An orange on the table, your dress on the rug, and you in my bed, sweet present of the present, cool of night, warmth of my life. – Jacques Prévert
As summer winds down and fades into autumn, as the stone fruits and berries turn mealy and flavorless and then disappear into memory, I begin to crave oranges. It is as natural as my craving coffee in the morning and sleep at night, as natural as my craving for a hug and a kind word when I am feeling down. I can smell the citrus before they even show up on the market stands. I can tell by the shape and color of an orange, by the heft as I weigh them in my hand whether or not they are good for the eating or if I need to bide my time, put it off and wait another week or two.
Growing up in the Sunshine State, along the Indian River famed for its citrus groves, I am and always have been an orange girl, lived and breathed oranges each and every winter throughout my youth. Winters meant dad’s workbench in the garage groaning under the weight of brown paper grocery bags filled to bursting with navels, tangerines, grapefruits, Valencias and Tangelos. Winters meant trips in the old green station wagon to the groves on chilly weekend mornings where we could pick them ourselves, filling up those brown paper bags, or stopovers at one of the many roadside stands piled high with red, orange or yellow red mesh sacks, my small fingers laced through the netting, the feel of citrus rind smooth and vaguely nubbly, excruciatingly tempting.
Winters meant thumbs pressed into the rind of an orange, the aggressive, fragrant spurt of oil and juice spattering my face and shirtfront as I dug my fingers underneath the skin and pushed back, the peel yielding, giving way to the flesh, juices running down my arms to drip off of my elbows. Winters meant eating oranges one by one by one by one non-stop until well after the end of the season, until there was no more local fruit to be had.
Remember those Citrus Sippers, stubby plastic tubes with serrated ends that were pushed down into the whole orange, the juice then drunk straight from the fruit? Or sticking paper cups of freshly squeezed orange juice in the freezer, the solid block of frozen juice later chopped and hacked at, chipped away teaspoon by teaspoon, eaten on a hot Florida afternoon.
Living far from Florida and feeling the tug of homesickness, a culinary nostalgia, my innate craving for citrus sunshine the first hint of autumn chill in the air, I give in too soon and am willing to start my orange season just a tad too early when the oranges might still be a bit too tart, not quite sugary sweet enough, the membrane encasing the sections a tad too tough. But with each passing year, I become just that much more impatient for my oranges and need to have them just to appease my thirst, quell my craving.
And then I got to write a cookbook.
A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air. – Henry Ward Beecher
How the topic came into being I don’t quite recall, but after sitting on it for a while my agent and I agreed that we should go ahead and put together a proposal. Orange juice courses through my veins and this personal connection made it the right topic for me and, oddly enough, we would soon discover, no one had published a major cookbook featuring this, my favorite fruit. The decision was as easy as that.
But then proposal became reality and anxiety set it. How does this whole cookbook thing work? I pored over online reviews of cookbooks, predominantly the negative reviews; it wasn’t enough to see what makes a cookbook user happy, but I needed to know what they hated, what made them regret their purchase.
“The photos are enticing. The recipes aren’t very unique, tho.”
“The recipes are so simple that it seems a little silly to include them in a cookbook.”
“There are so many inconsistencies and mistakes in the instructions, and above all, the recipes I tried were pretty mediocre.”
“I’m very disappointed. I wanted a photo with every recipe!”
A first cookbook is fraught with doubt and anxiety. Those negative one-star comments we read on Amazon cookbook reviews instruct – things to avoid, things to understand, things to do – but they haunt us as well. We don’t want to disappoint. We don’t want to crash and burn.
First, I sat on it for a bit, thinking it through. I studied those cookbook reviews on Amazon trying to understand the reasons behind the five star reviews as well as the one star reviews. What do I need to include and what do I need to avoid? I then began doing a massive amount of research, combing through my collection of antique cookbooks and recipe collections and talking to friends in different countries with different cuisines, making notes, writing lists of recipe ideas, rewriting lists of recipe ideas. I was curious to see how oranges were used in cooking and baking not only around the world but back in time, curious to know if there were recipes that were once popular that then went out of fashion quickly to be forgotten. I made lists of other ingredients, fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, for which oranges had a natural and loving affinity. And only then did I begin developing my recipes.
