Fresh Orange Cake, fill it with berries or orange curd + Italian Meringue Icing


The Co-op had lots of ripe, sweet Valencia oranges a few weeks ago.  A bounty of former orchards ripened in our back yards and there will be more.  We literally gave them away in a box in front of Co-op HQ for any interested passers-by. My family’s birthday calendar and my culinary strengths (baking and preserves) happily coincided with this Co-op surplus. I made this cake twice in 10 days, and I recommend it to you as it is the happy confluence of easy and delicious.

IMG_4641IMG_4645 You can dress it up with an orange curd between the layers and cover it with a meringue, or simply mince and macerate strawberries and mangos for a filling and topping.  

Basically, this cake is excellent by itself and amenable to your ideas.  It is so simple that you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now.  It takes about an hour.

2 1/4 c flour

1 1/2 c sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

zest of 2 large or 3 small oranges (just the orange, not the white pith)

3 eggs

1 c orange juice (you can use the juice of those zested oranges, and add water to reach 1 cup)

4 ounces melted unsalted butter (1 stick), cooled

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable-oil spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Spray the paper too.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of your electric stand mixer, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Mix well at medium speed, then beat in the eggs,  juice, and butter until blended, about 2 minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
  3. Either fill with fresh chopped strawberries, mangoes, or whatever you like, or make an orange curd filling.
  4. Orange Curd: In a medium saucepan, combine a cup of orange juice, 1/3 c sugar, 3 tbsp flour and about 2 tsp orange zest.  Keep whisking constantly over heat until the mixture thickens and starts to boil.  Take off the heat and whisk in a hefty tbsp of butter.  Set aside to cool with a piece of plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin forming.
  5. Italian Meringue Icing:  This is a treat that my family loves, as it is lighter than a buttercream and really attractive.  My grandmother Nonny made a wonderful 7 minute frosting, and this is right along that line.
  6. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup sugar and 1/3 c water to a boil to the soft ball stage, or 240 degrees.  (You will need an electric mixer for this, or someone to help.)  Meanwhile, beat 3 egg whites with a pinch (1/8 tsp) cream of tartar to the soft peak stage.  While you are beating the egg whites, slowly pur in the hot sugar syrup and beat continuously for about 8 minutes, until the meringue is smooth and glossy.
  7. To assemble the cake, split the layers and fill with the orange curd, then frost.  I decorated this one with lemon balm leaves and a geranium flower. It is not overly sweet or rich, but fresh and yummy.


Kumquat chocolate sauce, and kumquat marmalade with wild fennel seeds

I love that Cyd is an intuitive cook as well as an adventurous spirit. He took home some of the Co-op’s kumquat harvest to preserve and share, according to our mission. Cyd is attuned to his immediate environment, keeping an eye on our deer and local fruits, and had climbed up on a Nichols Canyon hillside and harvested local fennel seeds. Using these saved seeds, he flavored a kumquat marmalade. Genius! He also combined basic chocolate with kumquats to make Kumquat Chocolate sauce. Right?? The tart citrus notes balance the rich chocolate, and it makes a delicately nuanced sauce that transforms a plain matzoh cracker to something sublime. (That is one way I like to taste things, as a matzoh is kind of a blank culinary slate.) We’ll get the recipes from Cyd and post them on the ‘Recipes’ tab. We are all looking forward to whatever Cyd will cook up next!

Kumquats, red chilis and cocoa nibs – oh my!

Cyd and I harvested 30 pounds of kumquats from a tree in Pasadena, and with 30 pounds, there is room for creativity.  Beata gave the Co-op a large bag of organic cocoa nibs and came over to help us do some preserving.  The jars, the steaming pots of water, and the fruit all reminded Beata of her childhood in Poland, watching her mother put those lovely seasonal strawberries and cherries in jars.  Even hearing the ‘ping’ of jars cooling down evoked memories.

Kumquats with cocoa nibs and chili pepper, nearly at the canning stage

Kumquats with cocoa nibs and chili pepper, nearly at the canning stage

But I don’t think anyone has memories quite like this flavor.

