Orange & Almond Cake with Chocolate Sauce
One of the first meals my mother-in-law, Esmae, made for me when we moved to Australia ended on a high note—in more ways than one. For dessert, she served a deliciously bold, immensely moist cake made with almonds and oranges. As I took my first bite of its sun-drenched goodness exploding with citrusy perfume, a loud monkey-like call erupted from the surrounding eucalypts. Turned out to be the “laughing” call of the Kookaburra. You’d have thought we were in a jungle in Africa, not a suburb of Sydney! These are the first sensory markers of my early days down under. I was enchanted.
After dinner I was given a handwritten recipe. (Remember those?) When I read it over I could hardly believe it was for the same cake I had just eaten. It called for two whole cooked oranges (rind, flesh and all), lots of ground almonds, sugar, many eggs and (gasp) no butter. I assumed I had just been given a very special family recipe.
But as I began to explore my new country one café at a time (what better way to get the lay of the land than with a coffee buzz), I soon saw that every other café had Orange & Almond Cake on the menu. I got the not-so-subtle drift…I’d been given a recipe for a popular Aussie dessert. The flavors and ingredients in this cake are so in tune with the agriculture and climate of my husband’s sunny homeland, it made sense.
Several years later I discovered that this cake is based on a traditional Sephardic Jewish recipe. Claudia Roden includes it in a couple of her books on Middle Eastern food. She writes in the head note that the cake is quite popular in Australia and New Zealand. (I would say so! It’s almost as if this cake went viral before ‘going viral’ even existed.) The versions of the recipe circulating at that time, including the one my mother-in-law gave me, called for small amounts of flour. However, the recipe that Claudia published had no flour since, according to her, it was often served on Passover.
There are now many adaptations of this cake recipe. Nigella Lawson has a few versions using clementines, kumquats and cocoa powder. She says it reminds her of sponge cake soaked in syrup while cooling. I agree—this cake has all that moistness built right in. Did I mention how easy this cake is to make, too?
Thank you, Esmae and Australia, for sharing the love and thank you, Claudia, for clueing me in on the origins of this cake and setting it on a journey around the globe. It has become one of my own treasured recipes.
PS Happy almost-birthday, Esmae. See you for the celebration half-way around the globe soon!
I’ve scoured some of my favorite blogs and foodie websites and compiled a short list of tasty looking passover recipes that you might want to check out.
How about some homemade matzo? Sounds good huh?
My good friend Adam Ried at the Boston Globe published several recipes for haroset - I’m going to make the variation with fig, chestnut and brandy.
Please feel free to drop me a line and tell me what’s cooking on your front burner.