An orange on the table, your dress on the rug,
and you in my bed,
sweet present of the present, cool of night, warmth of my life.
– Jacques Prévert
Growing up in sunny Florida, the Sunshine State, along the Indian River famed for its citrus groves, I am and always have been an orange girl. Winters meant dad’s workbench in the garage groaning under the weight of brown paper grocery bags filled to bursting with navels, tangerines, grapefruits, Valencias and Tangelos. Winters meant trips in the old green station wagon to the groves on a chilly weekend morning where we could pick them ourselves or stopovers at one of the many roadside stands piled high with red, orange or yellow red mesh sacks, my small fingers laced through the netting, the feel of citrus rind smooth yet nubbly and tempting.
Winters meant thumbs pressed into the skin of an orange or a tangerine, the aggressive, fragrant spurt of oil and juice spattering my face and shirtfront as I dug my fingers underneath the skin and pushed back, the peel yielding, giving way to the flesh, juices running down my arms all the way to the elbows. Winters meant eating the golden treats one by one by one by one non-stop until well after the end of the season, until there was no more local fruit to be had.
As summer winds down and fades into autumn, as the stone fruits and berries turn mealy and flavorless and then disappear into a memory, I begin to crave oranges. It is as natural as my craving coffee in the morning and sleep at night, as natural as my craving for a hug and a kind word when I am feeling down. I can smell the citrus before they even show up on the market stands. I can tell by the shape and color of an orange, by the heft as I weigh them in my hand whether or not they are good for the eating or if I need to bide my time, put it off and wait another week or two.
But living far from Florida, I give in too soon and am willing to start my orange season just a tad early when the oranges might still be a bit too tart, not quite sugary sweet enough, the membrane encasing the sections a tad too tough. But with each passing year, I become just that much more impatient for my oranges and need to have them just to appease my thirst, quell my craving. It must be nostalgia.
A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air.
– Henry Ward Beecher
Winters now mean bundling up in thick wooly socks and fleece sweatshirts, curling up together with the man and the pup on the sofa as the darkness sets in, deep and inky. Winters now mean stews rich with carrots, potatoes, onions and tender chunks of meat in a thick sauce, couscous and tagines, JP spending afternoons standing in the kitchen chopping and stirring. I watch with the excitement of a child as the Christmas lights go up, as that eerie, misty haze falls over the city hinting at future snow against the milky gray sky. This past week itself I have been to two exciting chocolate and pastry events, edited an article that will soon be published and helped my husband organize his trip down to say goodbye to his mother. The sons still fly in and out and all around me in a whirlwind and we realize that life carries on as usual. Well, almost.
Clem and his friend Valentin (of Voyage to Vietnam fame) came round for dinner the other night. Clem had requested cake. Requested, demanded… just a matter of semantics. We had barely finished the Chocolate Rum Chestnut Bundt which had come hot on the heels of the Chocolate Spice Bundt Cake with Black Cherries in Syrup, so it was time for a change from chocolate. I was craving oranges and had wanted to bake an orange cake since I began seeing citrus on the market once again. The autumn chill in the air, the occasional splash of sunshine stirred up sensations of those long ago Florida winters and I knew I had no choice. I found a recipe for an Orange Chiffon Cake in my mother’s old Good Housekeeping Cook Book and decided that something ethereally light and fluffy would be the perfect change. So as JP prepared a beautiful Lamb Curry, I baked.
ORANGE (COINTREAU) CHIFFON CAKE
Adapted from the 1956 edition of Good Housekeeping Cook Book
2 egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
4 egg whites, preferably at room temperature
1 cup + 2 Tbs (150 g) cake flour
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar (separate out and reserve 1 Tbs)
1 ½ tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup (60 ml) neutral vegetable oil
Finely grated rind/zest of 1 orange
¼ cup (60 ml) + 2 Tbs total freshly squeezed orange juice –OR- replace 1 – 2 Tbs of the orange juice with Cointreau
¼ tsp vanilla
Pinch of cream of tartar, not more than ¼ tsp or pinch of the salt added to the recipe
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Have ready a 9-inch x no less than 3 ½-inch deep ungreased tube or Bundt pan.
Separate 4 eggs, placing the whites in a medium mixing bowl, preferable plastic or metal, and reserve 2 of the yolks, saving the 2 leftover yolks in the refrigerator for another recipe. Add the cream of tartare or a few grains of salt to the whites and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, sift or stir the flour, sugar (less the 1 tablespoon reserved), baking powder, salt and finely grated zest.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the vegetable oil, the 2 egg yolks, the orange juice and Cointreau and the vanilla. Beat on low speed until blended and then on medium for another minute until thick and creamy.
Change or wash the beaters.
Using very clean beaters, beat the whites on low speed for 30 seconds then increase to high speed and beat until thick and opaque; continue beating as you gradually add the reserved tablespoon of sugar. Beat until very stiff: do not underbeat; the whites should be very stiff, more so than for an angel food cake.
Place about a third of the egg whites in the batter and, using a spatula, fold until the whites are blended in and the batter has lightened and the volume increased. Now fold in the whites in 3 more additions, folding lightly but firmly in until well blended.
Pour lightly into the tube or Bundt pan and bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 55 minutes until puffed up and firm when lightly pressed with the fingers. (You would lightly dust the top of the batter with slivered almonds if you desire).
Invert the pan over a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely in the pan – upside down.