Prepared halved kumquats were cooked with cocoa nibs.  Once softened, chili pepper flakes were stirred in and then sugar was added.  This preserve is moderately sweet, spicy/hot, and has that bitter richness from the cocoa nibs to balance out the acidity.  It also has a terrific contrast texture, smooth jelly and crunchy nibs.   I really want to stir in soy sauce and dip dumplings in this one, or maybe spread some on a warm tortilla.  What will you do?

The recipe is on the ‘Recipes’ tab, Kumquat Chili Pepper Preserves with Cocoa Nibs’.  The name may be pragmatic, but the flavors are a flight of fancy.

Blood Orange Marmalade

Mimi brought over 2 1/2 pounds of blood oranges, or 13 3 ounce fruits.  She wondered what sort of marmalade these would make – and so did I.  In order to really taste this rather subtle citrus, no flavoring, such as vanilla or spice, was added.  Start by soaking and scrubbing the fruit, then cut 1/4″ from each end and halve.   IMG_4607 Cut out a little triangle of core and put in the cheesecloth lined bowl for the pectin bag, scraping out any seeds at the same time.  IMG_4611Slice each half thinly, and measure.  2 1/2 pounds yielded 8 cups of sliced fruit.  Put in a large pot, add an equal amount of water and the pectin bag, and boil for 30 minutes, then cover and take off the heat.  At this point, let the mixture sit about 8 hours, usually overnight, or refrigerate for later use.IMG_4615

The golden rule for marmalade and preserves is to cook no more than 6 cups per batch.  Since this yielded 8 cups of cooked mixture, I split it into 2 batches of 4 cups each.  Bring the fruit mix to a boil, then add an equal amount of sugar, which in this case was 4 cups. Add 2 tbsp of lemon or lime juice.  Keep the mixture at a boil. Bring the canner to a boil and have your jars ready.  This reaches the gel stage in about 30 minutes, but can take longer, depending on your stove.  Ladle into jars leaving 1/4″ head space, and process for 10 minutes.  This yielded 18 4 ounce jars.



Butter Marmalade Thins – an icebox cookie

This simple cookie relies on just butter and marmalade for flavor.  Butter really is important for this one, rather than margarine, and use unsalted butter for best results.  This recipe seems like a big batch, but the genius app for this cookie is to keep a couple of rolls of wrapped dough in the freezer, ready to slice and bake for lovely warm cookies in 15 minutes.  And using your own marmalade, well, what could be better?

3/4 lb. unsalted butter

2 c. white sugar

2 eggs

5 tbsp marmalade (try using lemon marmalade!)

scant 1/2 tsp salt

5 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

Soften butter to room temperature.  This is a good time to use your stand mixer.  Cream butter until light, add sugar, mix, then add eggs and marmalade.  Mix well.  Mix dry ingredients, and add to wet dough in stages.  Form dough into rolls about 1″ across, wrap well in plastic wrap, and chill or freeze. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Slice dough into rounds about 1/4″ thick, and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges.  Dough spreads little as it bakes, but leave at least 1/2″ between slices.

Buter Marmalade Thins, an icebox cookie

Butter Marmalade Thins, an icebox cookie



Easy, no-fail marmalade using just the natural pectin found in the citrus

I have been refining this technique for marmalade, and have now tested and retested it on Meyer lemons, lemons, Bearss limes, Mexican limes, grapefruit, cocktail grapefruit, kumquats, tangelos, mandarins, Rangpur limes – and oranges.

some of the citrus we have preserved

some of the citrus we have preserved

It will always work, it is much more efficient, and the ratios are simple.  Basically, add one part water to one part prepared fruit and bring to a boil with the pectin bag uncovered for about 30 minutes  (45 for harder peels) , or to ‘al dente’ stage. Bite a piece, it should be tender.  Cover and let sit overnight, or refrigerate for longer.  When you are ready to can,  measure 6 cups of mixture into the cooking pot, bring to a boil and add 6 cups of sugar , or one part sugar to one part cooked mixture.   Cook at a boil to gel stage, usually around 30 minutes.  Ladle into hot canning jars, seal and process 10 minutes.

