Tuesday, October 21, 2014

An immodestly good cake

I was always good at school and did well in exams. Growing up in the 1980s, the Dingle Peninsula was a much more tightly-knit place than it is today. So tightly-knit that a lot of people were curious as to how well I would do in my Leaving Certificate (the final exam we sit at secondary school and the one that determines our place at university here in Ireland).

I was delighted with my results when I received them. Years of hard work and study had paid off. Yet I was a little confused when various neighbours commiserated with me in the following days.

Where were the congratulations? Why did they think I needed consoling?

My mother was getting the same reaction and was confused too. However, she eventually figured out that it was all my father's fault...

My father is the most modest man I have ever met. Nothing in his being will ever allow him to boast about anything. When people asked him about my exam results, his response was to say that I had done 'alright'. Understandably, they interpreted this to mean that he (and therefore I) was disappointed. After all, proud parents shout about their children's achievements from all available rooftops, don't they? 
That's definitely not the case with my almost-pathologically modest father...

You're probably wondering what this has to do with cake. Well, I'm about to commit a cardinal sin in my dad's book by saying that this is one of the best cakes you'll ever make.

It's inspired by a trip I took to Brother Hubbard Café on Capel Street in Dublin at some stage last year (a café that is well worth checking out if you want lunch or a snack made from quality, Irish and seasonal ingredients the next time you're in town).
When I visited, I tried their almond and orange buns topped with dark chocolate. These burst with citrus flavour and the chocolate added a touch of luxury. They were moist and gluten free and I immediately set about making my own version as soon as I got home.

After some experimentation, I came up with a cake instead of buns and put it on the menu in my café. It was a hit with customers and (whisper it) I think it's just as good as the buns in Brother Hubbard's. (Sorry for the immodesty, Dad!)
Don't worry: there's a reason why it's only decorated on one side!
Here's what you need to make it:
2 oranges,
5 eggs,
300 grams caster sugar 
250 grams ground almonds 
1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Place the two oranges in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350F/Gas mark 4.
  • Butter the base of a 26-cm round tin and line with parchment paper.
  • Chop your cooked oranges. I prefer to do this in the food processor but if you'd like chunkier pieces of orange in your cake, it's best to use a knife. Just be careful you don't lose too much of that precious juice!
  • Beat the eggs and the sugar for approximately two minutes, until well combined and frothy.
  • Add the chopped oranges and beat again.
  • Then add the ground almonds and baking powder and combine thoroughly.
  • Pour your mixture into your prepared tin and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes as some ovens will bake this cake more quickly than others. The cake should be golden brown in colour and set in the middle. An inserted skewer should come out damp, not sticky.
  • Allow the cake to cool in its tin while you prepare the topping.
To decorate:
100 grams chocolate (I find 50 to 60% cocoa best )
60ml cream
Zest of half an orange
Flaked almonds
  • Break the chocolate into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the cream.
  • Place over a low heat and stir with a spatula. Don't be tempted to leave the stove while this is cooking. It could burn before you know it.
  • Once the chocolate has melted and combined with the cream into a glossy ganache, remove the cake from its tin and take off the parchment paper. Place on a cake plate and spread the ganache over the top. 
  • Sprinkle the flaked almonds and the orange zest over the ganache and leave to set before digging in.
Some people prefer this cake without any icing at all. They do so for several reasons. The absence of chocolate and cream makes it dairy free. And those who like pure clean flavours enjoy the strong orange taste without the distraction of chocolate.

Because I don't eat dairy and because I was bringing this cake to my sister's house where her daughter also avoids dairy, I only decorated one half of it.

A cake to suit all tastes
However, when we got there, my niece was much more interested in playing with our dog Jimmy than she was in eating cake.

Jimmy and Hannah: besties - at least some of the time!
Meanwhile, the adults got momentarily sidetracked by the prospect of meeting the newest addition to the family, my one-week-old nephew Conor.

Can you believe anyone's hand could be so small?
The lure of the cake did eventually drag us back though. It's that good! 
(Sorry, Dad!)

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