Tunisian Orange Blossom & Almond Cake

A fragrant, citrus-sodden creation - and what's more, it's gluten-free!

This moist, almondy cake of Tunisia is the best way to summon the sunshine when you need it most. It is made with whole oranges, finely-ground almonds and given a fragrant blush of orange blossom water. Orange blossom water is a floral-fresh, edible aroma from North Africa. It is commonly used in desserts around Tunisia and allegedly soothes tummy aches!

You'll find orange blossom water in any big supermarket - the baking aisle or the world foods aisle.

This cake is dense and sweet, made so using juicy oranges and ground almonds - thus making it a gluten-free and dairy-free cake! If that's not moist enough for you, the cake is given a finishing slick of sour, fragrant orange flower syrup. This makes the cake incredibly succulent and also gives it that uplifting floral aroma that lures you into Spring with welcoming arms.

- What You'll Need: -
+ 225g of Ground Almonds +
+ 1 large Orange (or 2 medium ones(or 3 small ones(or 4 even smaller ones!))) +
+ 5 medium Eggs, separated +
+ 200g Caster Sugar +
+ 1 cupful of Flaked Almonds to decorate +

- Orange Flower Syrup - 
+ 1 teaspoon of Orange Blossom Water +
+ 1 Cardamom Pod +
+ 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice +
+ 4 tablespoons of Caster Sugar

1. First step - and probably the most important - we need to tenderise our oranges. As lovely and flavourful as oranges are, they need to be gently stewed before being used in this cake. Stewing the orange removes any bitterness from the peel and helps the natural fibres in the fruit to relax. After all, we're using the whole fruit in this recipe: flesh, pith and peel - all of it!

You can stew the orange by simply cutting into segments, placing them in a saucepan and filling it with water until it's just about covered. Drop in a single cardamom pod and heat it up to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down very low and leave them for an hour to simmer.

I love a shortcut, but you cannot skip this part. If you do, the orange will make your cake very bitter and your friends and family will probably never speak to you ever again.

2. Once softened, place your orange into a processor or a blender. As for the water the orange stewed in - keep this! We're going to turn it into an easy orange flower syrup to glaze the cake at the end.

But for now, whiz the orange - skin, flesh, everything - in a blender/processor until you have a sunset yellow paste.

Leave this paste here to cool a bit while we make up our almondy cake batter and heat the oven.

3. Heat the oven to 180C/350F - let this baby warm up while we make our batter.

4. Separate the eggs and the yolks between two bowls. Place the bowl of whites out of the way while we dress up our yolks.

Whisk your eggs yolks with your 200g of caster sugar until you have a thick and creamy custard. It's easier to gradually add spoonfuls of sugar at a time to make the process a little smoother.

Once your sugar is mixed in, tip in your orange mush and whizz it throughout.

Finally, mix in your ground almonds until well-combined. The mixture will be pretty gritty and lumpy at this stage, but that's totally fine. Set this aside and we'll take care of the whites.

5. Simply whisk your egg whites on a high speed until you have velvety, soft peaks - a bit like hair mousse or shaving cream.

You can always whisk meringue by hand, but unless you want the nervous breakdown, an electric whisk is a lifesaver!

6. Slop a third of your egg whites into your bowl of almondy yolks. Mix it pretty roughly, don't worry about flattening air out of your egg whites. Adding a third of the egg whites like this will help to loosen the batter, so we can fold in the rest of the egg whites with much more ease.

Once combined, add in the rest of the egg whites, and now gently fold them into the batter. You can do this using an ordinary metal spoon and mixing in a gentle figure-of-8 motion. It takes a little time to mix into the batter this way, but it makes sure the batter is nice and airy - it really pays off!

Once there are no more streaks of egg white visible, the batter is complete!

7. Grease a cake tin or a pie dish with a drop of oil or some butter.

You can use any size tin, as long as the batter doesn't fill more than than 2-inches deep, or else it may take a bit longer to cook. You can afford to fill the dish/tin near to the brim too, as the cake will rise only gently, so you won't have any spillages in your oven.

Once your batter is poured into the dish, it's ready to bake!

8. Pop your cake into the middle shelf of the oven, and bake for 30-40 minutes until gently golden on top and firm to the touch. If you use a narrower cake tin, it may take a bit longer - up to an hour. You can always test the centre with a knife - if the knife comes out clean, it's done.

9. Once your cake is nice and golden and beaming, it's perfectly good to eat.

But I reckon we can take it a step further - in Tunisia this cake is soaked in a thin, orangey syrup - which I will show you how to make.

To prepare the cake for soaking, simply take a knife and make little pricks around the top of the cake. This will let the syrup ooze into the cake later.

+Easy Orange Flower Syrup +

 Remember that water we stewed the orange in earlier? It's full of citrusy flavour, so it'd be a terrible shame to waste it.  Here I'll show you how to make a quick orange flower syrup to glaze and moisten the cake.

1. Scoop out about 150ml of that orangey water and add it to a fresh saucepan. Add in a tablespoon of lemon/orange juice and a teaspoon of orange blossom water. Go easy on the flower water; too much and it will smell like a 4th-century Arabian orgy.

Bring this fragrant liquid up to the boil.

2. Once boiling, turn the heat down very low and add in 4 tablespoons of caster sugar. Stir it all in until it dissolves, and leave the syrup to gently bubble on a low heat for about 10-15 minutes until it thickens.

The ideal consistency is like maple syrup - sticky, but not gloopy like honey.

3. Gently brush/spoon your hot syrup over the top of the cake. Don't be afraid to paint it on thick - this will make the cake fantastically moist and damp.

4. Once glazed, press on some flaked almonds to cover up all of the holes. And suddenly it's pretty!

Interestingly enough: this cake has a very good shelf life. Like most gluten-free cakes, it won't go stale if left out for a few of days. You can keep it in the fridge for up to a week, but let it come up to room temperature before eating it again so the flavours can wake up.

I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Let me know what you think. 

Anthony :)



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