Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Clementine and chocolate cake

This recipe exists in several cookbooks, but is probably best known as Nigella Lawson's clementine cake. It's slightly unusual in that it uses the whole citrus fruit: you boil clementines or oranges until soft (a couple of hours or so), then purée them in a blender, add eggs, ground almonds, sugar and baking powder, and bake. It's really that simple. It's a great recipe for those who can't eat gluten, too, because there's no flour in it. The large amount of ground almonds gives an incredibly moist texture to the cake, and there's a depth of orange flavour that you wouldn't obtain from just using the zest or juice.

To be honest, this cake really arose out of necessity. I bought a big basket of beautiful clementines from the market the other day. They had their leaves on. That is the only reason I purchased them - rather shallow and frivolous, but never mind. I just can't resist fruit with leaves on, it's one of my weird food quirks. Lemons with leaves on are a prize catch that you're not likely to find easily; ditto apples and pears. There's just something lovely about it, as if they've been bundled off the tree that very morning for you. 

Alas, some of the clementines had started to shrivel. I'm very particular about my clementines: they need to be firm, juicy, and very tart: I hate it when they're watery and slightly puckered. Some of these orange beauties had reached that stage, and it seemed a shame to contemplate throwing them away. My first thought was to make sorbet or a smoothie, but then I remembered Nigella's cake recipe and that was that - off to the market for eggs.

The first time I made this cake, I left it pure and unadulterated, except for a dusting of icing sugar. However, the recipe appears in the excellent Green & Black's Chocolate Cookbook with a topping of Maya Gold chocolate (orange flavoured chocolate infused with spices). Seeing as the combination of chocolate and orange is so wonderful, it just had to be done. I dithered for a while over whether to drizzle the cake with chocolate, or completely cover it. The latter won, however, once I had removed it from the oven - its surface was golden brown in places and light orange in others, and quite simply it just wasn't pretty enough to leave unadorned. I also love the contrast of soft, spongy cake with crunchy hard chocolate on the top.

This really a brilliant recipe, and not only because the smell of the boiling oranges will permeate your entire house, making you feel like you're somewhere exotic. I thought about tweaking it a bit - adding some cardamom or cinnamon, maybe, or some dried cranberries - but the original is just so good, and I wanted to let the clementine flavour shine through. The only change I made was to use half caster sugar and half light muscovado sugar, because I love the butterscotch aroma of brown sugar (and for some reason it seems slightly healthier - this is clearly a fallacy I've invented to allay my dessert-related guilt).

For the topping, I just covered the cake in melted chocolate. As simple - and immensely satisfying - as that. I melted a bit extra so I could let it run down the sides, because it looks so much more inviting that way. I also decorated it with extra clementine segments that I had macerated in a mixture of sherry and maple syrup for half an hour to bring out their sharp sweetness (and to stop them drying out and becoming horrible).

Definitely have a go at making this cake. It looks like it took far more effort than it actually did, and the combination of moist, citrus-flavoured sponge with the rich chocolate on top is wonderful. The clementine segments add a little sharpness that brings it all together. Beautiful, and delicious. Incidentally, I reckon it would be very good with Earl Grey ice cream.

Clementine cake with chocolate topping (makes a 21cm cake):

400g clementines or oranges
250g ground almonds
200g sugar (a mixture of caster and light muscovado is good, or just use all caster)
1 tsp baking powder
6 eggs

For decorating:

1 bar Maya Gold (Green & Blacks) chocolate (or any other orange chocolate - try and avoid those with bits of orange peel in, though, as they will make the surface of the cake lumpy)
2-3 clementines
1 tbsp sherry
1 tbsp maple syrup

Place the oranges in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours until very soft (mine only took an hour and a half, but they were very small clementines). Check the water level every now and then - you don't want it to boil dry.

When done, drain the oranges. Preheat the oven to 170C. When cool, slice the oranges in half and remove any pips. Place in a food processor and blitz to a puree. If your processor is large enough, simply add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. If not, use an electric whisk to beat the eggs, then add the sugar, almonds and baking powder, and finally the clementine mix.

Pour into a greased, lined 21cm springform cake tin and bake for about 40 minutes. Check after 30 - if the top is browning too much, cover with foil. Remove and allow to cool before decorating. While it cools, divide the remaining clementines into segments and place in a small bowl with the sherry and maple syrup. Stir occasionally.

To decorate, simply melt the chocolate in a pyrex bowl over a pan of boiling water. Spread over the cake with a spoon. Place the clementine segments around the edge and in the middle.


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  1. I know just what you mean about fruit with leaves! Before I even read what you wrote about it the second I saw the picture I was thinking "oooh, clementines with leaves! How gorgeous!"

    I've wanted to make this recipe since I first saw Nigella do it on TV and for some reason I've never got around to it, the idea of coating it in maya gold has just nudged it from "hmm, I'd quite to make that cake" to "I NEED that cake now". It looks absolutely delicious.

  2. I know - aren't they beautiful? I think the supermarkets have cottoned on to the trend now though, I saw loads of leafy clementines in Tesco yesterday!

    You should definitely make it - it's SUCH a good cake. I had some more yesterday and it improves with age. It's like a Terry's chocolate orange, but so much better. And with cake!

  3. Hi! Chanced upon your blog through your post on

    Made this cake over the weekend using the recipe above (because it had less sugar than claudia roden's and looks prettier ;). It was delicious & does indeed improve with age. I'll probably use a few more clementines the next time though, to bring the orange-ness out. Yes, there will be a next time - in the very near future ;)

    Had a look around your blog & love it - pics are gorgeous & your food looks extremely yummy. This has definitely inspired me to cook more... Thanks!

  4. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the cake - it really is delicious, especially with the chocolate topping. I might have to make it again pretty soon now you've mentioned it!


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