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Entries in nuts (3)


Orange Almond Cake infused with cardamon - New Year's Keeps on  


Torte, styled.

When we get invited to out to a friends’ for dinner, I am usually asked to bring dessert.  I don’t mind this as I love making desserts, but I am pretty much in pattern of creating seasonal fruit desserts with the occasional lapse into the chocolate box.   I stick to crisps, tarts and sometimes just macerated fruit with ice cream.  I am trying to change this around a bit and at the same time, trying to not go shopping for the one ingredient that is crucial to my dish and that can only be procured on alternate Wednesdays fifty miles from home. I am trying to simplify my life, not complicate things for the sake of cake.

For Persian New Year, I wanted to make something that was vaguely Persian, but was going to leave the cookies to my mother who I simply cannot compete with for taste and quality of her cookies.  I thought about doing something with rice flour and rose water, but then decided that that combination was too sweet and floral.  I wanted to use things that I had on hand – almonds, fruit, eggs and yogurt.  In my googling/epicuriousing/searching I found several great recipes for a Persian Orange Almond Cake that are derived from Claudia Roden’s 1968 cookbook, The New Book of Middle East Food.  In my years, I have never heard of such a cake.  I was all for trying to change things up and the recipe required no searching a store for an ingredient I didn’t have on hand already. Note: not everyone has unicorn horns in their pantry, but I do.

oranges and almonds

Unicorns need not fear.

The recipe is pretty simple, whole oranges are boiled twice to remove the bitterness. This is the same technique that jam makers suggest for extracting the bitter oils from citrus for marmalade.  The whole oranges are pureed in a food processor, and then added to an egg and sugar mixture.  All are incorporated with nut flour and a few more things and a beautiful rich moist torte is created.  The torte sits well on its own, but is even better with a side of crème fraiche ice cream or an orange blossom flavored strained Greek yoghurt.  We loved it so much; we ate it for breakfast the next day.  It does require a little preparation, as the oranges need to boiled twice, but I started the boiling the night before and that saved a little bit of time.

I am a big fan of the nut torte.  I am trying to limit my exposure to wheat, and nuts are something that seems to be easy to process and work wonderfully for some cakes and cookies. 

orange almond cake

Folding in ingredients. Do not over mix.

Orange Almond Cake for a New Year feast – Adapted from Claudia Roden with great props given to Australia’s Taste.com

Serves 12 

This recipe calls for oranges to be boiled and then pureed. I used my Cuisinart, the original calls for mushing up the cooked oranges and pressing them through a sieve. The pureeing using modern machinery is much easier and adds way more fiber.  I did end up weighing the sugar and almond powder because they seem to vary if those ingredients settle. My oranges were medium sized and pretty juicy which means that my cake remained nice and moist.

2 medium sized oranges
300 g. almond meal
1 t baking powder
½ t cardamom
½ t cinnamon
3 eggs
¾ cup sugar (would use a little less 2/3 c. next time)

Cake Instructions:

Wash oranges and place in a sauce pan with enough water to cover the oranges.  Turn on stove and bring oranges to a boil and then turn to a simmer and let simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and drain water.  Add cold water and repeat process again.  Drain oranges and let cool. Note: This can be done the night before, just put the oranges in the fridge until you need them. They will be squishy and that is a good thing.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease a 9” springform pan with cooking spray or olive oil, cut parchment to fit the bottom, coat sides with almond flour.

Puree oranges in food processor until smooth. I didn’t bother to remove the pips as I had navel oranges, if you have seeds, you may want to go to the trouble of removing them first.

Place sugar and eggs in mixing bowl and beat with electric beater until pale yellow and thick.  Turn off mixer.  Add pureed oranges to the egg and sugar mixture. Combine almonds, baking powder, and spices together and fold into the orange/egg/sugar mixture.  Mix to combine, but do not over mix.  Pour into prepared springform pan and place in oven.  Cook for 40 minutes, check for doneness by using a wooden skewer, if it comes out clean, it is done. If not, cook for longer. Once the cake is done, remove from oven and let cool on cake rack. Remove from springform pan after 20 minutes.

Orange Glaze
Juice of one medium juice
Slivers of peel from one orange, zest would probably be fine
¼ c Sugar
1 t orange blossom water

Combine sugar, orange juice and zest in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook until thick and syrupy.  Remove from heat and add orange blossom water and let cool. If it thickens further to the point of gloopiness, add a 1 T water to thin. Thinly brush glaze on cake and use remaining as a garnish on the side.

Orange Blossom Strained Yogurt  (can be made ahead of time):

1.5 cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)
1 t orange blossom water

Combine ingredients until blended.  Place mixture in a coffee filter and let sit in a sieve/strainer overnight in fridge until thickened.  Remove from coffee filter, place in container, in fridge and cover until use.

Serving Instructions:

At this point, you can serve the cooled cake with a lightly sweetened ricotta, the Greek yoghurt described above or a crème fraiche ice cream.  I think the cake is better after it has sat a day. If you are going to do that, wrap cake well in foil until you are ready to serve it.



