Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake

I love blood oranges. My introduction this red globe of goodness was when I was in school in Europe.  The lady with whom I lived, aka Frau Mudder (a rather fierce Viennese lady -- very formal and somewhat frightening to this fish out of water American who was living with her urbane  German husband and she during a semester abroad) placed a small glass of blood red juice on the breakfast table in front of me.  "Ummm, what is this?" I asked quizzically but politely, not wishing to offend with my ignorance.  "Blood orange juice," she replied in that somewhat clipped manner of which she was so very fond.

Never having been squeamish about trying new things, I took a sip.  It was a revelation, and epiphany of orange!  The overwhelming sweetness combined with undertones of tartness and a slight bitterness.  Amazing! I became obsessed.  I needed that blood red juice running down my chin!  I bought them at every chance.  They were imported to Luxembourg from Israel all winter long!  My adopted European home became nothing less than a blood orange filled Nirvana!

When I returned to the United States, I couldn't find a blood orange to save my life. For years I searched in vain.  No blood red globules of bliss, no orange delights, no blood red juice running down my chin, nada.  Then one day, more years later than I'll admit to, there they were!  I was ecstatic! So what if they were seasonal!  They were here!  Over the moon -- that's what I was!

I tend to roam the aisles of Jungle Jim's Market, especially in the winter months when I have cabin fever and am looking for some kind of culinary jolt of inspiration -- a zing of an idea that will jump-start my winter dead head.  Winter is tough on me.  I really love the snow but hate the gray days that often surround a snowfall. When the blinding sunlight hits that snow, I'm alright again.  But until the sun comes out, I'm a slug.

Recently, during one such foray into The Jungle I spied, in the markdown area (a kind of  island of ready to be forgotten produce - with significant price mark downs), a forlorn bag of blood oranges just a bit past their prime. Being mindful that these babies would not pass this way again for another nine months or so, I scooped them up.

This cake is inspired by the traditional Tarte Tatin or good old Upside-Down Cake.  Actually it is not so much inspired by the Tarte of the sisters Tatin as it is an excuse to use my Emile Henry Tarte Tatin Set.  A birthday gift from my husband and daughter, this pan needs to be used and used and used again in order to justify its expense.  I'd mentioned to my daughter that I admired one and on my birthday one appeared in the form of a gift wrapped package.  Of course this gift could have little to do with my daughter's love of all things French, especially of the Tarte Tatin variety.  The pan is perfect for this or any upside-down cake preparation because it has the pan in which the tarte or cake is baked and a perfectly sized serving plate on which to invert the cake. Being someone who has had to clean up the floor and self after a cake inversion fiasco, this pan is just the best!

The cake recipe was one of my mother's personal favorites.  She called it a Busy Day Cake. It's sometimes called a Lazy Day Cake. It makes a great quick weekday dessert, shortcake for berries, an any-kind-of-berry upside-down cake, or a wonderful little Boston Cream Pie, which I'll discuss in another post. If you'd rather use puff pastry, or your favorite pate sucree, either will work just fine.

Give this a try.  If you don't have an expensive birthday present like mine, just use a good old cast iron skillet. That's what I used before my last birthday!

Blood Orange Tarte

The Orange/Caramel:

Preheat oven to 350F  Place rack in middle of oven.

5-6 Blood Oranges, peeled and sectioned with as much visible white membrane as possible removed (as you can see, I didn't do this)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, roughly cut into cubes

In 12 inch iron skillet or cake pan, over medium heat, melt butter and brown sugar until bubbly and golden. Remove from heat.  Arrange fruit in concentric circles from the outside towards the middle, rounded edge down. Set aside.  Make cake batter as directed below and pour batter over fruit/sugar mixture, smoothing over fruit.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until edges are caramelized and top of cake is golden.  Remove from oven and rest for 10 minutes. Carefully turn out cake onto serving plate, being careful to turn cake away from you.  Serve warm with ice cream or creme fresh.

The Cake:

I always think of my mom when I make this cake.  I remember calling her for the recipe.  I wish I had asked her for recipes more often. I’m not exactly sure where she  found this recipe.  Let’s just say that it’s a good old cake from way back -- an easy cake that is excellent for any little yellow cake application.

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2/3 c. milk
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and baking powder. Cut in flour and work until flour is well incorporated and mixture looks like course corn meal.  Meanwhile, whisk together milk, egg and vanilla. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and beat by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Pour batter into a greased and floured 8 x 1 1/2 inch round or square baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Just a yummy little bloody yellow cake…

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