A sweet holiday tradition: spiced orange-almond cake is uncomplicated and delicious

It’s a simple, uncomplicated treat for busy days and frenetic times, meant to be left on the kitchen counter for a sweet pick-me-up or a moment of repose.

SHARE A sweet holiday tradition: spiced orange-almond cake is uncomplicated and delicious
Thanks to an infusion of orange and olive oil, this spiced orange-almond cake is redolent with citrus and spice, and it’s unfailingly moist. Almond meal lightens and adds a wholesome crumb.

Thanks to an infusion of orange and olive oil, this spiced orange-almond cake is redolent with citrus and spice, and it’s unfailingly moist. Almond meal lightens and adds a wholesome crumb.

Lynda Balslev/TasteFood

The holiday season is full of traditions. Traditions bring pleasure and reassurance. They give us something to look forward to, and in times of difficulty or uncertainty, traditions root and comfort us. Sharing and repeating traditions connects us to our past and reinforces our relationships with family and loved ones.

A tradition can be a simple gesture or ritual, an act of faith or a gregarious celebration. It needn’t be elaborate; in fact, it can be as simple as a cake.

In our home, this cake is made at least once during the holiday season. It’s a simple, uncomplicated treat for busy days and frenetic times, meant to be left on the kitchen counter for a sweet pick-me-up or a moment of repose. It’s an all-day cake, because it’s equally appropriate for breakfast or afternoon tea, and elegant enough for an understated dessert.

Thanks to an infusion of orange and olive oil, the cake is redolent with citrus and spice, and it’s unfailingly moist. Almond meal lightens and adds a wholesome crumb, which encourages second helpings. While this cake will last for days at room temperature, it’s likely to be devoured before the sun sets twice.

The recipe ages well, passed between the hands of family bakers. And, like the telling of an oft-repeated family story, there may be tiny embellishments and tweaks made, depending on the baker. For instance, baking soda is now added to elevate the cake and offset any remarkable sinkage in the center. (Baking soda neutralizes any acid in the batter; in this case, citrus juice.) The spices may be slightly edited, influenced by the contents of the spice drawer and creative whimsy. Cardamom often plays a lead role, while ground coriander and cinnamon may step in for support. The citrus zest, however, is nonnegotiable and should never be skimped.

The final presentation can be as grand or as simple as you’d like. Serve it as a no-nonsense naked cake, because it can surely stand on its own and should be celebrated as such. If that’s too plain for your liking, jiggle a flurry of confectioners’ sugar over the top for lightness and snowy frivolity; bathe it in a citrusy sugar syrup for a sticky, shiny finish; or dress it up with a cloud of spirited whipped cream infused with orange liqueur. The possibilities are endless.

Spiced Orange Almond Cake

Yield: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

For the cake:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup fruity olive oil
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon (packed) finely grated orange zest, from an untreated orange
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line with parchment and butter the parchment.

2. Combine the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom and coriander in a bowl.

3. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color. Add the olive oil, orange juice, zest and vanilla and stir to blend. Add the dry ingredients and stir to blend without overmixing. Pour into the prepared pan.

4. Bake the cake until golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and cool completely.

5. Serve dusted with confectioners’ sugar or with whipped cream, if desired. The flavors of the cake will develop while it cools. Store the cake at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Optional glaze:

DIRECTIONS:

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Combine 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup fresh orange juice in a small saucepan. Simmer until the sugar dissolves and the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. When the cake is finished baking, immediately brush the top with some of the glaze. When the sides of the pan are removed, brush with more syrup.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories. More recipes can be found at chicago.suntimes.com/taste.

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