Tunisian Orange Cake
We’re in mud season up here in Vermont. That crucial season when all the rains falls and all the snow melts, and you know it’s what will make the world achingly green in just a couple of weeks (even though there is snow in the forecast for Friday), but for now? Lots of cozy clothes, the constant smell of wet dog and what the heck can I cook that is seasonal? It always seems like the last moments before the anticipated event arrives are the hardest and longest. The week before Christmas – just can’t wait for it to arrive. The days before a vacation seem to drag on and on. The weeks before spring, it just feels like it will never get here.
At the Inn we always tried to keep things seasonal. With ingredients and with the kinds of flavors and tastes you expect in each season. But there are those days, those in-between times, when there is just no inspiration and for me, this is when I find myself turning towards citrus. Lemon Possets with a nice crunchy cookies. Key Lime Pies to make you long for summer days. And Tunisian Orange Cake.
This recipe comes from a fantastic book by the legendary Irish cook, Darina Allen. Her Ballymaloe Cookery Course cookbook is a staple in our house. (And looks like it – certain pages fall open, or fall out, there are stains, the pretty cover is long gone….) I can’t remember when I first made this cake, though it was in the early days of the inn. It just seemed simple and brightly fresh and a little different. And the name? I really don’t know why or how it’s from Tunisia. But that’s what Darina calls it so that’s what I call it.
Side note: this is the cake that created one of our favorite Shoreham Inn moments, the ‘It’s, like, cake…’ moment. Here’s the story. It was the end of a night, I think it had been a quiet night. I think there was one table left, considering dessert. I was behind the bar, the waitress was at the table explaining the various dessert options as the customers looked at the menu. I know it was quiet because I could hear all of this conversation, though I wasn’t intentionally eavesdropping. This waitress, she was great, I wasn’t worried that she couldn’t handle whatever got thrown her way. The customers asked for a description of the Tunisian Orange Cake. And this great waitress replies, sort of slowly, hesitantly – ‘it’s, like, cake….’. I’m sure she would have had more to say and would have done a wonderful job of describing how simple and moist this cake is or that we served it with fresh whipped cream so it wasn’t as overly sweet as some cakes can be. Except that with the famous line, and the long pause, I looked up, the customers looked up and over at me, the waitress looked at me….and we all lost it. Yes, this cake, it’s a cake. It’s a cake-y cake. You know, cake.
I do like to serve this cake plain with just fresh, unsweetened whipped cream but the last time I made it I was taking it to someone who was going to eat it later, so I knew the cream wouldn’t happen. I decided to give it a little frosting and made a simple cream cheese frosting with some orange zest and juice. It was a good choice too and prettied up this little plain jane of a cake.
Tunisian Orange Cake
- 50 g slightly stale white bread crumbs
- 200 g sugar
- 100 g ground almonds
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 200 ml neutral oil (sunflower, corn, vegetable)
- 4 eggs
- 1 orange finely grated zest
- 1/2 lemon finely grated zest
- 1 orange juiced
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 75 g sugar
- 2 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
Do NOT preheat oven!
Line an 8 inch round cake pan with parchment paper and grease and flour the pan.
Mix the breadcrumbs, sugar, almonds and baking powder in a medium bowl.
Whisk the oil and the eggs together and then pour this mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix well. Add the orange and lemon zest.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
Put into a cold oven and turn on the heat to 350F. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the cake is golden brown.
Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a plate.
While the cake is baking, make the citrus syrup. Put all the syrup ingredients into a saucepan and bring gently to a boil. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Simmer for 3 minutes.
Once the cake is out of the pan and is still warm, pierce it all over with a skewer. Spoon the hot syrup over the cake. Leave it to cool.
Served with freshly whipped cream.