A Marmalade Cake for Times of Change

March 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

There is change in the air this week. Each day brings a new tug-of-war. On one side the skin-warming sun, promising longer, lighter days ahead, teasing out the abandon of bare legs and sandals. On the other, the bracing breezes that keep us anchored to the reality of living in this part of the world, always lingering just behind one hill or another, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists and optimistic locals. I lug around layers to be donned or shedded depending on the victor of this battle between sun and wind, which changes by the hour. These are days in which we must be ready for the unexpected.

Change moves in on the domestic front too. A new apartment, a new neighborhood, a new stove; all beckon. Already we are preparing for the work of divesting ourselves of the piles of clutter that come to symbolize the three years in this one place, guiltily recycling dusty stacks of the New Yorker, shredding dated paperwork, avoiding the inevitable tackling of the boxes of nostalgic ephemera hiding under the stairs. I clip recipes from my food magazine stash as I go through them and the months ahead start to take the shape of fava bean and ricotta crostini, and Easter lamb pie, and thick slices of ruby-red tomatoes. We will need cakes and roasts to calibrate the oven, and hungry friends to warm the new spaces. An evening of decluttering becomes anticipation of sunny flavors, and colours, and gatherings to come.

Yet as much as I think ahead, the seas of change want to toss me to houses and kitchens past, with their indelible associations with specific recipes. The memory of the kitchenette of our first apartment still smells to me of jacket potatoes in the oven, waiting to be stuffed with tuna salad and eaten on breaks from a much-loathed evening job, each mouthful taking me precious seconds closer to having to return for hours of boredom. The brick-red kitchen of our first house is filled with the bustle of friends and scenes of bbqs with vodka jellies, first attempts at sponge cakes, and cozy evenings of sausages from the local butcher with roasted squash mash and cider gravy. And then there was the sunny yellow hub of the house we bought while tipsy on local ale and from which we emigrated, the place where I really learned to cook. It was where I devoured Nigel and Nigella, baking sticky butterscotch birthday cakes, honing the brownie obsession, turning out pastry from scratch, and discovering the orange marmalade loaf. Those days, those firsts, are long gone, but the recipes soldier on with us.

While change and nostalgia swim around us, the markets remain stubbornly citrus-hued, yielding piles upon piles of puckered fruits. I hadn’t thought of this delicate orange-scented cake for a while, nor of that kitchen, but the tussle between old and new and the ubiquitous piles of oranges conjures both up vividly and I rush to bake it. The sponge is a simple, light, pound-cake inspired recipe, enhanced by a generous dollop of thick-cut marmalade, and the zest and juice of an orange. But what makes this cake unforgettable is the thin crackle of orange icing that drizzles over the top, into the crevice in the middle, and down the sides in rivers. While certain occasions call for inch-high buttery frosting, declaring fun and frills ahoy, this is not a time for such extroversion. This cake, and these times, beg for the quiet reflection of icing from another time and place, from a small and dark Victorian house in England. When all around whirls with change, there is much comfort in looking back and eating a slice of such a cake.

Orange Marmalade Loaf Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries

175g/6 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g/6oz golden caster sugar/golden cane sugar
one large orange
3 large eggs, at room temperature
75g/2.5oz orange marmalade (I prefer thick-cut for this recipe but you can use either)
175g/6oz self-raising flour (*see conversion note from all purpose below)
100g/3.5oz icing/confectioners sugar
2 tbsp orange juice

*to convert all-purpose or cake flour into self-raising for this recipe, simply take 175g/6oz all purpose flour and add 2 1/4 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Sift or whisk together well, and proceed to use this mixture in place of the self-raising flour. If you want to be pedantic about the measurements you can remove a tablespoon of the flour before you add the baking powder and salt to allow for the additional volume, but this recipe is forgiving enough for you just to add the extra ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line a 9×5 inch (25x11cm) loaf tin with parchment paper and set to one side.

Cream the butter and sugar together, using a stand mixer or hand-held electric whisk (back in the day I used to make this recipe with a wooden spoon, so don’t worry if you don’t have either of these – you will just get good arm tone!). It should become pale and fluffy. Grate the zest from the orange. Beat together the three eggs in a small bowl and then add gradually to the batter, keeping the mixer at a moderate speed, or adding gradually and beating well between each addition. If your ingredients were cooler than room temperature the mixture may well curdle – don’t worry if this happens. Beat in the marmalade and orange zest.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the flour with a large metal spoon or plastic spatula. Work firmly but gently and do not overmix: stop when the last trace of the flour has just disappeared. Finally, gently stir in the juice of half the orange. Spoon the mixture into the lined loaf tin and smooth the top. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for around 40-45 minutes, checking after about 35 by inserting a metal skewer into the centre of the loaf. The cake is ready when the skewer comes out clean, with perhaps a crumb or two sticking to it. Leave the cake to cool in the tin – the middle will sink slightly – and then remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Sift the icing/confectioners sugar and add the orange juice gradually, mixing until it becomes a smooth, slightly runny consistency. Normally I am able to achieve this with the juice from the remaining half of orange from the main cake. If you make the icing too runny, just add a tiny bit more sugar until it is the right consistency. Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it run over the sides, and leave to set.

The cake will keep wrapped in parchment paper and tin foil for 2-3 days. Once it becomes on the staler side, it is extremely good toasted and smeared with marmalade and served with a dollop of yoghurt.


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