Whether or not you know of Claudia Roden, chances are you know this cake. Dense and intense, it’s what every other orange cake aspires to be when it grows up—sunny with just a hint of bitterness that gives it a seductively adult edge.
Roden was born in Egypt to a Jewish family who fled to England in the 1950s when the Egyptian government began expelling Jews. She took to recording traditional Middle Eastern recipes as a way to preserve memories of her privileged childhood in the tolerant, cosmopolitan Cairo that vanished in the years following the Suez crisis.
These hoarded recipes became the core of A Book of Middle Eastern Food, published in 1968 and probably the first to bring this Spanish-accented Sephardic Jewish cake to the notice of English-speaking cooks. The initial print run was short and the cake seems not to have made much of a splash at the time—perhaps the idea of boiling whole oranges was too radical, or, more likely, too few home cooks could be bothered pushing the results through a sieve, or were equipped with blenders to make the job less laborious. But in the 1980s, when the book was republished in paperback, it was another story.
TMix+ publisher Geoff Slattery recalls restaurants everywhere dishing up Roden’s orange cake for dessert, accompanied, generally by orange syrup, and not enough pure cream. By 1996, in the first edition of The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander noted that there “does not seem to be a cafe that does not serve its own version of this marvellous cake.” Twenty years on, it remains a mainstay of cafe cake cabinets, its popularity underpinned by escalating demand for gluten-free foods—and the fact that it tastes so good, and seems to last forever.
When you make it yourself—the Thermomix makes it easy—you’ll also find that it stays moist for days, and reheats beautifully in the microwave should you wish to serve it warm as a pudding.
There are by now many versions of this recipe, some using mandarins or cumquats—I’ve even seen one with rhubarb—these are fun to experiment with once you’ve got a grip on the technique. For now, however, it’s well worth returning to the recipe that inspired so many imitations and variations. The oranges can be boiled in advance; it takes a couple of hours but you can work at other tasks while they bubble away, filling your kitchen with citrus-scented steam and reminders that even when a way of life is long gone, it’s still possible to taste it.
- Place both oranges in a deep pot and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook steadily until tender, about 2 hours. Drain and cool completely before making the cake.
- Cut oranges into quarters and remove pips.
- Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced.
- Thoroughly grease a 20-centimetre or 22-centimetre springform tin and line the base with baking paper. (Cake in the smaller tin may take about 10 minutes longer to cook but will be higher; the larger size will not be as tall but will give longer wedges.)
- Weigh the sugar into the Thermomix bowl: 2 seconds/Turbo.
- Add the eggs and mix thoroughly 20 seconds/speed 5.
- Add the boiled orange quarters, ground almonds and baking powder. Blend 10 seconds/speed 5, scrape down the bowl and blend again 10 seconds/speed 5.
- Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour. The cake should feel firm to touch and may have a few cracks in the top; a skewer into the centre should come out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool and settle before releasing it from the tin and cooling on a wire rack.
- Once cold, dust the cake with icing sugar. Serve cut into wedges with thick cream.
Adapted from A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden (Penguin, 1986)
AND … As an alternative to cream, you could serve this with a bowl of yoghurt sweetened to taste with honey and scattered with chopped, toasted pistachios.