Sometimes I obsess about foods that I have never had before. It started when I was small, reading C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” I desperately wanted to try Turkish Delight. If it was something that one ate while drinking hot cocoa, it had to be incredibly yummy, right? I was convinced of this but was unable to even obtain a recipe for it, and so had to settle for Divinity fudge (I imagined Turkish Delight was a super-Divinity) or penuche.
When I was 12, I read a book called “All of a Kind Family”, which introduced me to Jewish cuisine, specifically Hamantaschen. I did find a recipe for those and learned to make them. This turned out to be a major pattern in my life. Get excited about something I’ve only ever read about in books, and find a way to make it, not knowing if what I did was right or wrong, or how close I got.
Sometimes I would try something, and then try to replicate it at another time. Egg rolls and egg drop soup were successful. Fudge was not. Marshmallows were fun to make. Pickled Kielbasa was not something I would try again. Sushi was a slight success. I would only ever try making the vegetable rolls, or the Spam musubi, or smoked salmon. Miso soup was easier.
One of my latest obsessions has been the Clementine cake from the movie Mitty, starring Ben Stiller and Kirsten Wiig. Walter Mitty’s favorite cake is Clementine Cake, which his photographer, Sean O’Connell, takes with him across the world, and uses some to bribe Afghan Warlords to allow him to cross their territory in peace. I won’t spoil the movie for you. I was amazed at how well this cake traveled. It didn’t compact, it didn’t collapse or flake out into a pile of crumbs. It held together and was still good after a month of traveling. It intrigued me.
It being clementine season, I figured I’d look to see if I could find a good recipe for this cake, and I did, on Nigella Lawson’s website. I was amazed to learn it was gluten-free. Indeed, it’s based on a Sephardic cake, probably meant for dessert during Passover when one can’t bake with flour. The almond flour is probably why it keeps so well for so long.
The picture is my first attempt at the cake. It was a beautiful thing – the whole house smelled like oranges when I pulled it out of the oven! We let it cool, took it out of the springform pan, and made a vanilla based glaze for it. My husband and I each had a slice.
As my husband tasted his first bite, he smiled. “I could see why this cake would buy you a passage from a warlord in Afghanistan.” He then begged me to take it to work the next day, or it would be completely devoured.
My only complaint was that it was a little sweet for my taste. Mind you, it only has 1-1/4 cups of sugar in it. I had read in the footnotes on Nigella’s recipe that she sometimes made it with an equal weight of oranges, and with lemons. I decided I’d try making it with clementines and a Meyer lemon. Three clementines and a Meyer lemon went into the pot, and after a bit of fuss to get the pips out, another cake was made and baked.
This cake came out with less volume than the first cake, probably due to overzealousness on my part with the clementines on the first go-round (almost twice as many as needed) but the scent was amazing! I pulled it out of the oven and let it cool. This time I decided to cover it with a chocolate ganache, as my husband had been slowly pilfering the chocolate chips out of the pantry.
It was HEAVEN! The chocolate offsets the orange and lemon cake and gives it a sweetness that is different than the cake. The cake wasn’t as sweet due to the lemon. It was a perfect balance. This is a cake you would not be ashamed to serve your mother in law unless she was allergic to nuts.
So here’s my variation on the Clementine Cake
Yields 12 servings
2 hrPrep Time
1 hrCook Time
3 hrTotal Time
- 3 medium-sized clementines
- 1 Meyer Lemon (must be a Meyer, they are sweeter than regular lemons!)
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 2-1/4 cups almond meal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 9 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or dark chocolate chips
- Put the clementines and lemon in a pan with some cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 hours. Drain, and when cool, cut in half and remove all the seeds. Dump the clementines and lemon, skins and all, into a food processor and give them a few seconds. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Butter and line an 8 inch springform pan.
- You can add all the remaining cake ingredients into the food processor and mix. You can do the whole thing by hand if you don't have a food processor, it's just going to take longer. Trust me, the fruit is falling apart, it won't be hard to mix.
- Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan, and bake for an hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove the cake form the oven and leave to cool on a rack still in the pan. When the cake is cold, take it out of the pan and place on a plate.
- Heat the pint of heavy cream in a small saucepan until steaming. Add all the chocolate chips at once, remove from heat, and stir for all you're worth! When it's all smooth, slowly pour it over the cooled cake. If you cake has a divot in the center from cooling, the ganache will fill it up and make it level. No one will complain about getting extra ganache on their slice.
You could make further variations, such as:
- All clementines, add 1 teaspoon Chai Spice to make an Orange Spice cake.
- All lemons, add another cup of sugar to offset the tartness, and cover with a glaze, then sprinkle with poppy seeds.
- Or my favorite spice combination, add Cardamom to the original cake.