Yogurt Cake with Candied Orange and Cardamom

What a mixed bag this summer has been so far! Days hitting the sweltering 90s have jostled around with days of rain. In May. And June! The synchronicity of warmth and rain reminds me of Bombay. Some days I wake up dreaming I’m back in India with our annual rainy season, something the denizens wait for in desperation to take the edge off the summer heat. Only in a place that experiences the monsoon would people understand and perpetuate the phrase “lovely gray day”.

It’s a start-and-stutter summer out here in the Bay area, which feels like winter and spring segued into a weird groundhog season. This makes it hard to decide how to dress for it, but I don’t quite mind that much. Sure, I love the bright golden sunlight and early morning warming rays of sun. I like summer for all that it brings: a rich plethora of colourful produce in the market, long walks on the beach to watch a rich orange sun set after 9 at night, ice cream cones licked in earnest to avoid drippage, little girls in sunny frocks followed by gamboling golden retrievers enjoying the sunshine, an impossibly blue sky set in an earthy brown landscape, embers flying out and dying into a star-strewn sky. But in truth, I hate heat. What I love most, more than anything about this city, is its mostly cool weather. When the sun turns all hot and terrible, the fog rolls in to soothe heat-stricken souls. I get to enjoy lovely gray days right here in San Francisco. Seeing the fog roll up into the Presidio off the coast is one of the prettiest sights in the world.

One of the perks of having such a summer is that while the rest of the northern hemisphere can’t be bothered with turning on the stove and would rather boil themselves before firing up the oven, I’m happy to do either. Baking a cake on a cool, foggy, summer day is just about the coziest thing you can do. You get additional cozy points if you find the cake you just made reflects this at-odds weather.

This gem-of-a-cake helps you score just that. It is sweet-and-spicy; a western dessert with an eastern twist. I’ve served it twice so far, once at a potluck and at another time as a planned ending to a very Indian meal, both times to stellar reviews. The tart citrus of orange, the sweetness of honey and the warmth and anise-like heat of cardamom amalgamate into a sensuous, sublime cake with gravity. It has a fine, moist (I’ve heard many have a problem with that word. I’m not one of them) crumb, a characteristic ensured by a generous dousing of orange infused syrup. There is no use of summer fruit and this is a deep winter warming spice, but just take a look at it. Did you ever see a cake that looked more capable of bringing sunshine to a table on a foggy day? The memory of this cake will stay with those who eat it. They love to figure out what’s in it. This is a cake you will be remembered for. In a good way. In an ‘oh-my-god-the-girl (or boy)-has-skillz’ kind of way.

Yogurt Cake with Candied Orange and Cardamom
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2011
Makes 12 servings.

For the candied oranges and syrup:
Sugar – ¾ cup
Orange blossom honey – ¾ cup

Green cardamom pods – 3 tbsps, crushed
Orange – 1, sliced quite thin

For the cake:
Semolina flour – ½ cup
All-purpose flour – 1 cup

Baking powder – 1-½ tsp
Ground cardamom – 1 tsp
Baking soda – ¼ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp
Sugar – ½ cup, divided equally
Eggs – 3, seperated
Olive oil- ½ cup
Yoghurt – 2/3 cup
Grated orange zest – 2 tsp
Vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Pistachios – toasted, unsalted, a loose handful.

To make candied oranges:
– In a saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, cardamom pods and 2 -1/2 cups of water together and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
– Turn the heat down to medium low and add orange slices. Continue to simmer for about half an hour, turning the orange slices over midway.
– Line a tray with parchment paper and arrange orange slices on it.
– Strain the syrup to remove pods and seeds.

To make the cake:
– Pre-heat the oven to 350° F.
– Whisk together the two flours, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom powder and salt.
– In a separate bowl, beat ¼ cup of sugar with the olive oil for about a minute. Beat in yolks, than the flour mixture.
– Add the add the yogurt and orange zest.
– In another bowl, beat the eggs whites with clean beaters until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla, beating until    firm peaks form.
– Fold half the egg whites into the batter, then the other half, both times until just folded in.
– Pour into a 9” cake or spring form pan.
– Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, for about 25 minutes.
– Once out of the oven, pierce the cake all over the top  and drizzle a cup of the syrup on to it. When that is absorbed, add another cup.
– Once the cake has cooled, take it out of the pan.  Arrange the orange slices on the cake. Sprinkle pistachios over.
– Cut into wedges and serve.

Cook’s notes:-
I’ve adjusted sugar quantities slightly the second time around and found it didn’t make too much of a difference. The recipe asks for you to serve the cake with an additional dose of  syrup, but I didn’t think it needed it. The cake was great right out of the pan. The candied orange keeps its lovely citrus tang, great just by itself but dynamite on this cake. The candied orange slices can be made a day ahead of time. Just cover the tray with cling wrap and place in fridge. Do the same with the syrup. Warm the syrup slightly before pouring onto cake.
Often I’ve wanted to end Indian meals with a non-Indian dessert that tied it all together somehow. I was never quite happy with things I tried, until now. This recipe is a keeper.
I’ve added powdered cardamom where it asks for whole, skipped steps or mixed ‘em up. The cake still turned out fine. People really love it, and you. Try it, you won’t be sorry!

14 comments

  1. Manju bhai Tapori

    Well written. Don’t care too much about cookin’ but your prose is a-smokin’!

  2. Chrys

    This looks and sounds yummy. How long does it take to make? Will try and make it for my mum this weekend

    • Sharmila

      It takes about 40 minutes to make the candied oranges. You can start those and then do the cake. Or you can make the syrup about a day ahead and bring it to room temp while you start the cake the next day. All in all, shouldn’t be more than an hour and a half in all. But you (and your mom) will really like this.

  3. nathalie

    Hello Sharmila,

    Just spotted this beautiful recipe. Thank you.
    I was wondering… I have durum flour. Can I replace the semolina flour with the durum one?

    thank you!
    nathalie

    • Sharmila

      Hi Nathalie,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and getting in touch.
      I’m a home cook and as such can’t give you any expert or sure-shot advice when it comes to baking substitutions I haven’t tried for myself. I did some online research for you though and based on that, semolina flour and durum flour is made from the same kind of wheat, but durum is milled much finer than semolina.

      This cake has a medium crumb thanks to the semolina addition. If I absolutely had to make this cake without the semolina,
      1. I’d use the all-purpose flour, an additional 1/2 cup to replace the semolina.
      2. Or I might use a nut flour like almond meal in the same amount (but this will change the flavour)
      I say this with the caveat that I haven’t done either of these so I’m not sure what the results will be like exactly. The texture of the cake will definitely be different.
      I’m sorry not to be of more help. Good luck with the recipe. If you do try it in this or any other alternative manner, I’d love to hear how it worked out.

      • nathalie

        Hi Sharmila,

        Thank you for your reply!
        I’m about to make it — with the durum flour — and will be serving it tonight. Will let you know the result. It’s such a lovely cake that I’m hoping I won’t goof it!

        nathalie

        • nathalie

          Hello, bonjour,

          It worked!
          Durum flour was a success. And, I have to admit that while the cake was good the day I made it, it was even better the next day.

          merci,
          nathalie

          • Sharmila

            Yay! I’m so glad to hear that. It is a wonderful cake, isn’t it? Nice to know it works with durum as well as semolina.
            Thanks so much for stopping back and letting me know. Happy almost New year!