But wait, I first had to create a frame for the recipes. You see, if my book, my single topic was on soups or cookies or Jello molds or soufflés, I would have a frame: ultimately, every recipe in the book would have to resemble that dish or dessert. The flavor variations may be endless, one may deconstruct it, but there is a set frame and target product: your end dish has to be recognizable X, albeit the challenge is to be creative and interesting. But one ingredient means finding that frame myself, creating a list of recipes that is cohesive and consistent while being varied and interesting, a list of recipes that makes sense and that highlight my ingredient without letting my recipes run amok.
I also wanted to avoid creating what I refer to as “restaurant” recipes. Spectacular dishes made from extraordinary or exotic ingredients catering to a special palate and a high-end budget. Dishes we ogle as we curl up with a beautiful cookbook, maybe make once a year if we can find the ingredients…. Well, you get the idea. What I wanted was a collection of recipes that reflected my cooking style and my kitchen, recipes that I cook and bake everyday for my own family and friends. Homey, comforting, and familiar dishes and desserts but with an added wow factor, something that set it apart from every other similar recipe. And even as the dishes would reflect my multi-cultural kitchen, the recipes I created would, for the most part, use pantry staples or ingredients that most anyone, anywhere could find.
I wanted, in short, to bring together a collection of recipes that would demonstrate the spectacular pizzazz the simple orange could add to a dish, a cookbook that would get people cooking and baking with oranges (and surprise them with the results) while offering simple, homey recipes that people would incorporate into their daily repertoire of family recipes.
Curious thing about the orange. There is the fruit, the flesh, of course, but there is the peel, the zest, and the juice. And, of course, orange powder, orange liqueur, orange extract, orange blossom water, if I so choose (which I do). So I also wanted to make sure that each of these separate orange entities was somehow highlighted.
Of course, I started with both savory and sweet. And for as much as I adore oranges, as much as I eat oranges, as often as I have added juice to cake batter, zest to bread dough, marmalade to brownies, the savory dishes featuring oranges surprised me. Blew me away. This was going to be fun.
One beautiful cake that did not make the cut for the book is this delicate chiffon cake. A perfect, old-fashioned chiffon cake is light and ethereal with a tender crumb and a whisper of orange flavor. The ideal dessert after a hearty, warming winter meal or for a light yet satisfying snack. And a favorite of my recipe testers.
- 2 egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
- 4 egg whites, preferably at room temperature
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (150 gram) cake flour
- ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar (separate out and reserve 1 tablespoon)
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Finely grated rind/zest of 1 orange
- ¼ cup (60 ml) neutral vegetable oil
- ¼ cup (60 ml) + 2 tablespoons total freshly squeezed orange juice – OR - replace 1 to 2 tablespoons of the orange juice with Cointreau or Grand Marnier
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of cream of tartar, not more than ¼ teaspoon or pinch of salt added to the whites
- 1 to 2 tablespoons slivered almonds for garnish, optional
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Have ready a 9-inch x no less than 3½-inch deep ungreased tube or Bundt pan.
- Separate 4 eggs, placing the whites in a medium mixing bowl, preferably plastic or metal, and reserve 2 of the yolks for the recipe, saving the 2 leftover yolks in the refrigerator for another recipe. Add the cream of tartar or a few grains of salt to the whites and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift or stir the flour, sugar (less the 1 tablespoon reserved), baking powder, salt, and finely grated zest.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the vegetable oil, the 2 egg yolks, the orange juice and Cointreau and the vanilla. Beat on low speed until blended and then on medium for another minute until thick and creamy.
- Change or wash the beaters.
- Using very clean beaters, beat the whites on low speed for 30 seconds then increase to high speed and beat until thick and opaque; continue beating as you gradually add the reserved tablespoon of sugar. Beat until very stiff: do not underbeat; the whites should be very stiff, more so than for an angel food cake.
- Place about a third of the egg whites in the batter and, using a spatula, fold until the whites are blended in and the batter has lightened and the volume increased. Now fold in the whites in 3 more additions, folding in lightly but firmly until well blended.
- If you like, place the slivered almonds in the bottom of the tube or Bundt pan, evenly distributing around the tube.
- Pour the cake batter lightly into the tube or Bundt pan and bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 55 minutes until puffed up and firm when lightly pressed with the fingers.
- Invert the pan over a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely in the pan – upside down.
- Once cooled, carefully remove from the pan and place bottom (with the slivered almonds) side up.