Monday, January 23, 2012

Blood of the Dragon: Healthy New Year Orange Cake

My brothers and I grew up eating a marvelous orange cake which I sadly probably won't make again even though I have the recipe and it couldn't be easier to make or more delicious: 150 g butter + 150 g flour + 150 g sugar + 2 whole eggs + 1 orange (juice and zest) + 1/2 packet of baking powder. Mix everything (except juice). Bake. When cake is done, drench with juice. Revel!
Over the years, I have made it over and over and it always met with the same unmitigated success. I even made it once ages ago for friends who were coming for tea one snowy Sunday afternoon and I burned my wrist when taking it out of the oven and it fell to the floor face down! There was no time to bake another one, so I took a spatula and rescued as much as I could of the part that wasn't in contact with the floor. Of course it was all broken but I pressed it into a charlotte mold and since it was still warm, it took the shape of the mold very nicely. When it had cooled enough, I unmolded it and drizzled warmed up apricot preserves over it. It was beautiful and even better than the original. My guests asked for the recipe which I provided - skipping the floor part - and all was well.
I had forgotten all about it until our youngest son's fourth grade teacher enrolled her whole class in a New York State writing program and the kids were asked to write about specific incidents in their childhood. So he wrote about the cake being scraped off the floor minutes before our guests arrived and his writing was so good and so funny that his piece was chosen to be read aloud in assembly! I was mortified but that wasn't the worst of it.
The worst came what he wrote about a very bumpy flight from Athens to Paris when he was 5 years old. He explained that he had been seating next to me and that the whole plane had been jolted when we were hit by lightning (true), that we had made an unplanned landing in Lyon to check for damages (they were minor) and that we continued to Paris under the cloud cover and that everybody got sick (true again); that we landed in Paris so fast that we were on the ground barely one minute or two before we took off again at warp speed and everyone was deadly pale and afraid and the flight attendants were running down the aisle with a strained look on their faces (still true) and that I turned towards him and shook his hand and said: "A..., it was nice meeting you" (the hand shaking and stiff upper lip discourse all figments of his imagination, needless to say). That too was read in assembly!!! I was never happier to see a kid graduate to middle school so that I become anonymous again...
Well, to come back to the cake, I can't make it anymore for health reasons but that doesn't mean we don't yearn for it every winter when huge baskets of oranges arrive at the grocery store... Last week it was blood oranges. 
Blood oranges! When I was growing up in France, blood oranges were very sour. They truly had a bite, so much so that I actually didn't care very much for them. They came from Spain and I don't think they had as much sun as the ones we get here which come from California and are sweet and fragrant.
Blood oranges (don't you love the name?) are rich in vitamin C, of course, but also in anthocyanin which is a powerful antioxydant. That gave me an idea. In honor of the Chinese New Year, I would bake a health-friendly orange cake (after all striving to keep my loved ones healthy throughout the year is certainly a priority) and call it Blood of the Dragon (as you can see, my youngest son doesn't have a monopoly on imagination!).
Now I won't lie and tell you the result is as airy and lovely as the original all-butter orange cake. You wouldn't believe me anyway. The texture reminds me more of a pudding than a cake proper but it is very tasty and refreshing. Orange and ginger combine to give it a nice kick (next time I might even add a bit of fresh ginger) and, in the health department, you can't beat the ingredients: nutrient-rich white whole wheat, natural starter (which makes it easier for the body to assimilate the nutrients present in the grain),  ginger (a powerful antioxydant in its own right), fresh oranges, cultured buttermilk, olive oil, etc...  So here is to a wondrous and healthy New Year!

Ingredients (for a 9-inch cake pan):

For the starter
  • 180 g mature levain (starter)
  • 180 g white whole wheat pastry flour
  • 180 g cultured buttermilk
  • 25 g ginger syrup
For the batter
  • 80 g extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice and zest of 2 blood oranges
  • 100 g unsweetened applesauce
  • 50 g bits of crystallized ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • note: the oranges I used were very sweet and with the crystallized ginger and the bit of syrup in the starter, I didn't need more sugar. You should taste the batter prior to baking (one of the advantages of baking without eggs is that you can actually have a taste) and determine whether or not sugar should be added
For the finished cake
  • blood oranges
  • confectioner's sugar
  1. Starter is prepared at least 4 hours before baking: mix all ingredients with wooden spoon, cover tightly and let rise at warm room temparature
  2. When the starter has doubled, add other ingredients, mix with wooden spoon and pour in oil-sprayed pan. Bake for 40 minutes in pre-heated 350°F/177°C oven
  3. When done (a cake tester comes out clean), turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for another 5 to 10 minutes with oven door ajar. Cool on a rack
  4. Dust with confectioner's sugar
  5. Serve with freshly sliced blood oranges. Alternatively drench with blood orange juice  before serving.

Blood of the Dragon Orange Cake is going to Susan's for this week's issue of Yeastspotting...


  1. I love this! We had a cake incident that I call "Cake in the Road". It is still one of the most delicious cakes with chocolate, marshmallows and cake all jumbled together in a pile and oozing lovely drips of chocolate and mallow.

    Beautiful cake, terrific photos and lovely story, as usual. You are so talented, and resourceful!

    1. Thank you so much, Teresa! I would love to taste one of your so-called cake incidents!

  2. Fantastic! And now don't I feel silly having decided against buying blood oranges yesterday!

    1. Thank you for visiting, Elizabeth. Any sweet orange will do really...

    2. How perfect for the beginning of the Year of the Dragon and for winter citrus! Except for the oranges I actually have all the ingredients for this one. Love your ingenious solution to the spilled cake...Julia Child would approve even if your son was astounded. Should be interesting to see if he becomes a writer.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. He became a lawyer! So I can't even sue him belatedly for breach of confidence... ;-) I am thrilled to read that Julia Child would have approved. Never thought of that. You made my day, Elle!

  3. LOL as would my 12 years old say!
    So A., this story he wrote for his class, thanks for writing it here, it makes me laugh out loud each time.
    Very nice cake, too, très gourmandes.

    1. Merci, Flo! I too always laugh when I think back to these stories A. wrote...

  4. Awesome stories! Awesome cake!

    The description of your flight actually left me with sweaty hands, I remember a horrible flight from Paris to St Louis that had the strongest turbulence I've ever experienced. Since then, I cannot relax during a flight if the plane starts to shake... oh, well... gotta use some Zen methods to deal with our inner ghosts!

    great post, MC!

    1. Thank you, Sally! You know, I was never nervous about flying before (we flew a lot as a family because my father moved a lot for his job) but ever since that flight back from Greece, more than thirty years ago, I haven't been able to relax during take-offs and landings either... So I can totally relate to what you are describing. Nothing like a bad experience to change your outlook!

  5. I love the idea of incorporating the sourdough into the cake dough.

    My Mum told be that in the 70-80ties they sold blood oranges imported from Cuba to Poland and probably to other communist countries. The were also bitter.
    I have eaten them only a few times so far and have found them not better or worse than other oranges. Even in USA during the season it's not so easy to buy tasty oranges. I haven't tried yet "cara cara" oranges ("red navel". I've seen them at TJ's store. I'm very curious how they taste.



Blog Designed by: Deanna @ Design Chicky