Monday, April 27, 2009



“Lives there one with taste so dead, who never to ‘hisself’ hath said, I can’t bear to suck an orange?” and answered, “Guess not!”
- February 18, 1854 Chicago Daily Democratic Press (Waverly Roots’ Eating in America)

Florida’s natural flora, wild, harsh and savage, thick-leaved, spiky plants, prickly scrub, thick, itchy lawns hiding stickers that bit into your feet, brown, burning sand in a survival-of-the-fittest battle with whatever green desires to stake a claim and usually coming out on top, salty ocean water spitting up jellyfish, mosquitos swirling around your head all summer long, all played with your mind, tricking you into believing there was nothing sweet and luscious hidden beneath all the anger. Yet, growing up in this hot, humid, sandy state, we learned of the gifts that came from the water, that lined up along the water’s edge or that nestled in her underbrush like jewels.

Farmer’s markets and plywood stands erected haphazardly in every gas station parking lot were piled high with enormous watermelons, jade green and heavy; we learned at a very young age the secret of rapping sharply on their sides, expertly listening for that hollow thud that told us they were ripe, then standing on the front lawn biting into their cold, red flesh while the Florida sun beat down on us, juice running down our chins, spitting the black seeds as far as we could, almost like a summer ritual. Saturday trips in the station wagon every chill Florida winter to the citrus groves on the other side of the river, and coming home every weekday afternoon from school to the brown paper grocery bags lined up on the work bench in the garage overflowing with what we had gathered; sunny yellow grapefruits, softball-sized navels and, my favorite, delectable, sweet tangerines that I would eat one, two, three, four in a row. Fields of bright red strawberries in February, ours for the picking for less than a buck the quart box, knowing all along that these yearly family outings were more all-you-can-eat affairs.

That occasional trip to Miami to visit Uncle Eli and Aunt Nancy meant not only lunch at Wolfie’s, that bustling, fascinating monument to Old European Jewish cuisine, the deli restaurant where Uncle Eli worked, but coconut hunting, scavenging up and down the street they lived on hoping that one of the tall palms lined majestically along the sidewalks had dropped just one of her magnificent babies, brown and curiously hairy, rough and bumpy. Bringing it home, we would jam a screwdriver into its hard shell, then throw it onto the concrete driveway as hard as we could until it cracked and popped open, releasing the gift of a beautiful, fragrant coconut. We would open it up to screams of joy, split it into pieces and scrape our teeth across the white, juicy, delicious meat.

Bathing beauties in the Florida sun and sand, basking in the lush landscape

But citrus was king, our all time favorite. We waited impatiently all hot, lazy summer, through the equally hot but busy fall until winter when the citrus ritual began all over again.

We did indeed grow up in a culture of oranges, lemons and grapefruits, but never did one of these luscious, juicy gems find it’s way into the kitchen other than onto a plate, peeled or sliced or sectioned; lemons existed in our world only to be squeezed over freshly fried shrimp or thick, chewy lobster meat. All other citrus was eaten as is, teeth greedily scraping, spoons scooping or fingers pulling off sections and popping each into an open mouth. No one living surrounded by bags of fresh-picked fruit would consider cooking or baking with an orange or lemon, there just wasn’t the time between bag and mouth, we didn’t have the patience to wait or the desire to taste anything but the pure, unadulterated fruit.

Desserts were almost always cake or pudding, strictly chocolate or vanilla. Pies, when made, were indeed made with fruit, but the blueberries or cherries came straight from the can, unctuous and flavorful or bananas sliced and hidden under boxed vanilla pudding. Even Kool Aid, Sno Cones, popsicles and pop tarts were unfailingly cherry or grape. At restaurants, mud pie, chocolaty, rich and gooey would never be replaced by Key Lime Pie, no matter how long I lived in Florida. The only orange dessert that I ever deigned to try was a Creamsicle which I immediately shoved into the category of “disgusting”, along with those lemon-lime soft drinks that my younger brother glugged down. Yech!

