I have somehow found myself with a glut of packaged ground almonds; coinciding as this has with whiling away some cooking time listening to Claudia Roden on Woman’s Hour, I am left contemplating Claudia’s new book on Spain and, particularly, the almond cake from it that she proffered to Jane Garvey in the Woman’s Hour studio.
Claudia Roden is a cook and a writer that you would be hard pressed to find fault with. She is a part of our culinary landscape, the author of an impressive catalogue of books; she has introduced us, as a nation, to things that we now take for granted but which were, and are still in some instances, a little exotic for these shores. She has been involved in some interesting and valuable projects and her serenity and her wisdom make me want to sit at her feet and absorb a little of both for myself.
Woman’s Hour’s “Cook The Perfect … ” segment is, in my imperfect experience of it, a bit of a mixed bag; contributors may be leaders in their field (although occasionally less impressive on radio) but sometimes they simply have something to sell and are standing on whatever platform puts them currently in our sight line (often no more than a competition that has been popular on the telly) and are attempting from this basis some instruction - we cannot see, touch, smell or taste the result so we must have our imaginations whetted by what we can hear. There are not many up to this task but Claudia is one such - no noisy electric whisks and detailed technical instruction, no floundering broadcast journalist trying to claw back some appropriate, interesting, or plain audible content, instead a little gentle guidance in what is important to this recipe and a picture painted of a place I feel I would like to visit; yes she has a book to sell, but what a book it will be and she has so much more to offer than just this.
So, back to the cake. My ingredients are less than perfect; ready ground almonds in abundance that will have lost at least some of their fragrance and taste for having been prepared so far in advance, so much better for both flavour and texture, as Claudia points out, to grind your own, but, hey, I never said that mine would be perfect - I may need to lean a little harder on the almond essence than Claudia did or maybe I will simply allow the almonds to be of more textural interest and the flavour influences to come more heavily from elsewhere. A traditional Jewish recipe, adopted by the Spanish in terrain where no almonds or oranges grow and which relies on both, here presented as an Easter delicacy; I am borrowing it too and have given it a try in South East England feeling as I do, by now, romantically involved in its provenance.
bluberries (for a compote, of course), sugared
Tarta de Santiago de Compostela
For serving, we added a little whipped cream; for the record, the cake was fabulous - soft and light, and a perfect foil for a little fruit and some creamy richness.
But wait, there’s more - I have promised you a twofer; still with a fair amount of almonds left to conquer, and while idly googling for the links for this piece, I happened upon what appears to be a fairly famous Claudia Roden Middle Eastern Orange Cake and a Stephanie Alexander version of same. It struck me that the proportions and ingredients, bar the flavourings, were identical although the method was different. I coudn’t quite bring myself to make the ‘all in the blender’ version that Stephanie had written up, baking powder included in the absence of any other attempt to incorporate air in the batter, so had a go with an amalgam of both methods. This time, I needed to boil and somehow pulverise oranges. Fruit World still sporting Sicilian Blood Oranges at this time of the year the temptation was too great - back I went on a Saturday afternoon as The Parade was folding its canopies for the end of the day and bought these two wrapped little beauties.
Oranges steamed, chopped, blended, sieved (couldn’t stop myself from getting that puree as perfect as I could manage) and added to the mix, the cake was soon in the oven.
and here it is
- a Middle Eastern Orange Cake, by way of Sicily and, perhaps, meant to be a little denser, as it would have been had I followed the Stephanie Alexander method, but I like it this way, light and orangey and almondy - it will last a few days without stale-ing although I’m not laying any odds on its chances.
“every recipe tells a story” (Claudia Roden)