On my family visit in California last month, we had an early celebration exactly one month before Grandma hit this remarkable triple-digit age. I needed an easy but special cake recipe for her, for I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could on that last day of my trip. I wanted to talk with her, looking at photos together and playing my violin for her rather than slaving away in the kitchen making some elaborate creation. This Clementine Almond Cake from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook perfectly fit the bill.
As Grandma herself described it after the first bite, “It’s worth living to nearly one hundred to have a cake like this!” This cake may be only a single layer in form, but you definitely taste multiple layers of flavor with each bite. Grated clementine zest infuses the almond-flour cake with fragrant citrus, while clementine syrup poured over the still-warm cake adds another level of edible sunshine.
I’ve always loved the combination of orange and chocolate. A shiny bittersweet chocolate glaze contrasts beautifully with the citrus sweetness, not to mention adding a whole new level of festivity to the cake.
My grandmother has been an enormous inspiration to me over the years. A schoolteacher-turned-photographer, Grandma has an insatiable lifelong curiosity about the world and a genuine interest in other people. Up until very recently, she traveled the globe on photography-oriented trips to far-flung places like Kenya, Thailand, Burma and Iceland. Her incredible eye for beauty and quest for learning led her to create fascinating travelogue shows about her various travels that she’s presented throughout her local community. She also created her own series of note cards under the name “To Share Beauty”, and these gorgeous photos of roses and other flowers have always filled me with joy.
I was fortunate enough to have Grandma nearby as I grew up, and she was always my big cheerleader while sharing in many of the significant milestones in my life. It was she who first realized that my memory was highly unusual and operating very differently from everyone else’s, but she never made me feel freakish for it and only encouraged me to keep exploring it. After I moved away for college, we had regular breakfast dates whenever I returned home for a family visit, and these lively conversations always included a discussion about our various life goals. You have to admire someone in her early nineties whose goals included taking classes at the Apple Store so she could be more proficient using her computer, as well as going back to Kenya to photograph the lions—for a second time!
But one of our breakfasts a few years ago really stood out more than usual. “You know, my dear, at my age I don’t necessarily have as many future goals as you do right now,” she said. “But I suppose if there’s one thing I’m focusing on, it’s that I don’t want to spend the last years of my life being bitter about anything. I have so much to be grateful for, and I want to focus on that.”
I think this admirable attitude—along with her genuine curiosity and natural generosity of spirit—has kept her alive and well all the way to the century-mark, and it is a perspective I’ve definitely tried to adopt in my own life as well. I am full of joy and thanksgiving thinking of her, today especially. While I can’t actually be in California with her today, I may have to make another clementine cake to celebrate her amazing life.
One Year Ago: Salt-and-Pepper Cocoa Shortbread Cookies
Two Years Ago: Arugula-Stuffed Baked Potatoes
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Malt Ice Cream
Four Years Ago: Affogato
Five Years Ago: Cinematic Cocktails
CLEMENTINE & ALMOND SYRUP CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE GLAZE
Barely adapted from a recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi
The original Ottolenghi recipe has the chocolate glaze as optional, but I think it’s an essential component of the cake! I’ve made this with Bob’s Red Mill almond meal (excellent but expensive) and also with Trader Joe’s almond meal (good but not as snowy white and finely-textured as the Bob’s Red Mill version). If you can’t find almond flour, you can make your own by grinding blanched slivered almonds in a food processor with some of the all-purpose flour used in this recipe. You’ll want to process it till the almonds are ground as finely as possible, and adding a bit of flour will make sure that it doesn’t turn into almond butter.
For the cake:
4 large clementines
1- ½ cups granulated sugar
14 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2- ½ cups almond flour or almond meal, divided
5 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
For the syrup:
The juice from the clementines and lemon (measuring ¾ cup juice)
6 tablespoons sugar
For the glaze:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2- ½ teaspoons honey
1- ½ teaspoons cognac (you can also use brandy, bourbon or rum)
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, and then line the pan with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit exactly.
Grate the zest of the clementines and lemon, reserving the fruit for later. Combine the citrus zests and sugar in a food processor and pulse several times to combine. (If you don’t have a food processor you can skip this step, but this really releases the fragrant citrus oils of the fruit and infuses your cake with a brighter flavor.)
In a large mixing bowl, beat the citrus zest/sugar and softened butter together using an electric mixer. Beat till the mixture is smooth and well combined, but don’t overwork it or else you’ll beat too much air into the cake. Mix in half of the almond flour. Add the eggs one at a time, beating till combined and scraping down the sides after each addition. Add the remaining almond flour, the all-purpose flour and salt, beating till mixture is well combined and smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth down the top with a spatula so it will bake evenly. (The batter will be extremely thick.) Bake until the cake is nicely golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes. (The original recipe specifies 50 minutes baking time but I found that my cake was done at 40 minutes. Start checking at 40 minutes so you don’t overcook it, though you may need to bake yours a little longer, depending on how hot your oven runs.)
Make the syrup:
Towards the end of the baking time, squeeze the juice from the zested clementines and lemon to measure about ¾ cup of juice. Combine the citrus juices and 6 tablespoons sugar in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and bring to a boil. Let the syrup boil for a minute and then remove from heat.
When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately brush the hot clementine syrup over the cake, letting it all absorb. Allow the cake to cool completely in the springform pan on a cooling rack.
When the cake has fully cooled, run a thin knife around the edge of the cake and release the sides of the springform. Peel off the parchment paper and transfer to a serving platter. (I am embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve forgotten to remove the parchment from the bottom of the cake before serving it!)
Make the glaze:
Combine the chopped chocolate and butter in a small heatproof bowl set in a skillet filled with an inch of barely simmering water. (You can also do this using a double boiler.) Stir over medium-low heat till the chocolate and butter have melted together. Remove from heat and wipe off the bottom of the bowl. Stir in the honey and cognac till thoroughly mixed in and the glaze is shiny.
Cut four thin strips of wax paper and arrange under the edges of the cake to keep your serving platter clean as you glaze the cake. Pour the warm glaze over the cake, allowing the extra to drip down the sides. Let the glaze set for at least an hour, then remove the wax paper strips before serving.
This is a rich cake and can makes between 8 to 12 servings.