“Lives there one with taste so dead, who never to ‘hisself’ hath said, I can’t bear to suck an orange?” and answered, “Guess not!”
- February 18, 1854 Chicago Daily Democratic Press (Waverly Roots’ Eating in America)
Florida’s natural flora, wild, harsh and savage, thick-leaved, spiky plants, prickly scrub, thick, itchy lawns hiding stickers that bit into your feet, brown, burning sand in a survival-of-the-fittest battle with whatever green desires to stake a claim and usually coming out on top, salty ocean water spitting up jellyfish, mosquitos swirling around your head all summer long, all played with your mind, tricking you into believing there was nothing sweet and luscious hidden beneath all the anger. Yet, growing up in this hot, humid, sandy state, we learned of the gifts that came from the water, that lined up along the water’s edge or that nestled in her underbrush like jewels.
Farmer’s markets and plywood stands erected haphazardly in every gas station parking lot were piled high with enormous watermelons, jade green and heavy; we learned at a very young age the secret of rapping sharply on their sides, expertly listening for that hollow thud that told us they were ripe, then standing on the front lawn biting into their cold, red flesh while the Florida sun beat down on us, juice running down our chins, spitting the black seeds as far as we could, almost like a summer ritual. Saturday trips in the station wagon every chill Florida winter to the citrus groves on the other side of the river, and coming home every weekday afternoon from school to the brown paper grocery bags lined up on the work bench in the garage overflowing with what we had gathered; sunny yellow grapefruits, softball-sized navels and, my favorite, delectable, sweet tangerines that I would eat one, two, three, four in a row. Fields of bright red strawberries in February, ours for the picking for less than a buck the quart box, knowing all along that these yearly family outings were more all-you-can-eat affairs.
That occasional trip to Miami to visit Uncle Eli and Aunt Nancy meant not only lunch at Wolfie’s, that bustling, fascinating monument to Old European Jewish cuisine, the deli restaurant where Uncle Eli worked, but coconut hunting, scavenging up and down the street they lived on hoping that one of the tall palms lined majestically along the sidewalks had dropped just one of her magnificent babies, brown and curiously hairy, rough and bumpy. Bringing it home, we would jam a screwdriver into its hard shell, then throw it onto the concrete driveway as hard as we could until it cracked and popped open, releasing the gift of a beautiful, fragrant coconut. We would open it up to screams of joy, split it into pieces and scrape our teeth across the white, juicy, delicious meat.
But citrus was king, our all time favorite. We waited impatiently all hot, lazy summer, through the equally hot but busy fall until winter when the citrus ritual began all over again.
We did indeed grow up in a culture of oranges, lemons and grapefruits, but never did one of these luscious, juicy gems find it’s way into the kitchen other than onto a plate, peeled or sliced or sectioned; lemons existed in our world only to be squeezed over freshly fried shrimp or thick, chewy lobster meat. All other citrus was eaten as is, teeth greedily scraping, spoons scooping or fingers pulling off sections and popping each into an open mouth. No one living surrounded by bags of fresh-picked fruit would consider cooking or baking with an orange or lemon, there just wasn’t the time between bag and mouth, we didn’t have the patience to wait or the desire to taste anything but the pure, unadulterated fruit.
Desserts were almost always cake or pudding, strictly chocolate or vanilla. Pies, when made, were indeed made with fruit, but the blueberries or cherries came straight from the can, unctuous and flavorful or bananas sliced and hidden under boxed vanilla pudding. Even Kool Aid, Sno Cones, popsicles and pop tarts were unfailingly cherry or grape. At restaurants, mud pie, chocolaty, rich and gooey would never be replaced by Key Lime Pie, no matter how long I lived in Florida. The only orange dessert that I ever deigned to try was a Creamsicle which I immediately shoved into the category of “disgusting”, along with those lemon-lime soft drinks that my younger brother glugged down. Yech!
