syrupy mandarin cake

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hello! i am still home, still loving life and enjoying doing zero study besides listening to some cheeky chinese podcasts (slow chinese are brilliant if you’re in the market for one!)

so limitations when cooking – such a pain, am i right? being told someone is gluten/dairy/nut/egg free or only having a certain amount of money to spend on dinner – it makes us rack our brains and look at and discard so many recipes. but actually, when you think about it, limitations may actually help us find better recipes and become better cooks. i mean, if you have absolutely free rein on any set of ingredients, cooking method and so on, it’s so hard to come up with something you want to make because the possibilities are endless!

perhaps fortunately, limitations are almost always present when i cook. money is obvious, with being a student, but even at home with the relatively more luxurious budget, the limitations of tastes (luckily no allergies, but cooking with pesto would be dangerous for my health as my brother hates the stuff! i knooow, it’s crazy) as well as what’s in season, what’s currently residing in the fridge/pantry, are all things to take into consideration and narrow my field. the last one in particular is probably what inspires me most, and its crazy how often the meals made of things that need to be used up and so on end up being the yummiest and tastiest ones of all, while the meals i pick for their fun sounding name or luscious picture and require buying up the supermarket can be quite disappointing. perhaps a case of lowered expectations, but i do think that cooking from the contents of an empty fridge or pantry is a valuable life skill to have. as a child i loved the cooking show ready steady cook, where the cooks are given a random assortment of ingredients and required to make something out of them, so i suppose it’s no surprise that older, i love to do the very same!

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we are big fruit lovers in my house, but inevitably some is always left too long in the fruit bowl, or rolls around the back of the fridge, until it is no longer appealing as is and must be transformed! i roasted up a few of such apples with brown sugar and cinnamon, and served them with french toast for a yummy brunch, but the slightly wrinkled mandarins posed more of a problem – i never cook with mandarins! however, i’m a huge fan of flourless orange cake, so i presumed the same thing could work with mandarins. i searched the house high and low for a recipe book i knew had a good recipe to no avail, but my gal donna came to the rescue in the form of a recipe in a recent issue of her magazine (which my mum and sister adore and frequently buy!) what’s more, it even specifically called for mandarins – no citrus approximating required.

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my edits to the recipe were to get rid of the polenta and just up the ground almonds in its place, plus the simple syrup she prescribes, to me is just not worth it – cleaning crystallised sugar pots is one of my least favourite kitchen tasks, and a much simpler take is to just heat the mandarin juice with some sugar to form a slightly syrupy consistency which can then be poured over.

finally, i whipped up a lemony cream cheese glaze which is definitely optional – we had cream cheese in the fridge left over from these and i can never resist cream cheese icing! the cake doesn’t need it, being very sweet, flavourful and moist, but if you’ve got cream cheese on hand feel free to use it – if you don’t, i wouldn’t go for a regular lemon icing here as i think it would be too sweet and drown the delicate mandarin flavour.

it was devoured within a few hours of coming out of the oven, which is an excellent endorsement if you ask me! and, while this cake certainly is not appropriate for people with egg or nut allergies, with the glaze omitted it should be gluten and dairy free (probably pays to check the ground almond and baking powder packets for any traces though).

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syrupy mandarin cake

makes a petite 20cm round cake

2 mandarins
1 1/4 cups ground almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup mandarin juice
2 tbsp sugar (to taste)

cream cheese glaze
160g cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup icing sugar
juice 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
dash of milk, to loosen if needed

cover the mandarins with water in a small saucepan, and boil for 30 mins.

preheat the oven to 180ºC. line a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper. drain the mandarins, then puree in a small food processor. whisk the ground almonds with the baking powder and set aside. beat the eggs with the sugar until tripled in size and pale and creamy in texture (donna calls for 10 mins beating, but i think you can get away with less).

stir the mandarins into the ground almonds, then fold in the eggs in two batches, being careful not to deflate the mixture. pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. while it is cooking, microwave the mandarin juice with the sugar until sugar is dissolved. you can add more sugar for a more syrupy consistency (if you don’t have a microwave, just do this in a saucepan on the stove).

remove the cake from the oven, use the same skewer to punch about ten evenly spaced holes in it, and pour the mandarin syrup evenly over it. allow to cool completely.

to make the glaze, beat the cream cheese to a light creamy consistency, add the icing sugar and beat to combine, then the lemon juice and vanilla. if desired, add a dash of milk to loosen. when the cake is cooled completely, top with the glaze and decorate with a couple of thin slices of mandarin, if desired. enjoy!

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