced, I added a cream cheese chocolate orange icing so delicious I would hesitate to be alone in a room with a bowl of it and a spoon.
The cake tins cost a couple of pounds each; the ingredients cost a few more pounds. But the experience of feeling a little closer to your faraway twin sister by making and eating the same decadent cake at the same time is priceless. Here’s Meeta’s cake, and here’s Jamie’s.
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Cake was also thrilled to discover that our friend Sarah of Maison Cupcake had started a new Nigella-themed event this year called Forever Nigella, and the theme for the February edition is… chocolate! So all three of us are submitting our cakes - keep your eyes peeled for the round-up on Sarah’s blog after 20 February!
NIGELLA’S CHOCOLATE ORANGE CAKE (makes about 10-12 slices)
1 large or 2 small, thin-skinned oranges
25 ml Cointreau (optional)
1 heaped tsp baking powder
200g ground almonds
250g caster sugar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
seeds from 3-4 cardamom pods, finely ground
Put the whole orange(s) in a pot with cold water. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer with the lid on for 2 hours, or until soft. I simmered mine with the lid on and did not need to top up the water levels. Don’t worry if the oranges float!) Remove from pot and discard the water. When they have cooled, quarter the oranges and remove big pips. Pulp everything in a food processor together with the Cointreau.
Preheat oven to 180C. Add the eggs, baking powder, sugar, bicarbonate, cardamom, ground almonds and cocoa to the orange puree in the processor. Run the food processor until you have a cohesive cake mixture.
Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered, 20cm springform cake tin lined with baking parchment and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and remove from tin only when the cake has cooled completely.
CHOCOLATE ORANGE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (makes plenty for one cake)
225g cream cheese (at room temperature)
120g butter (at room temperature)
45g unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
250g icing sugar
zest of one orange
juice of one orange (as needed)
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy (abotu 2 minutes).
Add the cocoa powder, vanilla and icing sugar, Beat slowly, scraping the bowl occasionally, until the cocoa and sugar are incorporated enough not to fly out of the bowl. Then beat at medium speed for two minutes.
Add the zest and beat for another minute. If at this point the frosting is too thick, add the orange juice one teaspoon at a time until a spreadable consistency is reached.
And in other news…
It is with great pleasure that I announce the 2011 Food and Wine Blogger Indaba! This event was held for the first time in 2009 and I was honoured to be asked to speak. The good news is that I will be speaking again and hosting workshops at this year’s event in Cape Town! Bookings are streaming in and tickets are selling fast – so if you are a food or wine blogger or if you are interested in becoming one, the Indaba is the place to be on 20 February 2011. Book now!
Dont forget to check out the series of posts we are running on the Plate to Page workshop blog featuring a review of 2010 and plans for 2011 from our four workshop instructors Ilva, Jeanne, Meeta and Jamie. The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop is now sold out - but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011.
My 2011 calendars are now available! They are A3 size, printed on high quality heavy paper and make the perfect gift – for foodies, for those who love London or Italy or the beach – or those who simply love my Saturday Snapshots! And at £15.51 each they are an affordable luxury.