Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Eating the Whole Thing: An Orange Cake Recipe

[Updated below]

My contribution to the amazing Goose Dinner was a cake I have started calling the "whole orange cake." When I ran across the recipe on the Singapore-based blog Kuidaore (a blog with phenomenal photography and complex desserts), it immediately caught my attention because it uses the whole orange. Zest, rind, membranes, juice. Everything but the seeds.

How could I not make something like that?

The cake has just five ingredients: oranges, almonds, eggs, sugar and baking powder. And so it screams "orange" when you take a bite. The almond flavor is a bit subdued, however, as the ground almonds act like structural elements -- like bricks to the mortar of eggs and orange fiber. The rind gives the cake a slight bitterness, which some might find objectionable, but I like it, especially with a mildly sweet sauce. As you would expect, the cake is very moist. It is also very tender because it has neither gluten nor whipped egg whites.

Update: I recently learned that the white part of the orange peel (technical name: albedo or pericarp) is very high in vitamin C, and so the whole orange cake is a vitamin C superstar. Here are three sources which mention the vitamin C content of an orange's albedo: Wikipedia, Vegetarian-Nutrition, a 1998 article in Natural Health.

Here is my version of the recipe:

Whole Orange Cake
Adapted from Kuidaore, who credits The Cook's Companion, by Stephanie Alexander

2 large organically-grown oranges
6 large eggs
8.75 ounces (250 g) almonds (ground or whole)
8.75 ounces (250 g) sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Thoroughly rinse and wipe the oranges to remove any traces of dirt or other unwanted coatings. Put the oranges in a medium-sized pot, then cover with cool water. Turn the heat to high. When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 1 hour. Remove the oranges from the water and set on a plate or cooling rack to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut the oranges into wedges, and remove and discard the seeds. Chop the oranges into medium pieces (including the peel!). When fully cool, place the pieces in the bowl of a food processor.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 9.5 inch heavy-gauge springform pan that has a decent seal around the base (I have not had much leakage with my beat-up pans, including one with gaps big enough to see light through).

If using whole almonds, use your food processor to grind them to a meal. To prevent formation of almond butter, add the sugar near the end of the grinding process. Transfer the sugar and almonds into a mixing bowl large enough to hold the batter. Stir in the baking powder.

If using pre-ground almonds, combine them with the sugar and baking powder in a mixing bowl large enough to hold the batter.

Process the chopped oranges until finely pureed. Add the 6 eggs and process for 15 seconds.

Gradually add the egg-orange mixture to the dry ingredients, using a whisk to combine.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is golden brown and it has separated from the springform.

Cool completely in the pan. If not serving in the next few hours, store the cake in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.

Serve with any number of things: caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, ice cream, or the delicious-looking sauce and marmalade from Kuidaore.

A Few Variations:
  • Bake the cake in a non-stick muffin or a standard pan with paper liners (whole orange cupcakes!)
  • Replace the almonds with hazelnuts (Or pecans? Or pistachios?)
  • Replace some of the sugar with honey. I once replaced 100% of the sugar and the resulting cake was too dense.

Random link from the archive: Pasta Caprese (August 2006)

Technorati tags: Baking : Food

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Mound of Soup -- Sopa Seca

Have you ever had a mound of soup? Or a "dry soup"? In a Mexican restaurant such a thing might be on the menu, as Mexican cuisine has a class of soups called sopas secas that are dry and can be served as a mound. The "dryness" and "moundability" of the soup comes from a large quantity of thin, short noodles (called fideos) that are added to a thin broth in the last few minutes of cooking. As the noodles cook, they absorb much of the liquid and give the soup its texture and shape.

Making Sopa Seca
Although recipes for sopa seca are probably easy to find on-line or in the library (Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen has one, for example, reprinted here), I usually make it up as I go along, using ingredients that are in season or that I feel like eating. However, the unwavering building blocks for me are the special noodles , tomatoes and chilies.

The first step is to toast the noodles in a bit of oil or butter over medium-low heat until they are golden brown, 5 minutes or so. Set aside.

