Too much of a good thing can be wonderful ~ Mae West
Named after Janus, the god of the doorway in Roman mythology, January is the one (and probably only) month in the year when everyone is most likely to stick to their freshly made New Year resolutions.
Yes January, also affectionately known as Post-Christmas-Binge-Detox month. And since this year Chinese New Year also falls in the month of January, it seems like a good month to try and be good. After all the CNY feasting of course.
For Chinese New Year, I really wanted to make something orangey. Oranges in Chinese culture symbolise a prayer for good fortune and are considered harbingers of good luck. They are often used as offerings at temples and also as gifts when you visit people over the New Year period.
So Orange and Almond Mini Cakes were just the ticket as Detox Month/Chinese New Year baking. Gluten-free, lactose-free, flourless, butter-less, and oil-less: these little cakes may be guilt free but are most definitely not delicious free.
Originally I had envisaged making something luscious and exotic with orange blossom water, almonds and pistachios but a long and fruitless search for orange blossom water later, that plan was scrapped and new a recipe sought.
To be honest, I didn't start off looking for a "healthy" recipe. I was merely looking for a orange and almond cake recipe that looked yummy, wasn't too dense, and used the ingredients I had at home. Trawling supermarket after supermarket for orange blossom water makes one reluctant to even contemplate popping out to brave trolley warfare and queue shuffling yet again.
The recipe I found was simply the one that had the best ratings. It wasn't until I was mixing it all up that I realized, hang on a minute, this doesn't have any butter or oil or yoghurt in it. How could they possibly be good?? I thought I was heading towards an imminent utter baking disaster. As they baked I fretted about getting heavy bitter crumbly dry rocks that were more dense than lead.
I could not have been more wrong.
I was so worried about how bad sans-butter sans-oil gluten-free cakes would be that I held off trying one until the next morning. On first sniff they didn't smell so bad. Pretty good in fact, fragrantly orangey. I cut one in half, the texture seemed nice and light, loose and moist, not lead-like at all. Squeezing my eyes shut, prepared for the worst, I popped a bit into my mouth. A burst of zesty citrus and sweet nuttiness of almonds. Moist, oh so tender, light and spongey. The phrase that immediately jumped to mind: no way. So I had to try a second one to make sure the first was not a fluke. Yip, the second one was just as good.
This was a baking revelation. Boiling and using the whole oranges makes these cakes incredibly moist and gives an aromatic almost floral orange flavour, reminiscent of marmalade. The ground almonds also help keep the cakes moist and lends a gorgeous almond fragrance that marries perfectly with the orange zestiness.
As the recipe suggests, they really are much better the second day. I tried some straight out of the oven when I made a second batch and they hadn't developed that intense orangey flavour yet.
They are also a cinch to make. I used a stick blender to puree the oranges then switched to the electric whisk attachment to beat the eggs. Easy. But wait, there's more, they're easy to make and also very forgiving: I completely forgot to put the baking powder in one batch and they still turned out fine.
Delicate enough for a ladies wine party at a stately home in Parnell, hardy and tasty enough to hold their own at a summer bbq at Piha: fragrant, light, zesty, easy and forgiving, what's not to love about this recipe?
And if you wanted to try out different types of citrus fruits: lemons, limes etc I'm sure the recipe could be re-orranged for that.
Orange and Almond Mini Cakes
Adapted from a recipe from Taste.
Makes 24 mini cakes
2 large sweet navel oranges, washed*
1/4 cup white sugar (optional)
250g ground almonds
250g caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
flaked/sliced almonds to decorate
*(choose nice looking ones with good skin, I stuck with sweet navel oranges as some of the comments on the website said the recipe was too bitter and I wondered if it was because they used a different type of orange?)
1. In a medium saucepan, cover the oranges in water, add 1/4 cup sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1 hour making sure the oranges stay covered. Drain and allow to cool.
2. Cut the oranges into quarters and remove any seeds. Blend the orange into a puree.
3. Preheat the oven to 150oC fan bake making sure the racks are nearest to the bottom of oven and you have two racks ready. Spray two 12-cup muffin tins with baking spray or line with baking cups. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy and tripled in volume (takes around 2 minutes).
4. Combine the ground almonds and baking powder making sure you get rid of any big lumps.
5. Add a third of the ground almond mixture to the eggs and fold in gently. Add half the orange puree and fold. Add the second third of ground almonds, fold in, then fold in the rest of the orange puree, followed by the last of the ground almonds. This is the "dry-wet-dry" cake method that helps get a fluffier lighter texture to cakes.
6. Scoop cake mixture and divide out evenly into the muffin tins, they don't rise that much so it's ok to fill the cups till pretty much full. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top of each mini cake.
7. Bake both muffin trays at the same time at 150oC fan bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top and a toothpick/skewer comes out clean when poked in the middle of the cake. Leave to cool in the tins before turning out (may need to be loosened with a knife and then give them a little twist and a pat on the bottom).
These little cakes are best a day after they are made. Store them in an air-tight container and serve just by themselves or with a dollop of greek yoghurt with honey. Noms.
NB: The recipe can make also a cake. Just line a 21cm spring form cake tin and bake for an hour at 170oC normal bake (you may need to cover with tin foil after ~ 40 minutes to stop burning).