After a string of 70º days, yesterday morning brought reminder that Old Man Winter still owns March in the midwest. The high was about 38º, and when I walked outside to run errands at 10am, the kids and I were dusted with snow.
But it didn’t stick. I’m grasping firmly to that silver lining.
A wet, gray blanket has been thrown over our city — with the promise to hover clear through the weekend. There’s something about that last little bit of winter, pinning you against a wall like a distracted bully, leaving you with a close-talking, tooth-clenched threat to “take care of you later.” We’d had a taste of birds, buds, and blue sky — enough for us to come out of our cave and dig in the dirt a bit, get blackened fingernails, even fill a laundry basket with sweat-smelling clothes; but the next few days will have us back in hats and heavy coats.
So I did what any reasonable person does when faced with a cold, gray day: I saw a shiny object in the form of a post on the Where Women Cook blog, and chased it, purely for distraction. It was a recipe from David Leite, of Leite’s Culinaria — an orange olive oil cake. The pictures and description planted themselves in my brain like a tiny seed, and later that morning at Trader Joe’s, the idea grew into spontaneous reality as a large bag of honey tangerines ($3) found its way into my cart. I would embrace this last bit of our Canadian-esque winter by baking with citrus. I would seal this deal with the granite sky, appease the clouds of frozen precipitation, and let the season move on.
Of course I can’t bake many recipes without tinkering just a bit. David’s instructions call for naval oranges, and I used my honey tangerines. And while I did venture to reduce the sugar just a touch, I stopped short of adding any whole-wheat flour, still nursing the psychological burns from my last botched experiment. I also poured the thinnish batter into two loaf pans rather than one bundt pan, since we wouldn’t consume that huge cake over a busy weekend, and it’s nice to experiment with freezing a loaf to pull out in emergencies.
After baking yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but take a tiny slice from the end, even though David instructed me not to taste it until the second day. So far, so good is what I could say. I’ll admit to not seeing a huge difference in the flavor today — it’s a delicate and moist pound cake with hints of fruity olive oil and orange — but it supposedly peaks on the third day. Only 24 more hours will tell; but perhaps the grace with which it ages is mostly held in its lack of quick deterioration.
Unlike winter. Who, at this point, looks exactly like a grumpy old man, to whom we’d like nothing more than say goodbye.
- 5-6 large tangerines (I used honey tangerines)
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 3/4 tsp kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tsp table salt)
- 5 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil
- confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350º and place rack in middle of oven, removing any racks above. Grease and flour two loaf pans, or one bundt or tube pan.
Finely grate the zest of 3 of the tangerines, and set aside. Squeeze enough of the tangerines to get 1 1/2 cups of juice (this will take 5-6 tangerines). Set juice aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the eggs on medium-high speed for about a minute. Lower the mixer to medium speed, and slowly add the granulated sugar. Increase speed back to medium-high, and beat until the eggs are thick and pale, about 3 minutes.
On low speed, alternate adding the flour and olive oil, beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until the last bits of flour are combined. Add the reserved orange juice, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Mix just until everything is well-combined; batter will be the consistency of a thick pancake batter.
Pour evenly into 2 loaf pans. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. If tops begin to brown too much before cake is done, gently lay aluminum foil over the top, and continue to bake.
Remove finished cakes from oven, and transfer to a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.