It’s clearly part of a good plan: just when the darkest days of winter surround us, the produce aisles fill up with overflowing boxes of citrus. The bright orange and yellow colors reminiscent of summer sunshine, the fruits packed full of much-needed Vitamin C, and the sweet, juicy segments of the fruit adding a burst of flavor to our days.
Winter’s Citrus options are abundant – I find myself reaching for Satsumas and Clementines, Mandarine Oranges and Naval Oranges, slicing open a fresh lemon or lime to squeeze on fish, pop into a glass of water, add to a Mexican taco. All of the citrus in this country are imported – mostly from Spain and Morocco according to the grocery store labels, but for those of you fortunate to have trees in your backyard: rejoice and enjoy. The rest of us are jealous of your good fortune.
Christmas is now behind us: a time of indulgences both sweet and savory – a time when many people pull out all of the stops to cook up their favorite treats to share with friends and family, or to eat in a rare moment of sweet silence in the middle of the busy season.
|Candied Orange Slices|
The passing of Christmas also marks the beginning of brighter days: I was pleased to remind myself this morning that today is longer than yesterday, and much shorter than tomorrow! A beautiful thing to remember on a sunny winter afternoon. For those days ahead when it sometimes feels like Spring will never come, I give you this cake.
Fran’s Chocolate Shop in Seattle remains my favorite in the world, despite my travels and sampling in places both near and far. If you haven’t tasted her Gray Sea Salt Caramels, you really need to step and get yourself out the shop or order them online. Eat them upside down so the salt hits your tongue first, followed by tempered dark chocolate perfection melting into the perfect caramel – you won’t look back. And lucky for those of us who, when we think of chocolate cake, dream of something deep and dark as a bar of Valrhona, Fran has published a book full of the cake recipes with which she made her start: Pure Chocolate: Divine Desserts and Sweets from the Creator of Fran’s Chocolates.
I have made several cakes out of this book so far, and it has never led me wrong. With a smaller group to feed at Christmas this year, I went for a cake that is simple to make and is so absolutely beautiful from start to finish that is is one I will return to again and again. If you are one of those who love orange and chocolate together, this cake is for you. If you are not certain but love chocolate and oranges separately, there is a good chance this cake is for you. Packed with almonds, dark chocolate and orange zest, it is luscious, moist and full of wondrous flavor. At any sign of the winter blues, warm up your oven and get baking.
Happy Winter, Everyone!
from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow
6 ounces semisweet dark chocolate, chopped (I use Valrhona Caraibe 61%)
3 oranges (Fran uses 2), preferably large navels with dark, rough-textured skin
12 tablespoons/6 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 2/3 cups / 6 2/3 ounces almond flour
1 recipe Chocolate Butter glaze (follows)
1 recipe Candied Orange Slices (my addition; follows)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 300°F/150°C.
Butter a 9″ fluted pie pan and line the bottom with a parchment circle.
In a double boiler, melt the chocolate over low heat. Remove when nearly melted and continue stirring until smooth. Briefly return to the double boiler if it begins to thicken.
Wash the oranges with water (not soap – it’ll leave a soapy flavor). Using a fine grater or a micro plane, finely grate the zest directly into the mixing bowl so that all of the fragrant orange oils are captured.
Add the butter and sugar to the orange zest in the bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until light in color, 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through.
With the mixer on medium-high speed, begin adding the eggs slowly, one at a time. Continue beating until well mixed, about 3 minutes total. The beaten mixture will be lighter in color and will have increased in volume.
Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the almond flour. Then fold in the melted chocolate. Evenly spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until puffed and domed and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center will have a few moist crumbs. Allow the cake to cool at room temperature in the pan for approximately 15 minutes.
To remove from pan, run a thin-bladed knife around the edges of the cake and invert onto a plate or the metal tart or cheesecake pan bottom. Chill completely (the torte can be wrapped in plastic once cooled and placed in the freezer for up to one week prior to assembly.
To finish the torte:
Bring the torte to room temperature, unwrap it and remove the parchment paper. Note: I didn’t let mine come to room temperature, and it was a bit challenging to frost.
Have the Chocolate Butter Glaze and the Caramelized Orange Slices ready.
Place the torte on a cooling rack and place a piece of parchment paper or waxed paper underneath the rack to catch the drips. Beginning 1.5 inches from the edge, slowly and evenly pour the glaze around the torte layer making sure that the sides are sufficiently covered. Then pour the remaining glaze onto the center. Working quickly, using a metal off-set spatula, spread the glaze evenly over the top, letting the excess run down the sides.
Arrange the orange slices on top and around the edge as desired. Let set at room temperature until the glaze is slightly firm, about 5 minutes. Once set, slide off the rack and onto your serving plate, supporting the bottom of the cake with your hand.
Can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days, with cut edges protected. Do not refrigerate as this will dull the shine of the chocolate glaze.
Chocolate Butter Glaze
make just before using. Also from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I use Valrhona Caraibe 61%)
8 tablespoons / 4 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
In a double boiler or a bowl set over simmering watere, melt the chocolate. Remove the top of the boiler (or bowl) from heat when the chocolate is nearly melted and continue stirring until smooth. Add the softened butter, stirring slowly with a rubber spatula until no visible traces of butter remains (if the butter starts to liquify, stop and let the chocolate cool slightly). The glaze should be glossy and smooth with a temperature of 80-85°F. If the glaze begins to set up, return briefly to the double boiler.
Candied Orange Slices
3 oranges, thinly sliced (use the ones you used above for the zest)
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Pour the sugar and water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the orange slices, bring to a boil again, and reduce heat to medium-high so that the mixture is bubbling all of the time, but not boiling over. Allow the mixture to boil and bubble for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and with a pair of tongs, remove the orange slices from the orange syrup and place on a cooling rack placed over a piece of parchment or wax paper to catch the drips. Allow the oranges slices to cool and dry for at least 2 hours or up to one day. Store in an airtight container between layers of parchment paper.