This morning we woke up before the sun rose. We got dressed in the dark and for a moment I climbed back in to bed, still so warm. Together we made toast, got in the car and drove to the markets. We beat the banana truck and the shallots truck there, and while waiting for the doors to open, watched trolleys lift the bulging trays and wheel the boxes in to the stands. Inside the smell of fresh coriander and cut vegetables was overpowering, as trays of water-flecked greens were pulled out and displayed in their crates.
We walked slowly from store to store, pulling out a few dollars at each for bundles of sweet potatoes, red tomatoes, spinach, herbs, bananas and apples. I wanted to buy a whole tray of mangoes. Already blushed and ripe, they rested next to great piles of red and purple grapes impossible not to pick at.
Coming home with boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables, I wanted to make a cake that would taste as summery and light as all the fruit at the markets. The front garden has slowly filled with roses over the last few weeks and they are just beginning to drop their petals, so that when I went to grab some blossoms they showered down into my hands before I could cut their stalks. It envisaged a softly sweet, zesty cake decorated with their petals. Rose petals are good for decorating cakes, because they don’t leave a flavour or stain on the icing. They can be sugared and turned into a real edible decoration, or they can be left like they are here, purely for visual impact.
The cake is adapted from the classic Claudia Roden orange cake, but with honey instead of sugar. It’s layered with yogurt kissed with a drop or two of rose water and topped with fresh petals. The cake itself is cool and light, despite being made entirely with almond meal. It smells gently of orange zest and the rose adds the subtlest floral flavour that is almost intangible. Rose water has a tendency to make or break a cake depending on how much you add, so if in doubt, use less instead of more.
This orange cake is such a versatile recipe that turns out so differently from flour-based orange cakes. I’ve adapted it before to make chocolate orange cupcakes that turned out really good! And it worked perfectly here again with the yogurt topping. I love using yogurt as a topping because it tastes just as rich and creamy as cream cheese without any of the heaviness. I flavoured it with rose, but I’ve made it with cinnamon and vanilla before, both of which could taste nice here.
Alternatively leave out the yogurt topping and bake the cake as one big cake in a 23cm tin. It lasts well in the fridge and stays moist for a really long time. I don’t really have anything else to say today, because I’ve had four hours sleep and besides, I’m about to go get gelato…so try the cake! And tell me any variations you try.
Orange and Honey Rose Cake: Adapted from Claudia Roden
250g (scant 3 cups) almond meal
250g (3/4 cup) honey
6 eggs, gently whisked
450g (1 pound) labneh, recipes follows
30ml (2 tbsp) honey
3 drops rose water (optional)
To make the labneh, suspend the yogurt in a tied tea-towel over a sieve which is set over a bowl. Tie up the tea-towel in a bundle and put the whole set-up in the fridge for a few hours, up to 5 and at least 3. Boil the oranges in simmering water for 1-2 hours, until completely soft. Preheat the oven to 180 C (360F) and line two 20cm (8 inch) baking pans with paper. Blend the eggs, almond meal, cut up oranges, and honey until smooth. Pour into the tins and bake for 25 mins, until golden on top and cooked through. Leave to cool completely, then top with the yogurt and sandwich the layers together. Serves 8-10.