Next make the liquid base. For my most recent batch, I blended a large can of tomatoes and two chipotle chilies (from a can) until smooth. I set the blender aside and got to work on the vegetables and beans. In a large saucepan, I sauteed some chopped white onion and diced carrots in vegetable oil over medium heat until tender, then added a few cloves of minced garlic and stirred for about a minute. I poured in the tomato-chipotle puree, stirred a few times, and then added a can of drained chickpeas and enough water to reach the desired consistency. If I had had any Mexican oregano I would have added a pinch of that too.

Five minutes before eating, I determined how much soup will be eaten that day, and pour d the portion that was not going to be eaten into a heat-safe container to cool. The reason this step was necessary is that the noodles continue to absorb water during storage, thus eliminating any resemblance to soup. I add the noodles that would be eaten that day to the saucepan, stirred, and let them cook until soft (about 5 minutes). To serve, I topped with some crumbled queso anejo (a hard, pungent cheese) and some minced fresh cilantro.

Storing Sopa seca
It is important to store any leftover noodles and broth in separate containers. Put the extra broth in one container, and the extra noodles in another container. When reheating the soup on a later day, combine the dry and wet at the beginning of the reheating process to give the noodles time to hydrate and soften.

New feature note: With this post I'm starting to include a random link from my archive in each post. This isn't To create randomness, I put my all of my post URLs into a spreadsheet and randomly sorted the collection (using the RAND() function). The first random link from the archive is Burrito Origins (February, 2006), one of my favorite posts.

Technorati tags: Mexico : vegetarian : Food

Monday, February 12, 2007

Mycology lessons at the SF Food Bank

[Updated below]

When I volunteered at the San Francisco Food Bank with other food bloggers on Saturday (an outing organized by Amy and Sam), one of our tasks was to transfer oranges from huge crates to smaller boxes. As we moved the oranges, we ran across quite a few that had patches of white, green and blue mold. This got me thinking about the mold on oranges. What is it? Is it useful to humans, or just a pest?

After a bit of research, I found a short report from the Indian River Research and Education Center (PDF) about oranges that identified the green mold as Penicillium digitatum and the blue mold as Penicillium italicum. Although it is not so pleasant to grab a mold-covered orange, the color can be quite lovely, and as I'll explain below, molds in the Penicillium genus are quite important to humans. The light green reminds me of the classic celeste green of a Bianchi road bicycle, which then leads to thoughts of the open road.

I didn't discover any useful applications of the orange molds, but the Penicillium genus has some important species. Foremost, of course, is the antibiotic drug, penicillin, which was initially derived from Penicillium notatum and has more recently been replaced by Penicillium chrysogenum (according to the McGraw Hill Science and Technology Encyclopedia). Several cheeses are inoculated with a Penicillium species during production, including Roquefort (P. roqueforti), Gorgonzola (P. glaucum), and Camembert (P. camemberti).

George Barron's website on Fungi has some more information about Penicillium fungi and great picture.

At Green Car Congress I ran into yet another use for spoiled oranges and orange peels: making ethanol to use as a transportation fuel. The post states that "[c]itrus waste is rich in pectin, cellulose and hemicellusic polysaccharides, which can be hydrolyzed into sugars and fermented into ethanol." The proposed project will use waste material (instead of real food) as the feedstock and the ethanol plants will be near the citrus facilities: "Citrus Energy notes that the 5 million tons of citrus waste produced annually from Florida’s 100 million citrus trees is available on a continuous basis for 8 months a year with no transportation costs to ethanol plants co-located with citrus producers. Existing road and rail transportation systems servicing the citrus plant would take the ethanol to market." No details about whether the mold has any special properties in the ethanol process...

