Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sweet Sunday: Orange Ginger Torte: A Long Post for a Short Recipe

Murcott Tangerines
!WARNING!: this is a long post. You can skip down to the jump for the recipe. Or read on for:
  1. How I will manage to make baked goods and desserts on a weekly basis without guilt; and
  2. How I tussled through two iterations of possibly one of the shortest recipes other than, "Apple: wash, eat".
Torte Version #2 Plated: Made with Murcott tangerines. The only sugar I had was an organic unrefined,
unbleached, cane sugar which produced a deeply browned exterior. It also photographed a little darker than it actually looked.

Consider the following:
  • I am much more confident in my savory cooking than in baking or desserts and I would like more practice, but... 
  • I should not have left-over desserts or baked goods, hanging out in my house and calling to me like the Sirens
What to do? Until now, I'd only make desserts for a dinner party or other special occasion and send left-overs home with guests. A few weeks ago I had an ah-ha moment: the church a friend of mine attends serves food after services. A few years ago, I sent a test batch of vegan, chai cupcakes along with her (they liked them). A few weeks ago I asked her if I could make a dessert at the end of the week and send everything with her except for a serving for me to taste (and one for her). Eureka!. Now we have "Sweet Sunday".
Torte Version #1 Plated: This was made with regular white sugar and glazed with a thin mixture of
orange zest, orange juice and sugar.
Unlike savory cooking where I'm generally fearless and understand what's going on and why something works (or doesn't), I don't have that deep experience with desserts and baking. This means more copious head notes in my posts (as if I weren't wordy already!) which I hope are helpful for at least some who read. If it's all old hat to you, just nip on down to the jump link and go right to the recipe.
Torte #1 after an hour of baking. Looks fine on the outside, but the interior was mushy, still.

For the first round of Sweet Sunday, I made an orange ginger torte which has a very sexy, seductive aroma and taste. It has a short list of ingredients: oranges, eggs, sugar, almond meal, ginger (both fresh and candied) and baking powder. I ended up making it twice. The first time the end result, once I got through all of the trials and tribulations, tasted good, but I couldn't post it until I addressed the issues and questions I had or at the very least understood why I ran into problems and made it a second time with adjustments, and I will definitely make it again. I'll note this again in the recipe, but I really think this torte tastes better after the first day and on the third day it was even better - just wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator.

#1: How BIG is Small? ...Because Size Does Matter
  • After I made it the first time the first thing I came to learn was that your idea of a small, medium or large orange may differ from mine and this is a perfect example of why weight is a better way to measure, especially in baking. The recipe called for 2 large or 3 small oranges. I had several Moro blood oranges and 3 of them that I considered small. The cake took two hours to fully cook instead of the one called for in the recipe. After the first hour, the insides were like oatmeal. I emailed the author (Clotilde Dusoulier of "Chocolate & Zucchini" fame - a very good blog, full of delicious, interesting recipes and good information) and she was gracious enough to update the recipe with the weight (1 1/3 lbs for the oranges) and also give a really useful description of how the crumb should appear in the post's comments. She has been blogging for years and her site and recipes are very popular - for good reason -  so there are generally many comments per post. Not all bloggers respond to questions, but she does - and did respond to mine even though the original post was from 2004!
#2 The Right Citrus for the Job
  • I did some research and found that most of the similar recipes were called "Clementine Cake"  and generally called for Clementine oranges (a mandarin hybrid).  Also, I think blood oranges aren't my preferred choice for this torte. They often are a bit dear and I think the special taste and aroma qualities of a blood orange is lost in baking - at least in this torte. When you get your hands on a good blood orange, it is a wonder and not just for the beautifully hued flesh and peel. I can find essence of roses and other floral aromas in the flesh and they are wonderfully juicy.
    Torte Version #2: The recipe from which I started called for a topping of pearl sugar combined with lemon juice and zest. I opted for a glaze made with powdered sugar, orange juice and zest, topped with toasted almonds.

    I think this cake tastes better using an orange with less pith. Less pith=larger ratio of flesh and outside skin (zest) to pith. The second time around, I used 1 1/4 lbs of Murcott tangerines. Murcott tangerines are marketed in some areas as "Honey Tangerines" and are sometimes called Murcott Mandarins (see: UCR College of Natural and Agricultural Science's Citrus Variety Collection- I love this reference site). They are delicious to eat with a bright, sweet flavor and a great aroma. I rarely encounter a seed but cut mine in half horizontally to look for any before I pureed them. I think any thin-skinned mandarin or tangerine with great taste and a thin pith would work just fine.
#3 What is it supposed to look like?
  • Ms. Dusoulier's comment, " thing I want to note is that this cake remains a very moist one, even when fully baked. The crumb should feel like it's been soaked in syrup" was so helpful because I wasn't sure. I know tortes made with nut meals or flours will not have the same kind of crumb as a cake or quick bread, but I really didn't know what to expect. Her comment made perfect sense to me and I knew, for my second go-round that it was properly finished.
#4 One last thing - I swear it's the last note.
  • The first time I made it I used a coarse-ground almond meal and the second time, I used a fine-ground almond meal - more flour-like. I didn't see an appreciable difference so use what you have or can get your hands on. I used Bob's Red Mill almond meal both times. 
On to the...
Makes 1 8" cake
Equipment: 1 8" spring-form pan. I've seen similar recipes where a 9" spring-form pan was used with nearly identical ingredients, but make sure you check the cake at 30 minutes.

  • I did not have any candied ginger and used more fresh ginger than was called for. I grated about 2/3 of the fresh ginger on a microplane and the remainder on the large-hole side of a box grater and really liked the occasional extra ginger-y punch.
  • This cake is very moist and the crumb should appear as if it's soaked in syrup. It keeps beautifully in the refrigerator. Wrap it very tightly in plastic wrap and bring it to room temperature before serving. I think it just gets better on the second and third day.
  • Even after adjusting the amount of orange, the cake still took 80 minutes instead of the 60 specified in the original recipe.
  • 3 small / 1 1/3 lbs oranges (2/3 kg) (Clementines or Murcott tangerines), preferably organic
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 oz or 250 grams) sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups (8 3/4 ounces or 250 grams) almond meal (fine or coarse grind)
  • 1 3-4" piece of ginger, approximately 1" in diameter
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • butter to grease the spring-form pan
Preheat the oven to 375F / rack in the middle
  • Wash the oranges well and remove the little green stem-end if it is there. Place them in a deep 2-3 quart, saucepan and cover with water + an extra inch. Place the sauce pan on a burner set to medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the head and simmer for two hours, adding boiling water if necessary to keep the oranges covered. Drain and cool completely. Cut into quarters (over a bowl) and check for seeds. Puree until completely smooth in a food processor and set aside.
  • Using a microplane grater, grate 2 1/4 " of the fresh ginger into a large bowl. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the remaining ginger. Add the eggs and beat lightly with a fork. Whisk in the orange puree, the sugar, the almond meal and the backing powder until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  • Pour the batter in the greased spring-form pan. Bake for 40 minutes and check. If it is getting too brown, cover the top with a piece of foil. Continue to cook for 1 hour or if necessary, longer. Cook in additions of 10-15 minutes and check after each period. You should be able to stick a toothpick or slim skewer into the cake and just see a few crumbs when it's done. If it gets too brown on top, cover it with foil and continue.
  • When complete, let the cake cool on the rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife (I use a very flat, plastic spatula to avoid scratching the pan), loosen the outer round and remove it. Allow the cake to rest on a rack until completely cooled.
  • To keep, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

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