A Farewell to Oranges

Spring is coming soon…. the weather flip-flops of the SF Bay Area between extremes–we’ll get warm, sun-drenched days that remind us of what summer is like, only to have winter howl in again. I’m longing for rhubarb and strawberries with the rest of you, but for now, consider joining me in giving the waning season’s oranges one last hurrah.

Now, I know that some of you might think that citrus olive-oil cakes have already had their day and that we all ought to move on to better, or at least different, things, but I think that there’s something special about the combination of orange and olive oil. They make a good pair–both fruity, both bitter, but each in its own way–and especially in this particular cake. You start it off with nearly the whole orange–two of them, actually, zest, pith, membranes, and all. That’s what drew me to the recipe. Even after a bit of boiling, I thought, the orange would lend this cake just a hint of bitterness–and it does. Together, with the olive oil and a dusting of coarse sea salt, it makes for a wonderfully aromatic, complex, and silky cake. But my favourite part about it, I have to admit, is how well it keeps. This cake is perfect, it doesn’t dry out and even gets a bit better as the sea salt melds with everything else. As good a way as any for the last oranges of the season to go.

Orange-scented Olive-oil Cake

2 oranges, preferably organic
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
unsalted butter, for greasing
2 1/2 cups flour (10.6 oz), plus more for the pan
2 teaspoons baking powder (0.3 oz)
1 teaspoon baking soda (0.25 oz)
1/4 teaspoon salt (0.05 oz)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 oz / 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (about half an orange’s worth)
0.5 oz / 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
coarse sea salt, for garnish

  1. Trim about 1/2″ from the tops and bottoms of the oranges; quarter oranges lengthwise. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan, add oranges. Bring water back to a boil; drain. Repeat boiling process twice more with fresh water. Put oranges, 1 cup sugar, and 4 cups water into the same saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and orange rind can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10″ round cake pan (or a 9″ spring-form pan, like I did) with butter and dust with flour; line pan bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Set pan aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and put oranges into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky puree, 10-12 pulses. Add remaining sugar, reserved flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs and process until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add olive oil; process until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes (or between 60 and 70 minutes, if using a 9″ spring-form pan). Let cool for 30 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze. Remove cake from pan and transfer to a cooling rack for glazing. Using a pastry brush, brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely. Garnish cake with salt.

Serves 10-12

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