Friday, February 7, 2014
Blood Orange Five-Spice Baby Cakes
It's blood orange season and that means some of the best of the citrus family are making their grand entrance. These beautiful bright gems have the perfect thirst-quenching balance of acidity and sweetness. Their colors vary from deep dark red to vivid bright orange. Part of the fun is slicing into them to discover each one's own unique and stunning surprise.
Blood oranges originated in 19th century Sicily, popping up in America sometime in the 1930s via immigrants from Italy and Spain. The Moro is the most colorful and most commonly found in our markets. The skin usually has a dark red blush and the interior can sometimes be variegated.
I've baked them here into little baby cakes scented with five-spice powder, a phenomenal combination of spices found primarily in Asian cuisine. Although the exact formulation of five-spice is as varied as masala chai spice mixtures in Indian culture, the five flavors that make up this spice are designed to cover the sensations of sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. The most common blend combines fennel, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. I featured it in three new recipes in my cookbook and love its use in pastry and desserts.
These little cakes mix and bake quickly and add a note of sensational color to your table, just the sort of thing we need at this point in the winter season. Sit back and enjoy a quiet moment of tranquility with a bite of spiced cake and dazzling luscious fruit.
- I don't position the orange slices in the pan until I'm ready to portion the cake batter because I don't want the oranges to macerate in the sugar and create too much liquid.
- If you can't find five-spice powder, substitute with a dash of your own favorite spice. Common spices that go well with orange: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom. If you choose cloves, use about 1/4 teaspoon.
- I use an ice cream scoop to portion the cake batter.
- I think I'd like more orange per cake so next time I might chop the oranges and layer them in each well, adding a pinch more brown sugar before laying them down.
Blood Orange Five-Spice Baby Cakes
Makes 12 baby cakes
1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) butter, melted
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
4 blood oranges
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
4 oz (8 tablespoons) butter @ room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs @ room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk @ room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a standard muffin pan with melted butter. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar into each well. Set aside.
Cut the rind off of the blood oranges, making sure to remove the white pith. Cut into 1/2" slices and set aside.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and five-spice powder together.
Cream the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add orange zest and vanilla and blend. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing until thoroughly blended and scraping down the bowl before adding the next. Add one-third of the flour mixture alternately with half the milk, starting and ending with the flour. Scrape down the bowl to be sure everything is incorporated.
Place a slice of blood orange in each well. Scoop the batter on top of each orange slice.
Bake until the cakes spring back when lightly touched, about 20 - 22 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for about 8 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cakes and gently push and lift up to loosen. Place a baking sheet over the muffin pan and carefully invert the pans to remove the cakes. Cool completely on a wire rack.