This is a recipe from the beautiful cookbook, Saraban: A Chef's Journey Through Persia, which I received for Christmas. Written by Greg and Lucy Malouf, it's a detailed account of the chefs' journey through Iran, and an exploration of Persian cuisine. With its marrying of fruit, vegetables, meat and spices, this has to be one of the world's most exotic and wonderful cuisines, and the book does it justice: it's illustrated throughout with beautiful pictures and interspersed with accounts of the chefs' travels. Almost a coffee table tome, if it weren't for the fact that the recipes are so mouthwatering. I came across this orange and walnut cake when I was trying to find a dessert recipe to make last night.
I scanned the ingredients list (oranges, walnuts, cardamom, fennel, baking powder, eggs) but my face fell when I read that the recipe required candied clementines, which apparently you can buy in good Middle Eastern grocers. Now, Oxford has some pretty good Asian grocers, but I've never seen a candied clementine in any of them. About to give up on the recipe, I suddenly realised that I have a huge box of candied fruit that I bought in Syria this summer. I'm not a fan of candied fruit, but I bought it primarily because it was the equivalent of £2.50, and I remember a holiday in Nice a couple of years ago where I went to a candied fruit factory and found they were charging 12 euros for a measly box of four candied oranges. I think it was just the principal of it being cheap that made me buy it. That and the fruit looked so beautiful, each sugary nugget nestled in its little paper case, all gleaming and twinkling like jewels in their box.
I gave it to my family as a gift; it remained untouched throughout September, October, November, December, and finally they returned it to me, figuring I'd be more likely to enjoy it than them. Lucky, that I was now in possession of the sweetmeats exactly when a recipe called for them.
The cake is based around a similar principle to Nigella Lawson's clementine cake, which I've made before (and it was delicious). You boil whole oranges in their skins for an hour or so until they're completely soft (which makes your kitchen smell absolutely incredible), then blitz in a blender, stir in ground nuts (Nigella uses almonds, but Saraban suggests walnuts, which add a nice crunch and a more nutty flavour), baking powder, seasoning (cardamom, ground fennel, and I added a pinch of cinnamon), and then eggs. I think Nigella has you stir in the yolks and then whisk the whites until thick and use them to raise the cake, but the eggs just go in whole and beaten with sugar in the Saraban recipe. It also requires you to add two candied clementines to the blitzed orange mixture. Unfortunately, what I thought were clementines in the box turned out to be apricots. However, there was some candied orange peel, so I used that instead. It also made a rather nice decoration for the cake.
The cake went in the oven at 130C for about 40 minutes - the book suggests using a very large cake tin so you end up with a shallow layer, but I didn't have one, so it took a bit longer than the authors suggested. However, the result was superb. It's a very moist, sticky, tangy cake, with the occasional crunch from the walnuts. I decorated it with sliced candied orange peel and pomegranate seeds. I think mine was slightly undercooked (I needed to turn the oven up to cook some pheasant, so the cake had to come out or risk a scorching), but in my opinion that made it even nicer - it was lovely and juicy in the middle.
I imagine it would be lovely with vanilla ice cream, Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche. Possessing none of these things, I had a little bit of my cranberry and clementine sorbet alongside. A lot of orange in one dessert, but a very good palate cleanser.