When you combine the words ‘blood’ & ‘cake’ you’d be forgiven for rendering images of gory Halloween creations, however from January to early March the word ‘blood’ actually becomes rather appetising. Now, to my knowledge there are very select times in life where blood is willingly consumed, usually this comes as part of a fry up, in the form of black pudding (a type of British blood sausage made using pig’s blood for those of you wondering). Delicious as this dark, iron rich sausage is though, it’d be no good in cake.
The late winter ‘blood’ I’m referring to, actually relates to a fruit that derives its namesake from its characteristic blood-like colour, of course I’m talking about the blood orange. Originating in Sicily & Spain, the blood orange’s distinctive ruby flesh is due to the presence of anthocynanins, a pigment most commonly found in flowers and berries. Due to this pigment, it also contains far more antioxidants than your regular orange.
This blood-red colour within the fruit will only develop during the colder temperatures of winter nights, this colour can sometimes seen on the exterior rind of the fruit too. This means that the blood orange only has a very short season in late winter, being at their sweetest during January & February. With a sweet, slightly less tart flavour than other oranges, their unique flavour has distinct hints of berry amongst the usual citrus notes. The skin is slightly tougher & harder to peel than that of regular oranges, making it somewhat of a reward when you reach its sweet, juicy fruit (as someone who take ages peeling oranges anyway, it’d damn sure better be worth it!).
With many uses in things like juices, candied fruits & marmalades to flavoured oils & dressings. The Sicilians use it in a winter salad alongside fennel bulbs and olive oil. Here the arancia rossa di Sicilia (or the red orange of Sicily) has been given protected geographical status (at present, there is no such status for the black sausage of Britain, but we’ll see).
The “Tarocco” variety of blood orange is one of the most popular in Italy & indeed the world because of its sweetness & juiciness, this is the one that you will most commonly find in shops & markets at this time of year. The “Tarocco” is commonly known as the half-blood orange (anyone else imagine a magical world of oranges?) because not all of its flesh is pigmented with deep red hues like other varieties. It also has the highest vitamin C content of any orange variety grown in the world (what benefits still remain when added to a cake is yet to be discovered).
With such a naturally occurring beauty about them, it’d be a shame not to flaunt it & with blood oranges not readily available in the supermarkets (as with most seasonal delights unfortunately), these beauties were hard to get hold of in the middle of rural Wales. Persevere though & support your local green grocers who always have a plethora of unusual & quality goods not found elsewhere. Trust me, they’re worth the hunt if just to make this glorious blood orange & almond cake.
My reward is a sweet, citrus, nutty sponge topped with a little bit of Italian sunshine. Sticking with the theme of my Italian “Tarocco” oranges, I’ve opted to make my sponge using ground almond as opposed to flour, this not only adds a depth of flavour & texture to the cake but orange & almond is just such a classic pairing. Making this Blood orange & almond cake in an upside-down cake style makes sure that the blood orange is the star of the show, allowing it’s striking, deep crimson colour to burst through before it’s topped with a blanket of ruby syrup made from its own juices. If that doesn’t cure the winter blues, I don’t know what will.
BLOOD ORANGE & ALMOND CAKE
(makes one 23cm round cake)
For the oranges:
- 2 blood oranges, sliced
- 130g caster sugar
- 65g water
For the cake:
- 200g butter
- 200g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 200g ground almonds
- 65g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 50g yogurt
- Juice of 1 blood orange
- Grease and line a round 23cm baking tin with baking parchment
- Begin by preparing the orange slices, place the water & sugar in a saucepan & stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved
- Once the sugar has dissolves, increase to a high heat & add in the orange slices
- Leave to boil to 10-15 minutes until the orange peel begins to become transluscent
- Remove the orange slices & set aside until cool enough to handle
- Boil the remaining mixture until it begins to thicken & become syrupy
- Brush the inside of the prepared cake tin with the syrup mixture, reserving a little for later
- Arrange the orange slices inside the tin (you can overlap them), using the syrup to help them stay in place
- In a large bowl beat together the butter & sugar until light & fluffy
- Add the eggs into the mixture, one at a time, beating between each one
- Add the yogurt & orange juice to the mixture & beat
- Sift over the flour, almond & baking powder & mix until just combined & no dry pockets of flour remain
- Carefully pour the mixture over the orange slices in the tin & bake at 160C for 1 hour
- Leave the cake to cool in its tin for 10 minutes
- To remove the cake, carefully upturn the tin onto a plate to release it from its tin & gently remove the baking parchment
- Brush the top & sides of the cake with the reserved syrup to glaze