Whole Orange and Almond Sponge Cake

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  8 to 10 servings
Prep Time:  30 minutes Cooling Time:  45 minutes Cook Time:  2 hours 40 minutes

Whole Orange and Almond Sponge Cake

This is a very unusual cake. It is based loosely upon an ancient recipe for cakes using whole oranges. Yes, the entire orange—peel, pith, segments, the whole shebang. I have been thinking about how to make this cake more up to date and not as dense and, well, uncake-like, for a long, long time. Traditionally, the recipes call for only whole fruits, ground nuts, and some sugar, and are often soaked in a syrup afterwards, resulting in an interesting dessert. I wanted to make something a little newer (the recipe dates to medieval times, after all) but still free of flour and gluten, kosher for Passover for Ashkenazi Jews and still full of the flavor and the intent behind the old recipe. I turned to my tried and true sponge cake for inspiration and played around a bit. I am happy to announce that this cake is a HAPPY merger of a Sephardic-heritage Passover dessert, Ashkenazi customs and foodways—and of course, great taste. The best compliment that cake got was simple—no one guessed it was gluten free or Passover friendly at all. They just lauded it as regular ol’ delicious.

Ingredients

Cake:

2 large whole oranges

3 cups orange juice, or enough to just cover the oranges

7 eggs, separated

1¼ cups (255 grams) granulated sugar     

2⅔ cups (255 grams) finely ground almond flour

1½ teaspoons (7 grams) baking powder

⅓ cup (57 grams) potato starch

½ teaspoon (3 grams) salt

½ teaspoon (2 grams) cream of tartar  

 

Orange Glaze:

2 cups (248 grams) confectioners’ sugar  

⅓ to ½ cup reserved orange poaching liquid

½ teaspoon orange blossom water, optional 

Instructions

  1. Rinse the oranges in hot water, remove the stems and any leaves and place in a large saucepan. Pour the orange juice over them. If the oranges are still poking out from the liquid, add enough water to cover. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, until they are completely softened, mushy, and will dent when pushed lightly.
  2. While the oranges are simmering, combine the sugar, almond flour, baking powder, and salt and process in 8 to 10 (½-second) pulses, until the sugar is light and flour-like. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve and shake into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. With a slotted spoon, transfer the oranges from the pot to a plate or bowl. Reserve ⅓ to ½  cup of the cooking liquid in a small bowl or cup to use when you make the glaze. When the oranges are cool enough to handle, pry them open and remove any seeds. Then place the entire orange—cooked skin, zest, pith segments, everything—into a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse for 25 to 30 seconds, or until smooth. Pour into another large mixing bowl, add the egg yolks and whisk to combine.
  5. Add the almond flour mixture to the orange mixture and whisk to fully combine. Set aside.
  6. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or if you are using a handheld electric mixer, in a large mixing bowl), beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form (see Kitchen Tips).
  7. With a spatula, fold (see Kitchen Tips) half of the almond–orange mixture into the egg whites until well blended. Add the remaining almond–orange mixture and gently fold, just until combined.
  8. Carefully spoon the batter into an ungreased 9½- to 10-inch tube pan (also called an angel food pan or chiffon cake pan) that is 4 inches deep and has “feet”. (see Kitchen Tips). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  9. With oven mitts, invert the pan immediately onto a cooling rack (see Kitchen Tips). Let the cake cool completely in the pan.
  10. When you are ready to serve, turn the cooled cake right-side-up on the rack, and run a thin, flexible knife or offset spatula around the outer and inner edges of the pan. Turn the cake out of the pan onto a plate (see Kitchen Tips).
  11.  Make the glaze: pour the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the cooking liquid from the oranges, a tablespoon at a time, and mix until the mixture is thick and pourable like glue. Drizzle the glaze over the cake, allow to solidify, and serve.

Kitchen Tips

  1. When beating egg whites, an impeccably clean bowl is a must; even a bit of grease can decrease their stability. Egg whites will go through several stages as you beat them. At the soft peak stage will be glossy and foamy, retain their basic shape but will droop a bit, and won’t entirely cling to the bowl. Egg whites at the stiff peak stage will be glossy and very firm, will retain their shape and cling to the bowl. They will stand straight up from the overturned beater. Yet they will still be creamy and flexible enough to fold in with other ingredients.
  2. Folding is a technique for combining two mixtures of differing densities. The lighter mixture, usually egg whites or cream, is poured on top of the heavier mixture, and instead of mixing them around the bowl, the cook gently some of the lighter mixture up from the bottom, catching some of the heavier mixture with it, and very gently turns the whole thing over. Folding rather than beating egg whites into a batter protects the foam and froth created during beating and in doing so, makes the final mixture lighter and fluffier.  Here’s a post and video from thekitchn.com that shows just how to do it.
  3. If your tube pan is nonstick, don’t fret. It really does makes a big difference to use an uncoated pan (non-nonstick if you will) and although it makes my baker-tester-chef-instructor insane if i even suggest this. . . you can still make this cake; it won’t rise as much or be as light in texture. There are a few reasons I recommend that you don’t use a nonstick pan here, and that you don’t grease the pan. First, this cake does best when it cools upside down in the pan, with air circulating under it. The upside-down cooling also allows the cake to deflate less, with no downward pressure on top—a big deal for any egg-foam cake. I also happen to think that it helps those little cells to climb up the wall while baking as well, but food science doesn’t seem to prove me right (yet). At any rate, no matter why it’s better, using either a nonstick surface or a greased  pan results in some issues—you obviously can’t cool the cake upside down because it will slide out of the pan (it’s nonstick, after all—that is its whole point) and the maintaining the puff stuff all goes down the, um,  tube. In my experience, you will likely get a flatter cake as well, since it can’t cling up the sides.  Many “not nonstick” tube pans have little “feet”—which I recommend. They are prongs that stick up from the top that turn into feet  more like legs, to be honest) when you turn the cake upside down so air can circulate underneath during cooling. Read more about tube pans here
  4. To invert this cake onto a cooling rack or plate, place the rack or plate on top of the pan. Then with an oven mitt, hold the pan firmly with one hand. Slide your other hand under the bottom of the pan (also with an oven mitt if necessary) and press firmly. Turn the whole thing over quickly, still pressing firmly with both hands, so that the bottom of the pan faces up. Set it down. At this point you can cool the cake in the upside-down pan or lift off the pan. If necessary tap it lightly to release the cake.

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