It may still be spring but the promise of summer is already in the air. The light is changing, the days are noticeably longer and there are moments when you are suddenly reminded how good it is to really feel the heat of the sun on your skin. If you are British you will know how fleeting this can be: just because the day starts out bright and sunny it doesn’t mean it won’t be raining in a few hours’ time. Luckily the opposite is also true and one of the reasons the weather is never far from our thoughts or our conversations. My mind has already turned to holidays, past and future, and I am hopefully counting down to sunny days at home, and impatiently counting down to a trip to one of the Spanish islands in the summer. And in the meantime I can have a slice of this cake and dream.
This recipe is based on a Spanish one and uses the typically Spanish ingredients of almonds and oranges, with the addition of polenta. Almonds feature in Spanish sweet and savoury dishes, as well as on tapas menus, as they grow in abundance in the Mediterranean areas, and oranges are synonymous with Valencia and Seville. For me there is something so foreign and exotic about citrus trees that I still get a thrill when I see them. This cake has a strong citrussy tang and a slightly nutty texture: it should transport you to the heat and light of the orange groves of Seville:
Whole oranges are used for this cake: no need to peel them or remove the pith or pips as they are cooked until soft and then blended to make a smooth or chunky purée, depending on how you like it. You can make this cake very pale, smooth and refined looking, or darker with more of a rustic look and taste. I used coconut sugar for mine (not very Spanish, I know), which is one of the reasons the cake is quite dark: caster sugar will make it paler. Either use ground almonds or grind your own from whole almonds: if you grind your own whole, unblanched almonds the cake will again be slightly darker and with more texture. I also like the slight crunch you get from the more coarsely ground Bramata polenta but you can use a finer one instead for a smoother crumb. Xanthan gum is optional but will make the cake less crumbly and easier to cut. And it’s gluten-free and there is no added fat: there is enough richness from the almonds and eggs.
4 eggs, separated
150g caster or coconut sugar
100g polenta, coarse or finely ground
100g ground almonds
½ teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)
25g flaked almonds
Chop the oranges (no need to peel) and put into a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water.
Cook over a low heat with the lid on for around half an hour until soft. Make sure that they do not dry out and start to burn: add a little more water as and when necessary.
Allow to cool and chop into small pieces either using a food processor or blender, or a knife.
Set the oven to 180°C and line the base of a loose-based 8” cake tin.
Whisk the egg whites to stiff peak stage and whisk in half of the sugar.
Whisk the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until thick, pale and creamy. This will take several minutes.
Mix a couple of large tablespoons of the whisked egg whites into the whisked yolks, and then fold in the rest of the egg whites carefully.
Mix in the oranges.
Fold in the polenta, ground almonds and xanthan gum (if using).
Spoon or pour the cake mixture into the tin and level gently.
Sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
Bake for around 35 – 40 minutes, until well risen, browned and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the tin.