I had my first taste of lemons as a Tarte au Citron when I moved to France and I fell in love; smooth and creamy, a luxurious tangy-sweet mouthful of flavor in every bite. Many years later, I was making my own, an easy recipe that tastes as if it was harder, so simple yet so elegant, beautifully paired with a delicate, subtly sweet, flaky pie crust and served with a Lemon Tart’s best friend, barely sweetened, gently whipped fresh cream and a dusting of powdered sugar.

But oranges? I truly never could see it. Orange and chocolate I have come across in candy, and I must admit that I do love a really good chocolate-dipped sliver of candied orange peel, but it isn’t on my top five list of faves. And then I came across the photo of this Blood Orange Yogurt Cake on Muneeba’s wonderful blog A Edible Symphony. Clever, funny Muneeba and her fabulous cooking and here I was staring at the most incredible cake I have come across on a food blog in a long time! And it was made with blood oranges.

I discovered blood oranges in France as well, along with the most intriguing pĂȘches des vignes, a deep purple-fleshed peach with a very adult flavor, like a juicy peach that has been soaked in a deep, ruby red glass of wine. Blood oranges, so named for their skin streaked with red the color of blood, the deep purple glow of the flesh like a good French wine with an equally adult flavor, sweet, yet not, a hint of something earthier left on the tongue.

My blood oranges weren't as deep red as either Muneeba's or Kristin's

Remember those chain letters that used to get passed around at school way back when? Copy the letter, send it to the top person on the list, remove that name, add your name to the bottom and mail. Well, I feel like I am living the chain letter age all over again with this beautiful recipe. This Blood Orange Yogurt Cake was first made and posted by Kristen of Picky Cook. Muneeba made it next, and now it’s my turn to be “It”. It is truly a rich, densely moist cake, flecked with bright orange peel and sun-drenched in that orangey flavor and citrus scent. Glazed with more of the juice swirled into powdered sugar, giving you a sweet crunch before sinking your teeth into the gorgeous cake.

So I leave you with the recipe, sending it over to you like a chain letter, make it, post it and send it along, and the promise of something wonderful coming your way if you do will be sitting on your countertop in all of its orange glory!

Thanks to Kristen and Muneeba

1 ½ cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I actually used, as usual, 0% fat fromage frais)
1 cup + 1 Tbs sugar, separated
3 large or extra-large eggs
zest of 3 blood oranges
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly-squeezed blood orange juice

Glaze :
1 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 Tbs freshly-squeezed blood orange juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease an average-sized loaf pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, grease and flour the pan.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1cup sugar, the eggs, the zest and the vanilla until smooth. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined and smooth.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter a little at a time until well blended (make sure that it is all combined and not hovering around the edges).

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup blood orange juice with the tablespoon of sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved and the juice seems clear. Set aside to cool.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before carefully tipping it out of the pan and placing it on a cooling rack.

While the cake is still warm and sitting on the cooling rack, place it over a large baking sheet lined with foil and pour the cooled blood orange-sugar mixture slowly over the top of the cake, allowing it to seep and soak in. Allow the cake to cool completely.

For the glaze :
Once the cake has cooled, stir the confectioner’s sugar and the 2 tablespoons blood orange juice together to make a smooth glaze and spoon over the top of the cake. It will drizzle down the sides all by itself. It will form a slightly crunchy, thin luscious glaze over the top of the cake.

Carefully lift the cake off the rack and place it on a serving platter and enjoy!

The combination of the orange juice soaked into the cake and the vegetable oil used instead of butter produced a dense, moist, almost chewy cake, so very satisfying to eat, with a wonderful orange flavor, rather delicate around the sides, growing more intense as you work your way up towards the top of the cake where most of the juice soaked in and stayed and then to the glaze. I make a similar cake with lemon, but I really enjoyed the more delicate, less tangy-more sweet flavor of this cake, just orangey enough, just sweet enough. JP declared in very delicious and a great cake for dunking!


girlichef said...

This does look amazing! I loved your story, Jamie...felt like I was there :)

Mindy said...

