I love to bake with what is currently in season. While the majority of the country’s home-grown produce is out of season, Floridians know that citrus is currently at its peak. I recently realized I have never produced a citrus-based confection this time of year and decided this needed to change. Perhaps the reason I always avoided citrus despite the abundant availability around me is my hidden fear of a bitter final product. In order to get that strong citrus flavor you need the oils from the zest, which requires that the entire fruit be processed, peel and all.
Growing up I always hated the bitter taste of even the slightest bit of pith on my orange or mandarin segments and would spend way too much time working to remove every last bit of “white stuff” so that I could actually enjoy the segment. Very early on I grew annoyed with any citrus that had a peel and came to enjoy the canned mandarin oranges as my substitute. Now, as an adult, I realize the fresh stuff is way better than anything from a can but I still struggle shaking away those childhood bad habits regarding piths.
Since I have yet to successfully overcome my childhood habit I needed to find a recipe that would suit my avoidance of using the entire fruit to provide citrus flavor. If you do a recipe search for mandarin flavored cakes you will quickly realize there are typically only 2 formulas used. The most common formula uses canned mandarin oranges and a cake mix. Although this may do in a hurry it is not what I was looking for since I am seeking to avoid processed foods. The second formula uses the entire mandarin and purees it in a food processor. Neither of these fit my needs so I had to come up with my own solution.
The first step to solving any problem is knowing what the desired outcome is and what is preventing you from getting there. My desired outcome was a cake with a citrus punch without using the entire fruit, however the problem is without the entire fruit the cake lacks bulk and intense citrus flavor. To solve this I created a compromise. I would use zest from the clementines, and use segments of the clementines but discard the remaining peels. In order to sub for the missing bulk the peels would have provided the batter I added a raisin paste along with the segments and walnuts. The raisin paste not only added bulk to the batter but it also acted as a natural sweetener, allowing me to cut down on some of the sugar therefore making the recipe a bit healthier. To give a bit more sweetness and citrus flavor I topped the cooled cake with a Tangerine juice glaze. If you are wondering how to make raisin paste, you simply place some raisins into your food processor and add water just enough to cover the top of the raisins. Simply puree the mixture and voila you have raisin paste. If you make too much you can always store it in the refrigerator for future uses. It is a great sub for whole dates in many recipes.
All in all I was very pleased with the outcome of this cake. It was moist, not overly sweet, and had a nice touch of citrus flavor without any lingering bitterness. In our sugar filled world this cake may not please the masses like its frosted cousins but it is sure to please those who enjoy tasting actual cake and not a touch of cake covered in ten pounds of sugary frosting. Give it a try and enjoy the produce of the season…citrus!
- Cooking Spray
- ½ cup Walnut Halves; toasted
- 4 tbsp. Raisin Paste (see description above for details)
- 1 tbsp. Clementine Zest
- 2 Clementines; peeled & segmented
- ½ cup Light Brown Sugar
- 3 tbsp. Unsalted Butter; softened
- 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
- ¾ tsp. Vanilla Extract
- 1 Large Egg
- 9 oz. All-Purpose Flour (2 cups); plus more for dusting pan
- ¾ tsp. Baking Soda
- ¼ tsp. Salt
- ½ cup Fat-Free Buttermilk
- 1 cup Powdered Sugar
- 5 tsp. Fresh Tangerine Juice
- Toasted Walnut Halves; for topping
- Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Coat the parchment with cooking spray and dust with flour. Set aside.
- Place walnuts, raisin paste, zest, and clementine segments in a food processor and process until ground.
- Combine brown sugar, butter, and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl). Beat mixture with a stand or hand mixer set to medium speed until well blended. Beat in vanilla and egg.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the sugar mixture, alternating between the two, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add the nut mixture and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. After 10 minutes remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
- After the cake has cooled completely, in a small bowl combine the powdered sugar and Tangerine juice. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and spread to coat the top evenly. Top the outer edge of the cake with toasted walnuts. Serve.