recipe

Mandarin, yoghurt and almond cake

O Tama Carey is the owner of Lankan Filling Station. Her first cookbook is Lanka Food. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

You know how there are some recipes that are so common in your world that you assume everyone knows about them? Like the orange and almond cake. In my mind, it’s so familiar that mention of these two ingredients together instantly conjures a complete experience. But perhaps you don’t know it, in which case you are in for a lovely surprise.

I was first shown this recipe in A Book of Middle Eastern Food, by food writer Claudia Roden, which was published in the late 1960s. It is one of those perfect recipes: the method and ingredients make it simple and swift to create, and it’s more delicious than you would expect for such little toil.

The magic of this cake is in the oranges, which are simmered gently whole for about two hours and then pureed. They are then mixed with the other ingredients and gently cooked. The resulting cake – flourless, before that was even a thing – is complex with the bitter fruit and just sweet enough. It’s the right amount of moist and light with body.

The first professional kitchen I cooked at in London was where I was introduced to it. It was the go-to cake at the restaurant and it very soon became my section. It was easy to scale up, could be served simply sans garnish and could also be gussied up for special occasions. There was a wedding we catered for and I made trays and trays of it. The layers were arranged on stands and then enhanced with syrups and flowers and it was glorious.

When you have a recipe as perfect as this it seems silly to diverge from it, but here I have. This version is a vague echo of the original, my ode to it that attempts to capture all that is great from the original but with a slightly different taste and texture.

I have used mandarins instead of oranges – afourers, as they are large with a nice amount of skin, and have a long season and a flavour that is to me the best of the mandarins, with the right sweet–tart balance.

I stick with the almond meal for texture  – I tend to use one that is made with skins – and there’s a little honey too, as I think this brings out the floral notes of the fruit.

Apart from the cooking time, this cake can be whipped up in about five minutes with very little mess. Feel free to embellish: drizzle over a citrus syrup, or make a mandarin glaze or a simple icing. Serve it with or without cream or even with a little more yoghurt. Or do away with all of that and eat it warm from the oven, savouring its fudgy texture.

And, for those of you in the know, I’m sure you will greet it with a little smile of familiarity.

Ingredients

Time: 5 minutes preparation + 3 hours cooking

  • 2 afourer mandarins
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 250g thick yoghurt
  • 150g castor sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 200g almond meal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
Method
  1. Place your whole mandarins in a pot of cold water. Use a plate to weight them down and gently simmer for two hours. Top up if needed to make sure the water is always covering the fruit.
  2. Strain the water and allow the mandarins to cool a little. They will look nice and plump.
  3. Puree the fruit in a blender or spice grinder and transfer to a bowl. Once the puree is at room temperature, add in the eggs, yoghurt, sugar and honey. Use a whisk to combine until just incorporated.
  4. Next add in the almond meal and baking powder and again whisk together to combine.
  5. Pour this batter into a lined cake tin, 23 centimetres in diameter, and bake in a preheated fan-forced oven at 150°C for 55-60 minutes, turning it halfway through. When cooked, a skewer should come out clean and, if you use your fingertips to lightly press the top, it will be spongy on the edges and still a little squidgy in the middle.
  6. Cool a little before cutting. This cake is very forgiving and will last for days on the bench.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 22, 2022 as "Now you know".

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