If happiness was a colour I know it would be orange. Spherical too. A sphere is such a smooth, unruffled shape. Serene, complete. No edges. No awkward start, troubled middle, or difficult ending. A whole, small, perfect, orange world held in the palm of a hand (a useful missile too, if you find yourself in an orange grove amongst enemies).
A self-contained fruit; secretive, it hides its sweetness well behind waxy walls and lily-white pith. A little dimpled, dry and smooth until squeezed a bit too hard, or scratched and punctured by a careless nail, then the tell-tale oils released and that scent, so sharp and salty, almost, like wading into the waves and feeling the first cold kiss of the sea.
Oranges before living in Italy were - perhaps inevitably - taken for granted, but seeing them grow on trees changes things, somehow. There is something about fruit trees. Perhaps because they are the Christmas trees that don't get taken taken down and thrown away at Epiphany. Green and so alive-looking, despite their grey sky backgrounds; gaudy coloured baubles bobbing about in the breeze, they're better than a Christmas tree, really. In fact, as Christmas trees are so hard to come by here (not the right climate) I've decided for every Sardinian Christmas from now on I will buy a little fruit tree (they cost less) and bring it inside, strew it with ribbons and then plant it towards the spring, so no throwing away of anything and one more tree a year. Now just need to find some land to plant it in....
Anyway I digress, I was talking about the fruit. Citrus is really one of the few things that makes January bearable; the smell of marmalade, canditi, damp sweet-sour cakes for breakfast that pair surprisingly well with coffee (coffee and citrus are unexpected but happy companions, like chocolate and citrus). These last few days I have been experimenting with Pompia, a Sardinian peculiarity which I will write about when I finally nail the recipe. I've tried twice now (3 fruit a pop) and burnt the hell out of both batches. I could weep. Like marmalade you can't take your eyes off it for a second, because that much sugar is just asking to catch and before you know it billows of black smoke, a pot of bubbling black larva and an angry, acrid smell. These Pompia are no longer happy. And neither is my poor pan, crusted with black crud as it is. But anyway, I will try once more before the season is over and post the (hopefully successful) results.
Meanwhile here are a few of my favourite citrus recipes, to blast away the January blues and keep things spritzy.
Campari Citrus Yoghurt Cake
photo by Charlotte Bland from Dolce
Another grown-up cake, this one, but a very great one. Citrussy, light, moist, and with the slightly bitter kick of Campari in the background of every bite. The texture is perfectly damp and simultaneously melt-in-the-mouth. If you can make this with blood oranges, when in season, it’s even more impressive to look at.
This is a cake that could also work as a pudding. It’s fancy enough in terms of aesthetics, and sophisticated enough in terms of flavour. Serve it in slices with some extra yoghurt on the side.
If you wish to omit the upside-down decoration feel free to do so, this is still a very good simple cake, even unadorned.
Makes 1 x 23cm/9 inch cake tin, serves 10-12
For the Upside Down Decoration:
2 oranges, finely sliced
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp water
For the Cake:
3 tsp baking powder
Good pinch salt
80g melted butter
120ml mild, light olive oil
80 ml Campari
Zest & juice of 2 small oranges and 1 small lemon (around 100ml of juice)
Grease and line a 23 cm cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180.
Slice the single orange as finely as you can. Place the Campari, water and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Leave to simmer and reduce for 2 minutes. Lay the orange slices gently in the syrup, making sure to spread them out rather than layer them up (so they cook evenly). Cover them with a cartouche and then simmer at a low heat (making sure the sugar doesn’t catch at the edges of the pan) for around 8-10 minutes, until the oranges are just tender and pink all the way through. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
Arrange the slices of orange in the base of your prepared tin, and gently pour over the syrup. Set aside.
Melt the butter and whisk it together with the yoghurt, oil, eggs, Campari and the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon. Whisk in the sugar and mix until smooth.
Now whisk in the flour, the salt and baking powder and mix until you have a smooth batter (it will be quite runny).
Pour the batter into the cake tin very gently, making sure not to dislodge your arranged orange slices.
Bake at 180 for around 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a (spaghetti) skewer comes out clean.
Invert onto a plate (see note about cakes with citrus decoration p. ) and serve with extra yoghurt, if you like.
Dark Choc, Orange and Mascarpone Mousse. photo by Matt Russell and recipe in the book...
Blood Orange Ricotta Cake
photo by Matt Russell from Bitter Honey
I have published this recipe endlessly (see previous posts - you won't have to scroll far back)