Photo credit: Orange photo from Clearly Ambiguous's Flickr Collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Indexed under Nature

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Two Short Book Reviews

Pour Me a Glass
I don't remember when I first heard about A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage, but I remember that I was skeptical. How could a book about six drinks -- beer, wine, tea, coffee, spirits and Coca-Cola -- have anything significant to say about world history? How could those drinks change the course of human events? I changed my mind when I heard Mr. Standage on the KCRW Good Food radio program (July 16). Beer, it turns out, was a fuel that powered the ancient Egyptian labor force. Being a pathogen-free source of hydration as well as a source of carbohydrates and some vitamins, it helped build one of humanity's greatest civilizations. Wine led to the creation of international trading networks. The coffeehouses of 17th century England were dynamic markets of ideas and innovation (Lloyd's of London, for example, started in a coffeehouse). Tea helped make possible the industrial revolution in England (before tea arrived, workers would start the day with a glass of weak beer) and later caused the Opium Wars with China. Spirits (especially rum) were a critical part of the slave trade (slaves would harvest and process sugar in the West Indies, the molasses would be brought to New England and converted into rum, the rum would be used as currency to buy more slaves in Africa). These examples are just a few of world-changing events that Mr. Standage connects to the six drinks.

The Coca-Cola chapter, however, is the weakest and least important. Sure, Coca-Cola is one of the most well known brands around the world and is a symbol of globalization, but I don't see how its existence changed the world. Unlike tea, which is a way to safely drink water and also has caffeine, or spirits, which are highly portable and valuable forms of grain or sugar, Coca-Cola does not have similar unique qualities. Except perhaps its high sugar content and complete lack of nutritional value -- but that is a story unfolding over the next few decades in the coming obesity and diabetes crises.

I highly recommend this book. If you don't have the time for the book, check out the Good Food interview (linked to above) or Mr. Standage at the World Affairs Council.

Spice it Up
Jack Turner's Spice: The History of a Temptation starts out with a spellbinding tale of the daring explorers from Europe who traveled across unforgiving seas to unknown lands. The goal of much of this exploration was spices, the exotic products that were critical in the kitchen, the hospital, the church and just about anywhere. In a quest for spices -- or more precisely, a quest to cut out the Muslim and other non-Christian middlemen -- Portugual sent ships to the East. The initial contact with the rulers of the Malabar Coast somewhat shocked the Portuguese. Instead of finding a primitive subsistence society, they found a sophisticated and wealthy empire that had been trading across oceans for centuries (with the Roman empire, for example). However, the empire did not have guns or cannons, and so the Portuguese were able to 'negotiate' a lopsided trade treaty and gain control of the critical spice trading cities.

Cloves, the unopened flower bud of a tropical tree, were originally found on just two tiny islands

...each of which is barely larger than a speck on the best modern map. Needless to say, no such maps existed in 1500. To locate them among the sixteen thousand or so islands of the archipelago was to find a needle in a haystack.

The northernmost of these specks is the home of the clove, in what is today the province of Maluku, in the easternmost extremity of Indonesia. Each of the five islands of the North Moluccas is little more than a volcanic cone jutting from the water, fringed by a thin strip of habitable island....Ternate, one of the two principal islands, measures little more than six and a half miles across, tapering at the center to a point more than a mile high...A mile across the water stands Tidore, Ternate's twin and historic rival...Together they represent a few dozen square miles in millions of miles of islands and ocean. At the start of the sixteenth century and for millennia beforehand, they were the source of each and every clove consumed on Earth.
(To see where Ternate Island lies, check out this Google satellite image.) The story of how clove trees were spread beyond the two islands is a great one, with international intrigue and danger.

There are many other revelations, like the extent of the trading networks between the Roman Empire, Arabs, India and the spice lands. But after a few chapters -- right around the Medieval period -- the book slowed down to a crawl, and became much less interesting to me. If you are fascinated in dining habits in the Middle Ages, of course, you might think otherwise.

Other spice links:
A special article on Indonesian cooking at Epicurious
A look at a clove packers in Bali at Eating Asia

Image Credits:
Photo of Kerala tea plantation by nibujohn, from the morgueFile.

Shipping in Heavy Seas by Willem van de Velde the Younger from the Web Gallery of Art.

Indexed under Writing, Ingredients, Southeast Asia
Technorati tags: Food : Drinks