Sunday, June 6, 2010

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake with Fleur de Sel

Of all the First Family perks that Sasha and Malia enjoy—twenty-four Christmas trees, two private jets, daily harvests from the new White House garden—I think private pastry chef is probably the one I most envy. Even Bo the Portuguese Water dog can't compete with Bill Yosses, at least when the latter is on-call to cater to one's every dessert craving.

My sweet tooth has had a serious crush on Yosses for some time now—I think it started when I tasted a version of his lemon pound cake (it puts other lemon pound cakes to shame), or perhaps with his recipe for hazelnut-paste-infused chocolate chip cookies. And, while I don't expect an invitation to the White House anytime soon, thanks to Yosses's new cookbook, The Perfect Finish (to my mind, he's earned the superlative), I can at least achieve part of my Obama family fantasy.

This recipe for a Sicilian-inspired orange cake immediately jumped out at me—for the technique (Yosses maximizes citrus flavor by simmering and then pureeing the entire fruit), the Mediterranean sensibility (read: olive oil), and—of course—the fleur de sel.

As promised, the cake filled our kitchen with a bright orange aroma. And, while the texture was a little inconsistent (at times a little too spongy, at times overly moist—my fault?), it tasted vibrant, with a delicious finishing crunch of flaky fleur de sel. I added a swipe of dark chocolate ganache to the plate (which may upset the Sicilian grandmothers among you, but I’d do all over again) and some whipped cream (because most desserts just seem empty without it).

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake with Fleur de Sel

Adapted from The Perfect Finish, by Bill Yosses

2 navel oranges
2 1/3 cups sugar
Unsalted butter, for greasing
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, or to taste

In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Slice the tops and bottoms off the oranges and quarter lengthwise; add to the pot. Bring water back to a boil; drain. Repeat boiling process twice more with fresh water. (This removes the bitterness from the rind.)

Combine oranges with 1 cup sugar and 4 cups water in a pot over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and orange rind can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch cake pan with butter and dust with flour.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and put oranges into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée, 10 to 12 pulses. Add remaining sugar, reserved flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs and process until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add olive oil; process until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove onto a wire rack. The cake should cool for at least 30 minutes more before serving.

Sprinkle fleur de sel over the cake just before serving, and garnish with whipped cream or chocolate ganache as desired.

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