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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Friday, July 15, 2005

Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake

Hehe, another decadent chocolate cake to add to the archives. This one has the benefit of being both extremely moist and rich, but also flourless and, thus, suitable for those avoiding wheat flour or the gluten intolerant. I made this for my mum's birthday last week, knowing that amongst the crowd who would eat it would be three men who are not overly fond of sweet food, and a group of women who love moist cakes with lashings of thick cream. I thought this would fit the bill perfectly.
I should explain why this cake suits those who don't usually like sweets; the oranges which make up the bulk of the cake are boiled whole (yes, unpeeled) for 2 hours until really soft, and then whizzed in the food processor - skin, pith and all until a mush is formed. The inclusion of the skin and pith creates a cake that is not too sweet in flavour, and yet without a trace of the bitterness you get with uncooked orange peel. This recipe is middle-eastern in origin and there doesn't seem to be a cookbook or trendy cafe around nowdays which doesn't include it. I have it in both Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion and Nigella Lawson's How To Eat, and both credit Claudia Roden for the first published recipe of it.
The cake is given its structural integrity by adding ground almonds and eggs, and sweetened with some sugar. All thrown in the food processor. Basically it's the easiest cake you can make, and yet one of the most impressive. It has the taste and texture of a cake doused in syrup, without the tediousness of doing so, and without the excessive sweetness that involves. It's both wet and light, and keeps for ages without going stale.
But I haven't yet mentioned the chocolate inclusion, have I? I've only ever seen this as an orange cake. To add chocolate sounds so very wrong, but in Nigella's Feast she includes a version to which she adds a hefty dose of good cocoa powder. Australians who have ever tasted a Jaffa, or Brits who like a good Terry's dark chocolate orange, this is a very posh version of that taste. Surpringly (for me) it works better than I expected; neither flavour is overpowering, rather they complement each other really well.

I know that adding a decadent chocolate ganache to such a cake is the antithesis of what it should be, as it derives from the Jewish period of Passover when dairy products are not consumed. I did worry that it would be overkill on such a moist cake, but it worked SO very well. It made the cake look a bit more special and glam, and the icing gave a textural change that, I think, was welcomed. I made sure I stuck with bittersweet chocolate so as not to create new flavours, and hope I haven't offended any people who firmly believe such a cake shouldn't be iced, but I do think I've discovered a wonderful new food pairing!
I think this was a very popular cake. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it and were fascinated by the concept of adding whole, pureed oranges without making it taste horrible. The best indicator for me, though, was seeing the men enjoy it as much as the women!
Read on for the recipe:

Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake
Inspired by both Claudia Roden & Nigella Lawson

Unpeeled oranges (or other orangey citrus) to the weight of approx 375g
6 eggs
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g ground almonds
150g caster sugar
50g Dutch cocoa

200g dark chocolate
200ml cream

-Put the whole, unpeeled oranges in a saucepan with cold water to cover and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 2 hours or until soft. -Drain, and when cool, cut the oranges in quarters and remove any big pips.
Place everything - peel, pith and all - in a food processor.
-Cool the fruit before proceeding with the next step. Often it's best to complete the cooking of the fruit the day before.
-Preheat oven to 180C and line a 20cm springform (or standard) tin. Lining it is very important, if you want to remove your cake later; a double layer of paper is a good idea.
-Add the eggs, baking powder, bicarb, almonds, sugar and cocoa to the oranges in the food processor. Process until you have what looks like a cake mixture with a few knobbly bits of pureed orange.
-Pour and scrape into the cake tin and bake for an hour, by which time a skewer should emerge fairly clean. Start checking after 45 minutes, as you may have to cover with foil to stop the surface burning. It may take up to 1 1/2 hours to cook through, depending on your oven.
-Leave the cake to cool in its tin and remove when cold.
-To make the ganache, heat the cream in a heavy saucepan and add the chocolate off the heat. Mix until combined, then whisk until the mixture cools and becomes thick and glossy, ~5-10 minutes, and apply with a spatula or cake knife. Decorate with pieces of orange peel if you so desire.


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