The first step will take about 1 1/2 hours, and the second step will take about 2 hours for 2 6 cup batches.

PECTIN: There is exactly the right amount of pectin in the whole citrus fruit for your marmalade to gel.  Commercial marmalade uses commercial pectin, which requires about 70% more sugar.  More sugar means more jars of marmalade; but we want more fruit and less sugar. We will not have as many jars, but our product will be concentrated fruit rather than primarily sugar.The pectin is in the pithy parts and the seeds and membranes.  Since we want the pectin but we don’t want to eat the seeds and pith,  put those in a cheesecloth-lined dish as you prepare the fruit. Use two layers of cheesecloth.

A mandoline is useful for some firm citrus, after you have tipeed, cored and seeded them.

A mandolin is useful for some firm citrus, after you have tipped, cored and seeded them.

You’ll end up with a pot of perfect citrus slices, and a little bowl of seeds and cores.  Tie up the cheesecloth hobo-style, and cook it along with the water as you soften the fruit.

Put the pectin bag in the cooking pot, and let it sit in the pot until you are ready for the canning process. Let the bag sit in the cooled mixture overnight, or in the refrigerator. When you are ready to do the second canning stage, first take out the pectin bag.  Squeeze out the milky substance from the bag over a separate bowl.  This is marmalade gold! Use a separate bowl in case any seeds escape the pectin bag, so you can take them out before you add this mixture to the cooking pot. (I learned this because  I got a little too ambitious squeezing out the bag, and broke through some of the cheesecloth in my zeal.) Don’t squeeze the bag directly into the cooking pot, because you don’t want any seeds.Squeezing the pectin bag, similar to milking a cow

IMPORTANT: cook just 6 cups at a time.  Measure out 6 cups of the cooked mixture into the cooking pot and bring to a boil, then add 6 cups of sugar.  I highly recommend white cane sugar – C&H is my choice, but any cane sugar works.  You can go up to 7 cups, but more than that, it becomes tedious to bring it to the gel stage.  In the time that you are bringing your mixture to the gel stage, you are getting the canner and jars hot and ready.

THE GEL STAGE, A REMINDER: When you add sugar to the pot, put a little saucer in the freezer.  As the foam subsides and the bubbles become clearer and the mixture slightly darkens, dribble a few drops on the cold plate, then put it back in the freezer for 10 or 20 seconds. Take it out, and push the edge of the mixture with your fingertip.  If it is still liquid, keep cooking. IF IT FORMS WRINKLES ON THE SURFACE, IT IS READY TO CAN.

The basic cooked citrus mixture is fine by itself, but when you add sugar, you can add flavors.  My little secret ok, it isn’t a secret anymore! – is to add 1/4 tsp of kosher salt to every batch to round out the flavor.  Here are a few of our most successful ideas: add either a scraped vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract; 1/4 cup brandy, or tequila to limes; dried chili pepper flakes or diced pickled jalapenos; 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a dash of cloves; 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper; herb extract, such as 1/4 cup sage or lavender steeped in 1/2 cup boiling water, then strained.  When using fresh ginger, you’ll want to cook the fresh peeled diced ginger along with the citrus, as it needs to soften, too. Start with 1/4 cup, or a small tuber of ginger, adding more in subsequent batches if you like that sweet/hot flavor.  You can even layer in chilis to the ginger citrus mixture, and thanks to Mark Lambert for this inspiration!

Meyer lemon with fresh ginger and lavender infusion and lavender sprigs

Meyer lemon with fresh ginger and lavender infusion and lavender sprigs

Specific recipes will be posted on the ‘Recipes’ tab.  Just remember to cook 6 cups of prepared fruit with 6 cups of water and the pectin bag, let it sit overnight, then measure out 6 cups of the cooked mixture and add 6 cups of sugar.  That’s it!