I had my first taste of lemons as a Tarte au Citron when I moved to France and I fell in love; smooth and creamy, a luxurious tangy-sweet mouthful of flavor in every bite. Many years later, I was making my own, an easy recipe that tastes as if it was harder, so simple yet so elegant, beautifully paired with a delicate, subtly sweet, flaky pie crust and served with a Lemon Tart’s best friend, barely sweetened, gently whipped fresh cream and a dusting of powdered sugar.
But oranges? I truly never could see it. Orange and chocolate I have come across in candy, and I must admit that I do love a really good chocolate-dipped sliver of candied orange peel, but it isn’t on my top five list of faves. And then I came across the photo of this Blood Orange Yogurt Cake on Muneeba’s wonderful blog A Edible Symphony. Clever, funny Muneeba and her fabulous cooking and here I was staring at the most incredible cake I have come across on a food blog in a long time! And it was made with blood oranges.
I discovered blood oranges in France as well, along with the most intriguing pêches des vignes, a deep purple-fleshed peach with a very adult flavor, like a juicy peach that has been soaked in a deep, ruby red glass of wine. Blood oranges, so named for their skin streaked with red the color of blood, the deep purple glow of the flesh like a good French wine with an equally adult flavor, sweet, yet not, a hint of something earthier left on the tongue.
Remember those chain letters that used to get passed around at school way back when? Copy the letter, send it to the top person on the list, remove that name, add your name to the bottom and mail. Well, I feel like I am living the chain letter age all over again with this beautiful recipe. This Blood Orange Yogurt Cake was first made and posted by Kristen of Picky Cook. Muneeba made it next, and now it’s my turn to be “It”. It is truly a rich, densely moist cake, flecked with bright orange peel and sun-drenched in that orangey flavor and citrus scent. Glazed with more of the juice swirled into powdered sugar, giving you a sweet crunch before sinking your teeth into the gorgeous cake.
So I leave you with the recipe, sending it over to you like a chain letter, make it, post it and send it along, and the promise of something wonderful coming your way if you do will be sitting on your countertop in all of its orange glory!
BLOOD ORANGE YOGURT CAKE
Thanks to Kristen and Muneeba
1 ½ cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I actually used, as usual, 0% fat fromage frais)
1 cup + 1 Tbs sugar, separated
3 large or extra-large eggs
zest of 3 blood oranges
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly-squeezed blood orange juice
1 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 Tbs freshly-squeezed blood orange juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease an average-sized loaf pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, grease and flour the pan.
Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1cup sugar, the eggs, the zest and the vanilla until smooth. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined and smooth.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter a little at a time until well blended (make sure that it is all combined and not hovering around the edges).
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup blood orange juice with the tablespoon of sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved and the juice seems clear. Set aside to cool.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before carefully tipping it out of the pan and placing it on a cooling rack.
While the cake is still warm and sitting on the cooling rack, place it over a large baking sheet lined with foil and pour the cooled blood orange-sugar mixture slowly over the top of the cake, allowing it to seep and soak in. Allow the cake to cool completely.
For the glaze :
Once the cake has cooled, stir the confectioner’s sugar and the 2 tablespoons blood orange juice together to make a smooth glaze and spoon over the top of the cake. It will drizzle down the sides all by itself. It will form a slightly crunchy, thin luscious glaze over the top of the cake.
Carefully lift the cake off the rack and place it on a serving platter and enjoy!
The combination of the orange juice soaked into the cake and the vegetable oil used instead of butter produced a dense, moist, almost chewy cake, so very satisfying to eat, with a wonderful orange flavor, rather delicate around the sides, growing more intense as you work your way up towards the top of the cake where most of the juice soaked in and stayed and then to the glaze. I make a similar cake with lemon, but I really enjoyed the more delicate, less tangy-more sweet flavor of this cake, just orangey enough, just sweet enough. JP declared in very delicious and a great cake for dunking!