I Knew You Were Coming, So I Baked a Cake,
an Orange and Almond Cake
I like to say that when I was a little girl, I grew up in the country. My dad’s parents, Abe and Fannie, who emigrated from Riga, Latvia, and Budapest, Hungary, respectively, were real entrepreneurs. There were stories that Abe sold milk off of a wagon, sort of like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Abe was said to have a partnership with Mr. Daitch, who went on to own the Daitch Crystal Dairy company. It was also said that Abe broke horses. I always imagined it was out West, because Fanny and Abe had a print of a painting called The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur, and I thought my grandpa was one of the men ranging the horses in the painting. I have since seen the original painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and it always still makes me think of Abe. However, it turns out that he broke horses in NYC for his milk trucks.
But one thing I know for sure is that Grandpa Abe and Grandma Fannie went on to own the Sackett Lake Lodge, and then later, a bungalow colony in the Catskills, on Sackett Lake, outside of Monticello, New York. My Aunt Beatie, Fannie’s sister, owned the hotel The Congress, which was across the road from the bungalow colony on the left, and across the road on the right was another hotel, The Belmore. Quite a scene in it’s heyday.
When I was young, I spent every summer of my life there, and parts of summers until my son was two years old in 1985. We had a true extended family. Eventually, after Abe and Fannie sold the bungalow colony, they kept one house for themselves and they gave one house to my parents. My Aunt Gert and Uncle Julie and their children, my first cousins, David Mervin and Susan, lived in the lot next door, and Gert and Julie kept a little bungalow on the same lot, up the hill from theirs, for my mother’s parents, Izzy and Clara.
So, what does this have to do with an Orange and Almond Cake? Not much really, except a visceral memory of the heat of the summers in the Catskills, living in a bathing suit during the days of that summer heat, and spending time playing with my brothers, and cousins, and all of the kids that lived along Sackett Lake road going all the way down the road to Camp Shenker, which was just a bit past Winston’s dam. Sometimes, my cousin Susan and I would be sitting on the patio outside her parent’s house, which had green metal outdoor furniture, a big round table with the requisite umbrella to protect you from the sun, and if you were lucky, you got the chair that was a rocker. Sometimes we would spend the time sitting around and singing, most notably, “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” and also, “If I Knew You Were Coming I Would Bake a Cake.” So it was the words of the latter song that were running through my head on a recent Sunday morning when I knew that company was coming in the early afternoon. In more modern times, the song would be memorialized on Sesame Street by Ernie singing to Cookie Monster.
If I knew you were comin’ I’d’ve baked a cake
baked a cake, baked a cake
If I knew you were comin’ I’d’ve baked a cake
Howd-ya do, howd-ya do, howd-ya do
Funny, in my now hazy, elder memory, I thought the words to the last line were Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, as in Hallelujah.
Our guests for this particular Sunday visit, were Ludwik, a family patriarch on my husband Dan’s side of the family, and his wife Linda, coming from Fort Lee, N.J., over the George Washington Bridge, down the Westside Highway, through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, taking the Hamilton Avenue exit, and onto 14th Street where our house in Park Slope in Brooklyn, N.Y is located. Ludwik was brought up in Communist Russia by his mother, after his father was sent to a GULAG camp in Kolyma, where his father would subsequently die. Ludwik lived in Paris for some years while obtaining a Ph.D. in nuclear physics, and then sought asylum and emigrated to America in 1964. He is a retired physicist who had taught on a college level for many years. You may find Ludwik Kowalski’s books about Stalinism on Amazon.com. When he first came to America, he lived with my husband’s parents, Beatrice and Oscar Cohen, in Brooklyn. During his Paris years he had lived with Beatrice’s sister, Tunia. He met his wife, Linda, while both were living in International Housing at Columbia University. Linda is a wonderful watercolor artist. As to our visit, it was going to be at tea time, and I knew that Ludwik and Linda both appreciated a good dessert.
The recipe for this cake, posted on the blog “rachel eats“, is from Claudia Roden’s “Book of Middle Eastern Food,” It fit the bill as a treat for our visitors, as far as I was concerned. I am a big fan of almond cakes. In my mind, they are a close cousin to polenta cakes. They remind me of Italy and make me feel as if I am on vacation there, when eating a slice.
What is unique about this particular recipe is that it calls for one large orange that is simmered for an hour and a half, and subsequently pulped and mixed into the cake batter. I think the incorporation of this orange pulp into the batter adds so much moisture to the mix, it is what gives this cake it’s quality of almost being a pudding. The fragrance of the orange in the batter while baking will fill your living space with an enticing orange scent. Elena, who lives with my son Josh in the top floor apartment of our house, said she could smell the orange cake baking all the way upstairs, and knew that I was preparing something good for our visitors.
Dear readers, if and when you make this cake, and you really should, I think the most important caution in the recipe is to drape some tin foil over the cake to prevent it from burning, if you find that it needs an extra 10 minutes of baking time. Test the cake, and if it is more sticky than clean, but not too clean as it is a moist cake, give it the extra 10. In America, I think we most often use a toothpick to test our cakes. Rachel Roddy of “rachel eats” cleverly recommends testing with a strand of spaghetti, as after all, she has lived in Rome for about 10 years. I tried this new method, and found it a fun and effective way to test the cake .
There is nothing like using oranges in the middle of a gray sky winter. The brightness of the taste and the color of the fruit will warm your heart. If you would like to read some lovely and comprehensive writing on Oranges, check out the chapter on oranges in the book “Chez Panisse Fruit,” by Alice Waters.
- 1 large orange weighing approximately 350 g (or 2 smaller ones)
- 6 free range eggs
- 250 g ground almonds (I used almond meal)
- 250 g granulated sugar
- 1 heaping teaspoon of baking powder
- butter and flour for the baking pan
- Wash the orange and put it in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for an hour and a half, or until it is extremely soft when pricked with a fork. Remove the orange from the pan, let it cool, then cut it open and remove any pips. Turn the orange into a pulp by pressing it through a sieve, moulin, or by using a blender. (I used my Cuisinart - Roddy noted that she used her immersion blender).
- Prepare a cake tin - ideally with a loose base - by rubbing it with butter and then dusting it with flour.
- Set the oven to 190 degree / 370 F.
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the pulped orange, beat again, then add the ground almonds or almond meal, sugar and baking powder and beat again until you have a thick, even batter.
- Pour the batter into the tin and bake for between 40 to 60 minutes. Have a look at the cake after 40 minutes. It should be golden and set firm. Test it with a toothpick or spaghetti strand, which should come out almost clean (almost, as this is a moist cake), as opposed to very sticky. If the cake does need another 10 minutes, drape some tin foil over to prevent it from getting too brown.
- Let it cook in the tin before turning it onto a plate.