[for "Living Within", March 2017]
Blood oranges are in season - beautiful, thin skinned, subtle - mainly grown in Sicily or Spain, they appear in about February and disappear about the end of March. The French word that describes their colour, “sanguine”, is also by English dictionary definition a word that can describe a certain confidence or optimism.
Finding myself in possession of a bag of small red-tinged oranges and a French recipe for an orange gâteau with a light touch (shaped like an English “cake” but more of a “dessert” really), I clung to my own optimism in the face of a recipe that both involved caramel (which can be a bit tricksy) and not enough easily apparent structure to see what holds it all together. But nothing ventured, and all that, I opted for confidence in my source.
The results were a success, so I am going to share a, lightly adapted and heavily annotated, version here. And while it might be a bore, I would also recommend that you read through the instructions to the end before making - it is important to understand the equipment and the method when dealing with something a little different from the norm.
Equipment: a soufflé dish and a tin or other oven proof container big enough to sit the soufflé dish in and hold water around it.
Ingredients: Blood oranges (three large, or four small); sugar cubes (15 of them); butter, soft (80g); caster sugar (150g); eggs (x5), separated; plain flour (45g); Cointreau or Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur (3 tablespoons approx).
Method: 1. Boil your oranges. Put them (whole) into a boiling pan of water; remove just one after a single minute of boiling and set aside; leave the others to boil for 20 minutes, then remove from the water, allow to cool, cut into pieces (remove any pips you see, although blood oranges are not noticeably pippy) and either blend in a robot—chef or chop as finely as you are able with a sharp knife - skin, pulp and all. Pre-heat oven to 180ºC (or equivalent)
2. Make caramel. This particular method was a revelation to me; put your sugar cubes flat on the bottom of a heavy-based saucepan suitable in size to just accommodate them. Have your soufflé mould/dish sitting alongside. Using a low (diffused if necessary) heat, allow the sugar cubes to “melt”, trying not to stir or agitate them too much as they get on with so doing (messing around with them at this stage allows the introduction of imperfections that create crystals and can ruin your chances of a clear non-gritty result). Raise the heat once you have an obvious “proto” caramel liquid, and watch like a hawk, swirling the pan gently from time to time so that all the sugar cooks evenly and until the caramel is an even amber gold. Take off the heat immediately when it gets to this stage and pour as evenly as possible over the base of the soufflé dish. Don’t leave the cooking sugar unattended; caramel cooks fast, burns faster and, even without direct heat, will continue to use residual heat from the pan deepen in colour, and burnt caramel is a truly bitter disappointment!
3: Create cake batter. Cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add in egg yolks, one at a time, and beat together well. Fold in the flour, the orange liqueur and the puréed orange pulp. Whip up the egg whites separately, until they just hold peaks - not so stiff that they start to look granular, but not so soft that the peaks are too droopy either. Fold these carefully into the batter so that you keep as much air in the mix as possible; the batter must be homogenous, but it shouldn’t be over worked.
4: Pour the finished cake batter over the caramel in the soufflé dish, and place the dish into the larger dish that will hold water around it, and fill that to a level about half way up the side of the soufflé dish with boiling water. Bake in the oven in this bain marie, to give it a technical name, for about an hour (until the normal things hold true for testing a cake - golden brown on top, puffed, a skewer will come out clean of raw mix from the centre). Leave the dish to cool, completely, before attempting to turn out onto a serving plate.
5: Take the reserved orange (the one cooked for just 1 minute); halve it lengthways, and slice it finely, and use to decorate the top of the cake (ie the caramel topped “bottom” that was).
Serve with coffee, tea or sweet liquorous something.