The worst part for me about vacation is that the minute I get home all I want to do is go back. Since returning from Florida last week I have been overwhelmed with self-pity, daydreaming about palm trees, sea breezes and eighty-degree temperatures. Needless to say, all of these thoughts have gotten me nowhere. I am no closer to having a tropical beach replace the Hudson River, and I definitely can't wear shorts or tanks outside for another few months. Even my poor daughter is confused, wondering how we went from corduroys, to sundresses, and back to down jackets in the matter of a week. I think she is starting to worry that she'll have to wear her fleece hat with the velcro chin strap year-round. So, after wallowing away for several days, hoping for some hint of a tropical climate to come my way, I decided it was time to get resourceful. Since we couldn't go back to Florida, I would have to bring Florida to us.
One of my favorite parts about traveling to southern climates is the fresh produce, particularly the grapefruits, lemons and, of course, oranges. There is just something so uplifting about starting my day with a fresh orange at breakfast. I love the way the juice drips down my chin no matter how hard I try to avoid it, and bits of orange oil get under my nails causing my hands to smell sweet all morning long. It is no surprise to me that I love that the fragrance of oranges since studies have shown that, when used in aromatherapy, orange oil has many positive emotional benefits. It is believed to reduce stress, combat anxiety, and promote creativity and happiness. There is no doubt in my mind that these studies are one hundred percent accurate. So, in the interest of reminding myself of tropical climates and infusing my home with uplifting citrus scents, I pulled a recipe from one of my most favorite cookbooks, it was clearly the perfect time for it.
The sound of Olive Oil, Orange Juice and Pine Nut cake was intriguing from the start. I loved the idea of a delicate, not-too-sweet cake studded with crunchy pine nuts. On our Tuesday morning errands I picked up a nice bag of the freshest oranges I could find at our local store - though, not nearly as fresh as the ones in Florida - and during naptime I set about preparing the batter. The recipe instructions were clear and simple and the preparation turned out to be a total snap, in a short 15 minutes I had a delicious batter. Putting the cake pans in the oven definitely produced the desired effect, soon after the baking commenced scents of orange and fruity olive oil wafted through the apartment, greatly improving my mood.
While they were cooling I couldn't help taking a small nibble, just to give them a try. When the first little crumb hit my tongue I was stunned. The cake was rather, well, dull. It didn't really have any discernable orange flavor, it just tasted like blah sponge-cake. Feeling deflated, I let the cakes finish cooling, wrapped them up and left them on the counter for later. After dinner, my husband and I decided to give them another try. We hoped that maybe the flavor had improved with a little rest, knowing that this sometimes happens with baked goods. Happily, in this case, we turned out to be correct. We were thrilled to discover that over the course of the afternoon the flavor had somehow bloomed and the cake was delicate and delicious. Each bite yielded subtle flavors of orange and olive oil all packed in a light sponge-like cake that was not overly sweet. Feeling emboldened by this unexpected success I brushed one of the cakes with a simple orange glaze, just to see what it would do to the flavor. It definitely added more sweetness to the cake, but, frankly, I could do without it. We both agreed that we were happy to eat the cake un-glazed with a simple scoop of ice cream, making note to next time serve it with a scoop of lemon sorbet. In the end, thankfully, I achieved all that I had set out to do. I stimulated my orange sensory memory, bringing flashes of Florida back in no time. And, though it doesn't mean palm trees have started to sprout in Riverside Park, I have a little bit of Florida in New York, for now.
Glazed Orange Juice and Olive Oil Cake with Pine Nuts - adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
4 eggs, separated
1 c. superfine sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. good quality olive oil
1/4 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 t. of baking powder
3 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. orange zest*
1 c. freshly squeezed orange juice*
1/2 c. pine nuts
*I think it might work well to subsitute lemon for orange, meyer lemons would make the cake taste especially good.
For Glaze - if you want more sweetness:
1 c. confectioner sugar
3 T. fresh squeezed orange juice
Yields 2 nine-inch cakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spray two 9 inch cake pans with cooking spray.
3. Whip egg whites until they form stiff peaks, set aside. Be mindful to put them in the refrigerator if it is hot weather, so they don't collapse.
4. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment whip the egg yolks with the vanilla into they get bulky and turn foamy.
5. Whisk the superfine and brown sugar into the egg yolks until combined. Then add the olive oil slowly, mixing well after each addition. Don't get intimidated at this point, at first it is messy, but the batter eventually accepts the oil and it combines very well.
6. Add the flour, baking powder and orange zest to the mixture, alternating with the orange juice. Alternate adding ingredients until the batter is smooth.
7. Gently fold eggs whites into the batter until just combined. Do not overmix!!
8. Pour batter into cake pans and sprinkle each cake with 1/4 c. pine nuts.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops turn golden and a cake skewer comes out clean.
Naptime Props: This batter has all the right elements to make it perfect for naptime preparation. There is no need to take anything out ahead of time, simply enter the kitchen and start mixing. I found using the electric mixer immensely helpful here, but if you only have a wisk and bowl it is still doable.
Naptime Stopwatch: The whole batter only took about 15 minutes to make, the longer part being whipping the egg whites. It doesn't take long to bake either. Be sure to watch it, the top can go from golden to burned very quickly.
Naptime Reviews: I picked the nuts off the top for my daughter and she loved the cake. My husband loved it so much that the cake went from being a whole to a half a cake in just two hours!