This looks great! I have a similar recipe for a lemon cake, but it only has one glaze. I'll have to try this method with two. I saw some blood oranges in the local grocery store the other day that looked exactly like yours--not as deep red inside as the ones that people in the US are getting, but tasty nonetheless!

Chef E said...

I agree with girlichef, the photos and words make me feel like I just took a trip...why did 'slow boat from china' just pop into my head, lol

Jamie said...

@Mindy - yes, my lemon cake only has the one glaze, too. This one is really worth trying even with the blood oranges we find here.

@ChefE - "slow boat from China" is exactly the way it felt growing up in Florida! LOL

The Cooking Ninja said...

Looks fantastic. I love yogurt cake :) In fact, I just made one this afternoon. I will have to look out for blood oranges - don't know what is that. :)

Mary said...

Jamie thanks for sharing the memories and the cake wih us. I love all things citrus so I'll be trying this really soon.

asiangrrl said...

Jamie, I grew up on fruit as fruit, too. I never imagined a cake that could incorporate oranges. This looks scrumptious. I hope the chain letter keeps circulating!

Chef E said...

Actually the saying is really 'Slow boat to china', I always get something backwards :) ticket for one please :) and do they serve this cake or a orangrita on board...

Muneeba said...

Jamie, you did GREAT! Doesn't matter about the glaze ... it still looks fantastic. It reminds me that I only have ONE slice of my own cake left in the fridge (it goes fast!). SO glad you loved it too :))))

Barbara Bakes said...

What a great post. Now I wish I'd grown up in Florida! The cake sounds fabulous!

Sara said...

I'm lucky that in California, we have great citrus too. I love blood oranges, the ones I've been buying lately have been really dark red!

onlinepastrychef said...

That blood orange cake looks Ridiculous--and I mean that in the best way possible. But I got a little weak in the knees when you were describing those peaches. Drool....

the ungourmet said...

This is such a lovely memory! the availability of ripe, luscious fruit is definitely one of best parts of summertime! I can just about taste that beautiful watermelon!

I have eaten blood oranges a few times and the flavor is outstanding! I haven't tried using them in a recipe yet. This cake looks delightful!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Great post! I loved hearing about all the food you enjoyed growing up in Florida - being a newcomer to the state.

I love blood oranges and that cake looks lovely!

Ivy said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and I am back today after a short break. Your cake sounds delectable and although I come from a country where citrus are in abundance I have never tried blood oranges. I remember that as a child I didn't like them and never bought them when I grew up. After reading your post I think your chain letter will continue.

Jamie said...

Thanks all for visiting my blog and commenting on my post!

@Ivy : I say "Go for it!" This cake is the perfect way to fall in love with blood oranges.

I wish our Spanish blood oranges were as dark red as those in California! I love the color it gives this cake. Yes, Muneeba, your pink glaze was so pretty, but this cake disappeared in a flash! I can't believe you actually have one piece left!

@Jenn - I saw that you live in St. Augustine. We visited when I was a kid and I drank from the Fountain of Youth (can you tell?). My French husband thinks St. Augustine is a myth even though he so looks like Ponce de Leon!

Chef Chuck said...

That looks delish!! Yummm

The Cooking Photographer said...

As I was reading your fun post I felt obligated to get up and get a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Then I ran back and enjoyed the rest of your story!

Beautiful cake Jamie. I'm tucking the recipe away for the next time I find blood oranges. Or perhaps I just won't be able to wait and I'll just have to use normal oranges.

Sophie said...

I love your story!
This looks great!
lovely pictures too!

cooknkate said...

Indian River grapefruit are my favorite.

The cake....oh that cake......

The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Jamie,

I attempted to make this cake, and the blog is set to post tomorrow. I wanted to let you know because I'll be attaching a link back to your beautiful post here, and hope that is ok.


Jamie said...

@Laura : that is fabulous! I am so glad you made this cake, and the fact that you are posting it must mean that it came out really great! Can't wait to see the post.

And if you look at my post and my comments, you'll see that I did the same as you; the recipe came from Muneeba and I linked back to her. This is the chain letter! Yay!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Lol a chain cake letter! I can't think of a better one really.


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