Monday, May 2, 2011

Norwegian Easter Orange Cake

I know it has been forever, and most likely you have all given up on me completely. But I am back, and I am hoping to make it a regular thing again. A lot has happened that has made it hard for me to sit down and write anything here. The main thing being the outrageous pressure that develops the longer I let it go, like if I come back to writing, not only does the thing I've made need to be of the most impressive level, made with layers of homemade ingredients that required fermentation, canning, smoking, straining, cultures and foraging all rolled into one, but also, the pressure for the description to be filled with clever bon mots and important musings and observations on the food movement... Well you are not going to get any of that here, just a lame pick up where we left off...

I am still making a lot of food from scratch, and or just not buying much that is processed in any way. I can't say I am living with the strictness that I was in the early days of this blog, however the return to normal has been slow. These days we do buy yogurt, bread, mayo & mustard. I even have to admit that this week I broke down and bought a couple of emergency cans of turkey chili and split pea soup. From time to time we buy cheese, but we don't consume it anywhere near as much as we once did. I do regularly buy the string cheese and little things of apple sauce for (no longer baby) J to take in his lunch to preschool. There are other sins I am omitting here, but today is not about full confessions, it's about moving forward. I have made a good number of fun and interesting things in the last year that I have wanted to share and haven't so let's just get to it.

In the Los Angeles Times food section the week before Easter they did a whole spread about Scandinavian Easter traditions. My strongest connection to that culture is being very susceptible to sunburn and a big fan of Tales from Lake Wobegon. But for some reason I have been very drawn to the food from that region recently. The most interesting thing in that article said that in Norway, a country of about 5 million people, 20 million oranges and a few million tangerines and clementines are consumed Easter Weekend every year. That is more than 5 citrus fruits per person. And that is three times as many as are consumed the entire rest of the year. Of course oranges do not crow in Norway at all, so it is not a show of national pride in the bounty the native land provides. I googled around a bit, and found several other references to the popular consumption of oranges in the Easter Season, but not any definitive reasons for it. The most logical hypothesis is that Easter seems to have it's pre-religious origins in the celebration of the end of winter and welcoming of spring. Oranges, with their striking visual similarity to the sun, and juicy deliciousness symbolize warm days on the horizon and coming out of the long, dark days of Scandinavian Winter. It is funny to me living in Southern California, where oranges are extremely abundant, citrus is the symbol of winter to me now and spring is marked by strawberries and blueberries and the moving away from a steady diet of oranges and clementines. I forget how spoiled we are. This recipe is more of a fond farewell to winter than a welcome to spring, but I like it either way.

Norwegian orange cake

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes plus cooling time
Servings: 10 to 16

3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice, divided
1 1/3 cups (5.7 ounces) flour (I made this twice, the first time with all-purpose flour and I thought it was dry, so I tried it again with cake flour and thought it was much better)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 ounces dark chocolate (preferably 70%), finely chopped
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Candied orange peel for garnish (I didn't have this because I didn't have time to shop for it, but I'm sure it makes it look more impressive)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the beater attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Beat in the orange zest and one-third cup juice.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. With the mixer running, slowly add the flour mixture until combined to form the cake batter. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

3. Place the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch bundt pan, smoothing the top of the batter. (The batter will come slightly less than halfway up the sides of the pan.)

4. Bake the cake until puffed and lightly browned on top and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. (The first time I made this I cooked it for 45 min and it seemed a little overdone, the second time for 37 min and even then maybe it could have come out sooner. This is odd because as you may have noticed, I usually have to cook things way longer than is recommended.) Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a cooling rack, then remove from the mold. The finished cake will be about 3 inches tall in the center.

5. While the cake is cooling, make the icing: In a medium bowl, sift the powdered sugar. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice and whisk to form the icing.

6. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake, then garnish with the candied orange.

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