Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake with Candied Pistachios

Early March is generally pretty dreary here in NYC - as evidenced by the past few days of horribly grey and wet weather - but there is something that comes around every year at this time to (temporarily) lift the doldrums: citrus. Sure, you can get navel oranges and pink grapefruits year-round, but it's only for this brief period in the late winter that we New Yorkers can readily get our hands on Meyer lemons, blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges, and Key limes.

There's something about these ephemeral citrus species that just works wonders in lifting my mood. Maybe it's their exotic flavors or their fleeting nature, but it always is such a treat to be able to indulge in the sweet, bright, and not-too-tart flavor of the aforementioned fruit. Of them, I'm particularly fond of blood oranges - aside from their wonderful flavor, their ruby red flesh is so dramatic and there's something amazing about a fruit that can stain your hands and your cutting boards.

A few weeks ago, I ran out of the extra virgin olive oil I use for finishing dishes or for dressings, so I went to the Italian market around the corner to get some more. While perusing the shelf, I noticed a bottle that I had purchased long ago but had unfortunately forgotten about - the divine (albeit highly pricey) Sicilian olive oil imported by the Franks of Carroll Gardens' Frankies 457. This oil is worth every penny of its price tag - the flavor is just perfect - no bitterness, just a rich, bright, buttery olive flavor.

I have a rather frequent tendency (ok, I do it all the time) to get onto tangents so after having picked up this oil, I remembered that the Franks use this oil for the olive oil cake baked at Frankies 457 and sold at their coffee shop around the corner from my apartment, Cafe Pedlar. I had purchased said cake last August on the day before my wedding and I had high hopes for it given that I knew just how good the olive oil is. However, I was disappointed by it - the cake was very greasy and oddly didn't have as much olive oil flavor as one would expect from the grease stains it left on everything it touched. Thinking back to that, I decided that I was going to make my own olive oil cake, one that was redolent of oil but not greasy and had some orange zest to give it a little brightness to cut through the richness of the oil

Having noticed that the oil is from Sicily, I decided to add the juice, zest, and pieces of not regular navel oranges, but Moro oranges, which is the variety of blood orange native to Sicily. Not content to stop there, I decided to make this cake a little more Sicilian with a topping of candied pistachios. [Let me give credit where it's due: I totally got the idea to top the cake with candied pistachios from the pistachio cake at Bklyn Larder.] I actually did not use Sicilian pistachios because I didn't have any at home and they don't carry them at Sahadi's, but I did use Turkish pistachios which are almost as verdant and just as delicious as those from Sicily.

So, with all that in mind, I set out to make a blood orange olive oil cake that showcased the flavors of both starring ingredients but wasn't greasy. What came out of the oven was exactly what I had wanted - moist but not greasy, delicate but not crumbly, and bright with the flavors of both blood orange and olive oil. The candied pistachios on top were a lovely little reminder that this was dessert and not just any old quick bread.

I'm planning on making this again before blood oranges disappear from stores. Given the recent spate of bad weather, I'm going to need something to brighten up the dreary days and this cake does just the trick.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake with Candied Pistachios
(makes one 9”x5” loaf)
For the cake
3 blood oranges
½ cup whole milk
½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
½ cup turbinado sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt

For the topping (optional)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup shelled raw pistachios, preferably Sicilian, Turkish, or Iranian (California pistachios aren’t quite as green or flavorful)

Make the cake
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9” × 5” loaf pan with a little bit of olive oil and flour and set aside.

Finely grate the zest of two oranges and set aside. [Note: zest the third orange into a separate bowl and save the zest for another use.] 

Supreme two oranges and cut each segment in half, reserving the pieces in a small bowl. [This is a good tutorial on how to supreme citrus fruits. The note about doing this over a large bowl is a good one – you won’t lose a single drop of the juice this way.]  Squeeze as much juice as possible out of the remaining orange membranes into the large bowl. 

Cut the remaining orange in half and juice it over the large bowl. Pour all of the juice into a glass measuring cup – you should have a little more than ¼ cup. Add whole milk to make ¾ cup of liquid and whisk to combine. Add the olive oil and whisk well to combine.

Add the sugar and zest to a medium bowl and use your fingertips to rub the zest with the sugar - this will release more of the oils and will make the most of your zest.

If using a large measuring cup, add the eggs and sugar-zest mixture and whisk well to combine. If you’re using a small measuring cup, transfer the juice mixture back to the original bowl before adding the eggs and sugar-zest mixture.

Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to a large bowl and whisk to combine. Pour in the wet ingredients and whisk until all the flour is incorporated and the batter is smooth. Gently fold in the orange segments.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 65 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the cake from the pan after 20 minutes and cool completely on the rack.

Make the candied pistachios
Put the sugar in a small heavy saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until the sugar is dissolved and has turned a medium amber color, about 5 minutes. While the sugar is heating, toast the pistachios by spreading them in a single layer on a large plate and microwaving on high power for 1 minute. [Alternately, you can toast the pistachios in the oven after the cake is done – toast at 325 for about 5 minutes, just until the nuts are fragrant.]

When the sugar is ready, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the pistachios, pour the mixture over the cake, and spread with a silicone spatula. You will need to work quickly otherwise the sugar will set. Let the cake rest for at least 20 minutes before serving. [Note: the pistachios will be very crisp the first day within a few days, they will soften up from the moisture from the cake – they still taste great and the cake is actually easier to cut.]


Gwennie said...

Wow! It's funny -- I was just looking at blood oranges at the farmer's market yesterday, wondering what I could do with them (aside from juicing and eating fresh), and then this came up in my email! :O)

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to making this cake this weekend. When do you put in the reserved blood orange segments?

Love your sweets because they're not gratuitously sweet -- unlike so many American recipes. Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Hi. What do you do with the blood orange segments?

roopa said...

I realized that I left out that step and so I just edited the recipe to include it - the orange segments get folded into the batter after mixing the wet and dry ingredients.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to making this cake this weekend. When do you put in the reserved blood orange segments?

Love your sweets because they're not gratuitously sweet -- unlike so many American recipes. Thanks for that.

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