Citrus Olive Oil Cake
February 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
Do you remember when you stopped calling the place you grew up “home”? Have you, even? I know more than one thirty-something for whom home still means a specific house, with a bedroom always at the ready, or a certain memory-soaked town. When you move to another country, the word becomes even more laden and confused. For a long time after landing Stateside, especially among other ex-pats, it was a common shorthand to ask if you were going “home” for Christmas, or for the summer, and I bet none of us gave the usage a second thought. I also wager that almost all of us, after two mad weeks of rushing around the mother country cramming in visits with friends and family, said something along the lines of: “I’m actually really looking forward to going home”. This time home is not where you spent your formative years, or the passport you hold, but the place you hang your hat at the end of the day, the bed you crave after days of living out of suitcases, in spare rooms, and hotels. We travel to see the place we live with fresh eyes, to realize that home may have become closer to the everyday than we had imagined.
I was pretty young when I first got interested in not being at home. It started out with some self-taught French around the age of 9 or so (and boy was I pissed when I went to high school and was assigned German instead), developed through adventures on Autobahns during school exchanges, and consolidated through a continued love of language learning, until I went to university 300 miles away from home (sounds like nothing, especially to the vast distances of America, but at the time it was just as far as being on the other side of the Atlantic). Living in Spain for a year convinced me that I was destined to go yet further afield, and my Christmas present at the age of 22 was a huge suitcase, ready for wherever I was going to go next when I graduated from my degree, so sure were we all that I would be going somewhere. At the time I was plotting time in Sydney, a city as far in distance if not in culture from home as I could conjure. As it happens, I fell in love, and the suitcase was mostly put to use moving to and from a succession of increasingly domestic dwellings, but that’s a different story. (As an aside: the case did get loaned to a friend travelling to Sri Lanka for a year, so I like to think it fulfilled some of its more exciting destiny).
In retrospect I don’t think I was ever consumed quite so much by an intrinsic wanderlust, or a desire for any kind of nomadic existence, as much as I was searching for some other form of home, and one where I actually felt at home. In this quest I readily took on whatever form of identity was called for by the setting. I borrowed my German pen-pal’s oh-so-Europe-in-the-early-90s sweatshirts and slow-danced to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love”. I dyed my hair bleach blonde in Barcelona and cultivated a penchant for boys with mullets (preferably Italian it turned out), and verrrrrry late nights. I settled back in Cambridge to finish up my degree and spent spare hours plotting a metaphysical novel and getting high on queer theory. And these days I inhabit the Mission district of San Francisco, ride a fixed-gear bike, listen to vinyl, tote around a yoga mat, and will walk two (ok, honestly, 5) extra blocks for the right coffee.
When we decided to put down some proper roots here in San Francisco last year, and went apartment shopping, we had a pretty clear idea of what was most important to us: location. We wanted to be in the city, not on the fringes, and we were prepared to sacrifice a reasonable number of things to make that work for our budget. So we have neighbors underneath who first of all had children who woke us up early at a time we’d now consider a lie-in, and now are twenty-somethings who wake us up at, lord forbid, the ungodly hour of midnight with their loud bedtime chatter (and more, but let’s not go there). And we don’t have a garden, or even a yard. What we have instead: an amazing park a mere block from our front door, a collection of some of the best food in the country on our doorstep, but most of all a vibrant community all of whom seem to be incredibly proud to call this part of the city home, as are we.
Right around the corner from our apartment, a cornerstone of the neighborhood, and expensively convenient, is Bi-Rite market. I love everything about it: the carefully curated produce that genuinely changes with the season – absolutely no temptation of strawberries in December; the fact that information on the provenance of the meat and fish comes readily from anyone you ask; the better than I can make at home pre-prepared food, for crazy busy evenings; and of course the justifiably famous ice-cream, especially the vegan coconut chocolate which has saved my dessert life in these non-dairy days. Last year Bi-Rite produced a lovely tome which is half cookbook, half manifesto for the style of shopping, cooking and communing over food that underpins the store. It’s probably most helpful for people who don’t do two thirds of their weekly shopping at Bi-Rite itself, but it also contains some recipe gems.
This citrus olive oil cake might seriously be one of my favourite cakes of the last year or so. The method is like nothing I’ve seen before – you start out by simmering whole oranges and lemons in simple syrup until they are soft and yielding, and then blitz them to a paste in the food processor before adding to the batter. So you get the full intensity of the whole citrus fruits, tempered by the sugar bath, along with the textural interest of the small chunks left in the paste. As if this wasn’t enough, the batter contains almond flour, or blitzed up almonds for more textural intrigue, and then olive oil as the primary fat, keeping the fruit notes high and the crumb dense and moist. When I open my little café slash bookshop slash haberdashery one day (daydream alert!), this cake will be on the opening menu for sure. Who knows where that might be, or what hairstyle I might have adopted at that point: it’s not really that important. Home is not location; it’s a state of mind, a way of being. And, yes, it’s where the cake is.
Citrus Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking and Creating Community Through Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough
Yield: 12 servings
3 1/2 cups sugar (2 cups = about 440 g for the simple syrup, and 1.5 cups = about 330g for the batter) with more to hand in case needed
2 cups (500ml) water
2 medium oranges
1 medium lemon
1 2/3rd cup (6oz/170g) sliced almonds, toasted (or almond flour is fine if you have it to hand)
1 cup (4 1/2 oz/120g) all purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
2/3rd cup (165ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
Combine 2 cups (440g) sugar along with 2 cups (500ml) water in a medium pan. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat to dissolve the sugar, and then add the oranges and lemons, whole. Make sure the liquid covers at least 2/3rds of the fruit – if needed you can add equal parts water and sugar directly to the pan to raise the level. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer. Cook, turning the fruit occasionally, until it is very soft and easily pierced by a skewer, about 45 minutes. Transfer the fruit to a plate or bowl until cool enough to handle. You can save the citrus simple syrup that is the by-product of this process to use in cocktails or to flavor sparkling water.
While the fruit is cooking, pulse the toasted almonds in a food processor until finely ground (or skip this step and just use almond flour. I prefer grinding my own for a slightly chunkier and less even texture). Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in the flour and baking powder.
Preheat the oven to 350*F/175*C. Oil a 9 inch (23 cm) springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Cut the cooled fruit into quarters and remove and discard any seeds or large pieces of membrane. Put the fruit in the food processor (if you used this for the almonds, don’t worry about washing it first). Pulse until the fruit is pureed and fairly smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to achieve this.
Whisk the eggs and salt using a stand mixer, or handheld electric whisk. Beat on medium-high speed until lightened in color and foamy, about 2 min. With the whisk running, gradually add the remaining 1.5 cups sugar and continue to beat until thick and creamy white, 3-4 minutes longer. Reduce the speed to medium and, with the whisk running, drizzle in the olive oil gradually.
Add the pureed fruit and mix until just blended, about another 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the stand and gently fold in about a third of the flour mixture. When incorporated, add the rest of the flour mixture and fold just until smooth – be careful not to overmix.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven until the cake is dark golden brown and springs back after a light touch, about 1 hour and 10 minutes (resist testing the cake with a toothpick or skewer as it will cause the cake to sink in the middle). Let the cake cool in the pan for 25 mins, the run a knife around the perimeter. Turn out onto a rack to cool completely, removing the parchment from the base of the cake if it sticks.
The flavors of the cake develop over a day of resting and it keeps well for about 5 days at room temperature.