I’ve been lonely this week. I didn’t expect to be lonely, I expected to embrace my partner’s 10 day absence on a work trip in a haze of relaxation with occasional stabs of wild productivity. I would clean the oven! I would take bubble baths every day! I would read 19 books! Instead, I’ve just been a bit sad and pathetic, moping around the too-quiet house.
So I did what I always do when I’m lonely: I baked a cake. Because it’s hard to be lonely when you’re cooking. I think perhaps it was loneliness that drove me into the kitchen in the first place, although I didn’t recognise it as that at the time. Before I began cooking, my mother and I would speak at least once every day; after she died, I lost a connection, a friend, a rhythm that had stabilised my days.
I began baking not long after that, probably in shock. At the time, I thought I did so without rhyme or reason. But a good recipe is a tiny capsule of someone else’s life, and by sharing it with you – in a book they have written, or scribbled on a piece of paper, or dictated over the phone – they are inviting you to share in that story, that history. And when you bake that cake or cook that soup, you are inviting that history into your kitchen. We forge connections when we cook, whether we mean to or not. And then when we change that recipe, tweak it, add to it, we become part of that history, and it part of ours.
This cake is built on my history, and I hope it will become part of yours. It contains elements taken from two different books, one originally my mother’s, one always mine, and the clever caramelised blood oranges come from a cake I baked with my wonderful friend Kate, at the very beginning of our friendship. All of these individual connections are baked into the cake, and when I stand in the kitchen grinding the hazelnuts and burning the butter, I am reminded of them, and I am not alone.
Blood orange and cardamom is a faultless combination: here, they marry with the hazelnuts, burnt butter and spelt flour in a nutty, nubbly, earthy cake, brought together by the gentle hum of cardamom.
Note: This cake bakes dark, so don’t panic: the oranges will turn almost mahogany in the caramel as the cake cooks. When you’re buying blood oranges, look for blue pigmentation in the skin. That, more than a blush tone, is likely to indicate ruby red interiors.
It goes like this…
Blood orange and cardamom cake
Makes: 1 20cm round cake
Takes: 20 minutes, plus cooling time
Bakes: 1 hour
3 blood oranges
150g caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
150g caster sugar
4 tbsp honey
150g spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1. First, burn your butter. Heat the butter in a pan over a medium-high height until it melts, then foams up, and subsides, leaving brown flecks. Decant into a heat-proof container, and pop in the fridge to chill down: make sure you scrape out all the brown sediment, as much of the flavour is here.
2. When your butter has set, toast your hazelnuts in a pan over a medium heat. Shuffle them as they toast, and remove from the heat as soon as you can smell them: nuts burn fast, so be eagle-eyed. Set to one side until cooled a little.
3. Next, caramelise your blood oranges. Place the sugar and water in a wide frying pan, and heat over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cardamom, and stir to distribute. Zest the blood oranges and set to one side, you’ll use this later. Using a sharp knife, cut the pith neatly from the oranges and slice the oranges into even sized rounds. Place the oranges in the syrup and cook at a medium heat until the caramel is blush coloured and slightly thickened. Don’t overcook this: it will look still quite liquid, but remember it’s going to go in the oven for an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. When you line the base of the tin, make the circle of greaseproof wider than the base of the tin so it curves up forming a lip for the caramel. Place the orange slices in a single layer across the base of the lined tin, leaving no gaps between them. Pour the caramel from the pan on top of the slices, being careful not to slop over the greaseproof.
5. Whizz the now cooled hazelnuts in a food processor until most of them are finely ground, but just a few remain a little chunkier.
6. Beat the sugar and butter together in a large bowl until they are pale and fluffy. Add the zest you reserved from the blood oranges earlier. Beat in each egg, one by one, adding a spoonful of the flour if it looks like it’s curdling. Stir in the honey.
7. Fold in the flour, ground nuts, baking powder and cardamom. Place the cake tin on an oven tray (just in case the caramel spills whilst cooking!). Pour the batter into the cake tin carefully, and smooth the top.
8. Bake for an hour, covering the cake with tin foil after about half an hour. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes before releasing from the tin and flipping over so that the caramelised blood oranges are on top of the cake. Allow to cool completely.
9. Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake
This cake keeps brilliantly for several days, covered, and is even better on the second or third day than the first. It is lovely as a pudding served with a dollop of crème fraîche.