IF I KNEW YOU WERE COMING, I'D HAVE BAKED A CAKE....
A good friend asks me to provide a pudding for her dinner party which I'm also attending, and requests Torta de Naranja, a deliciously moist almond and orange cake drenched in syrup.
I buy the ingredients, but when I go to the fridge I find Someone Else has used some of the eggs for breakfast omelettes. I don't want to go to the supermarket again because I've got a headache and the beginnings of a rough throat, so I begin a fruitless search through other favourite recipe books for something baroque and chocolatey. But every recipe calls for 8 eggs (I have 7), and copious amounts of double cream, alcohol and other ingredients I don't have. In the end, I decide to wing it with 7 eggs and make 2 rather thin, sad-looking cakes. I pour the orange syrup over both cakes with my fingers crossed behind my back.
When I get to the hostess's beautifully appointed house in Clapham Old Town, I peel off the tin foil, taking the sticky top of one cake with it, like pulling a plaster off a scab before it is fully healed. Leaving the cakes in the kitchen, I join the other guests in the elegant sitting room, and, sitting beneath a faux Rothko picture the hostess's mother painted, I drink three Kir Royales, and discuss quantum physics (about which I know almost nothing - Demon Cook winging it again!) with one of the guests, who later reveals he is a quantum physicist.
Over dinner, we talk about Dorset, Afghanistan, men wearing make up, dogs. I've forgotten all about my scabby cakes, because I'm trying to keep half an eye on my best friend up the other end of the table, who's been set up with the hostess's single man friend. It seems to be going all right - lots of eye contact and laughter.
I dust the sorry-looking cakes with icing sugar and ground cinnamon, and take them to the table. I've drunk so much, I'm past caring about their appearance. And they are so delicious - damp and almondy, scented with orange flower water - that no one cares what they look like, least of all the other diners. There are contented sounds as people tuck in. Seconds are offered, and accepted.
Sometimes cooking is just about having the chutzpah to do it!
TORTA DE NARANJA
Orange & Almond Torta
This recipe comes from the first Moro book by Sam & Sam Clark. Its ingredients are redolent of Moorish Southern Spain.
The quantities double up easily to make a larger cake. I often make this at Christmas as an alternative to Christmas Pudding (which I dislike intensely). This recipe is for 6.
6 large eggs, separated
240g caster sugar
230g ground almonds
finely grated zest of 2 oranges
juice of 8 oranges or 8 Seville oranges (for a slightly tarter flavour)
juice of 1 1/2 lemons (if not using Seville oranges)
1 whole cinnamon stick
caster sugar to taste
Oven 180C/Gas 4. Line a 23cm loose bottomed cake tin.
Reserve 1 tbsp of caster sugar, and then beat the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until pale and creamy. Then add the almonds and orange zest. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites and the remaining sugar until still and carefully fold in the sugar-egg-almond mixture, trying not to knock the air out of the whites. The mixture may seem stiff at first, but it will soon loosen. Gently pour into the prepared cake tin, and bake for about 60 mins until the cake is golden on top and firm to the touch. While the cake is baking, make the syrup by boiling the orange and lemon juice with a handful of sugar and the cinnamon stick. Allow to simmer for 5 mins. When the cake comes out of the oven, pierce the top with a skewer and pour the syrup over. Later, before serving, dust the top of the cake with icing sugar and ground cinnamon.