This January I have decided to abstain from abstinence. Whilst the rest of the world resolves to lose three stone in two weeks, stop drinking, stop eating, stop spending and actually stop doing anything vaguely pleasurable, I resolved to start the year in a distinctly pleasurable way; by making a cake. What I want after all the rich dried fruit and chocolate over Christmas is something fresh, zingy but still deeply satisfying. It has to be something with citrus and it has to feel like it is bringing a little light and sunshine back into the greyness of the post-festive world.
I discovered this cake a long time ago and make it every year, as soon as clementines appear in the shops and markets. The original recipe for the Clementine Cake comes from Nigella Lawson’s first book, the ground-breaking How To Eat. Incredibly, this book was first published in 1999 and remains at the heart of my cooking inspiration.
This cake is probably one of the easiest and most satisfying to make, especially at this time of year when January threatens to suck the very life from you. It is a fat-free cake, in the sense that there is no butter or oil added to the mixture. What the recipe calls for are ground almonds, which give all the moisture and taste you could need. The result is damp and moist. So much so that it tastes as though it has been drenched in syrup of some sort. You are welcome to do this, but you really do not need to, as the moisture from the fruit saturates the cake. Best of all is that this cakes improves with age and will keep for a week or so. The use of the whole fruit, pith, peel and all, means it is not overly sweet, as it keeps a freshness and slight sharpness, perfect for this time of year.
Using whole citrus fruits might seem like an odd thing to do, but it is from an old Middle Eastern tradition of cake-making. It adds a wonderful layering of flavour to the cake that you simply do not get from using fruit juice or peeled fruit. The first time it came into the consciousness of Britain was probably in Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food from back in 1968. Back then, there were no blenders or processors and so the cooked oranges had to be laboriously pushed through a sieve. Thankfully, things are much simpler now, but if you don’t have a blender of any kind, you can still make this cake with relative ease.
Nigella’s Clementine Cake
375g clementines (approx. 4 medium-sized ones-or you can use 2 oranges)
6 free range or organic eggs
22 g white sugar
250g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
Put the clementines (or oranges) in a pan and cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 2 hours. Make sure you keep an eye on the water level so it does not boil dry. Remove from the water and leave to cool, cut and remove any pips. Put the whole clementines (or oranges)-skin, pith, everything-and give a quick blitz with a hand blender or processor until a pulpy paste.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC and butter and line a 21cm / 8 inch cake tin, with a loose bottom.
Add all the other ingredients to the bowl or food processor and mix. You can also do this by hand.
Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour. Check the cake after 45 minutes, as the sugar from the fruit tends to make it turn dark quite fast on the top-if it turning too dark, simply cover with some foil. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, on a rack, but in the tin. When the cake’s cold, remove from the tin.
Serve with creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt. It is actually better a day or so after it is made, as the flavours seem to meld together better, but obviously, you can eat it straightaway if you really cannot wait.