Persian New Year -Ajil or trail mix for hearty fire jumpers

 the last of the crocii

It is all about the flowers, spring, purity, life affirming and the cookies that my mom makes.

Persian New Year is next week. I haven’t blogged about it because I haven’t been very good about keeping up with the biggest challenge to starting the New Year, which is cleaning up your messes from the previous year.

That sounds really vague doesn’t it?

Really, the few weeks leading up to New Year are pretty much the same – clean house, settle debts, make lots of yummy food, prepare altar and get your life in order.  This year, this has evaded me, partially due to travel, partially due to inertia, and mostly due to ennui.

All together it makes for a muddled end to one year and no real clarity to the next.

I think there is no way I can catch up and make it all spic and span by the Spring Equinox. I’m just going to settle for a 70% solution and call it good.


Haft sin 2006

Makeshift haft-sin or altar from New year 2006. We were in Rome, so we winged it. Looks pretty darn good, IMHO.

The last Tuesday night before the New Year is a big deal in Iran – Chahar Shambeh Souri. I call it the Super bowl pre-game, the Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer special before Christmas of Persian New Year.  You build a bonfire in the street, on the beach, in your backyard and you jump over the flames cleansing your health from a pallid and jaundiced to a vigorous and life affirming pink or red.  In my recounting, I call it get rid of the bad juju and move on.  While we can’t always to go to those great lengths of bonfire makings, we try and jump over a candle at home.

The best part of the celebration is the Persian Snack mix that goes along with the event, because gathering wood, making a fire and jumping over it takes a lot of effort.


This year's ajil, the mixture varies year to year, but its all so good.

Ajil, or snack mix is sold all over Iran and is a staple of any Iranian’s diet.  Much like the GORP mixes that are life sustaining foods of coach airline flyers and hikers around the US,  Ajil is nutritious and easy to make. It keeps for a long time and it is hard not to take great handfuls of it at a time.  It calls for a nice mix of salty and sweet components that balance well off each other. Everyone has a little different riff on the mix, but it pretty much consists of equal proportions of various nuts and dried fruits. My mom’s mix this year consists of hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, dried chickpeas, sultanas, raisins and dried tiny figs.  In the past she has added dried cranberries and apricots, but we’re more likely to stick to the standard mix these days.

Ajil for the last Wednesday before the New Year – Ajil Chahar Shambeh Souri

This is a pretty casual recipe, a little of this, a little of that, no need to be precise with measurements, but proportions are important.  Nuts are all shelled; no one needs to work hard at eating this stuff.

 Makes 9.5 cups

1.5 cup walnut halves
1.5 cup almonds (unsalted)
1.5 cup hazelnuts (I like them toasted, unsalted)
1 cup pistachio nuts (salted)
1 cup dried chickpeas. lightly salted (available at Middle Eastern markets)
1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 cup flame raisins (the bigger, the better)
1 cup currants               

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined. The chickpeas tend to fall to the bottom of the bowl, so tell your guests to scoop all the way to the bottom to get the proportion of sweet and salty together. My TH leaves the chickpeas behind, go figure. If you have picky eaters, you can leave them out.  Store leftovers in a sealed bag for up to a month, if they last that long.


Seasoned greetings - Maple spiced pecans

I love pecans in most everything but pie. I know, I know. I am a heathen. Why ruin a good pecan by putting it in a gloopy mixture. I love the texture and the feel of a whole pecan half. TH swears by toasted pecan pieces mixed in with fudge sauce and coffee ice cream. I like them in chocolate chip cookies, but recently, I have been eating them candied - either by the handful or tossed in salads. They make a mighty fine hostess gift and work well with a fruit and cheese plate. They are also great candied, because they call for no unusual ingredients. You can play around with what you have lying around and they will still taste delicious.

The original recipe comes from a book we bought in 1991 and whose cover has faded to a pale pink. I believe the title is "Foods from the Sun" and right now the author escapes me. All I know is that she was an editor at Southern Living and everything I have made from the book is wonderful. I'll edit this when I can get to my copy.

This is the last recipe in the book and honestly, one of the best.

Maple Glazed Pecans - adapted from "Foods of the sun" - date unknown

yields one pound

1 lb pecan halves

1/2 cup maple syrup (I used grade B -dark amber)

1 1/2 T half and half

1 1/2 T Grand Marnier

1/4 t sea salt

1/4 t cayenne pepper (I used piment d'esplette because I had it around)

1/4 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place pecans in a jelly roll pan and bake for 12 minutes or until the start to look toasted. Remove from oven. In a large skillet combine maple syrup, half and half and grand marnier and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 2 minutes. Add salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and pecans and stir well to coat all pecan pieces.

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the size of your jelly roll pan. Pour pecans and syrup onto jelly roll pan and bake for an additional 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. You may have to break up the pecan pieces.

Store in an airtight container.


If you make these often, you might find the syrup too goopy, sometimes I drain the syrup before I put the pecans back on the jelly roll pan for the second baking.

If you like more heat or more cinnamon, by all means, up the amounts to 1/2 t.

I like to put them in an acetate bag and give away as hostess gifts. My friend Anne uses jam jars for her candied almonds. They are always appreciated by recipients.