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October 18, 2010

Divinely orange

Spring in Melbourne means many things: the green and gold lushness of wattle, the breath-taking beauty of blossom trees, the cheery daisies and daffodils and the sight of many a gardener mowing, sowing and weeding away on sunny afternoons.

Unless of course it is grey and drizzly. Or so windy it could blow the hair off your scalp. Or it might hail. That too is part 'n' parcel of Melbourne spring.

This time of the year is also when families and friends are seen across the city's parks and gardens, having barbeques, playing with their dogs and kids and sometimes just snoozing. It's also time for fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies and what you can cook with them.

Since coming to Melbourne, I've had a new appreciation for cooking (baking rather) with seasonal fruits and veggies. Perhaps it has to do with the many cooking shows or perhaps because now I am cooking full-time instead of just as a hobby. It also makes me appreciate anew my mother's cooking. I never really noticed how she cooked with seasonal vegetables when I was living in India. So many learning opportunities lost...

The first time I had an orange cake was last year. My in-laws were down for Diwali and Mum (Ma would be my mother) had baked this beautiful orange cake. It had finely grated orange zest (the peel) cooked in an absolutely divine orange syrup on it. The cake was soft, moist and so flavorsome, I had a hard time stopping at three slices. Stupid me though, I was so busy eating the cake and then finishing my Diwali-dinner preps -- kebab, Mughlai biryani, gulab jamun -- that I completely forgot asking her for the recipe.

I'd been searching for a good orange cake recipe since. Early this year I tried an orange cake recipe -- Whole Orange Syrup Cake - -from Tamarra Milstein's 'Bake Your Cake and Eat It Too'. The cake calls for both flour and almond-meal, a bit of a pain if you ask me and used buttermilk and marmalade, both of which I don't usually have in my pantry. The result was tasty but nowhere close to satisfying the craving I had for Mum's orange cake. Till about a month ago.

A dear friend and (then) almost full-term pregnant friend of mine came over to see Mia, my then-two-month-old daughter. As she walked in, I noticed she was carrying this delicate-looking, drippy cake... I nearly cried out when I bit into the cake. It was EXACTLY what I wanted. Moist, rich and absolutely singing with orangy flavours. She told me it was her mother-in-law's recipe, very easy to make and used only almond meal and no flour.

I've baked the cake twice now. Once for my mothers' group and once for myself (grin). It's a hit and I love it. Without making this story any longer, here's the recipe.