In January, just about the only excitement to be found in the produce section is in citrus. All the other fruit has that anemic, flown-in-from-the-southern-hemisphere look. Summer vegetables like peppers, zucchini and tomatoes are expensive or tasteless or both. And while I love cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and all manner of root vegetables and winter squash, they”re starting to get old. I can only eat butternut squash risotto and roasted cauliflower so many times, people.
But like an antidote to the winter doldrums, it seems as if a new kind of citrus fruit arrives every week: pomelos, tangelos, ruby red grapefruit, Cara Cara oranges, and Meyer lemons are just some of the varieties I have seen recently. I don”t love to eat citrus fruits out of hand, like my husband and daughter do. But I do love to cook and bake with them. Citrus fruits work in sweet and savory dishes and add not only the brightness of their acidity but also a jolt of welcome color.
In terms of color, perhaps no citrus fruit is as much fun as the blood orange. Named for the deep, beet red color of its flesh, blood oranges are usually smaller than navel oranges — you might confuse it for a tangerine from the outside — and have a more dimpled peel. There are several varieties of blood orange, most of which originated in Spain and Italy; the one that I see most often is the Moro. Blood oranges are prized not only for their color but also for their sweet, fruity flavor. Blood oranges are often showcased in salads or their juice is used in cocktails and sauces. The phrase “blood orange gastrique” keeps running through my mind as I write this — I must have seen someone make that on “Top Chef.” Martha Stewart has several blood orange recipes on her site, many of which look delicious. (Google “blood oranges” and you just may find out about the 1997 erotic film with that title. Ahem.)
I was excited to see blood oranges at the market this week because I am making exclusively citrus items for the upcoming Chicago Food Swap. I bought nine or ten oranges, which enabled me to try a couple of different things. First, in spite of my bad-mouthing marmalade in my post on pomelos — the phrase “fat ton of work” was involved and I stand by that statement — I made a blood orange marmalade. I was inspired to try making marmalade again because I found a recipe that did not require me to separate the fruit from the membranes – perhaps the world”s most annoying kitchen task. The recipe did require me, however, to peel the zest off seven oranges and then slice the zest into thin strips before boiling the zest and the fruit separately, straining the liquid from each through a cheesecloth and then actually making the marmalade and canning it. So, it was not exactly a picnic. But the result is a rosy pink, bittersweet marmalade studded with strips of peel that I think even the Countess of Trentham would approve of. (One of my favorite scenes in the movie “Gosford Park” is when Dame Maggie Smith sniffs: “Bought marmalade? I do call that rather feeble.”)
With the rest of my blood oranges, I wanted to make something less soul-crushing, like a cake. Although the flavor of blood oranges is distinctive, I wanted to be sure and showcase the fruit”s beautiful color. So, I adapted a favorite recipe for a cranberry-orange buckle to include pieces of blood orange flesh and a glaze made with their juice. Cranberries are also good at this time of year, and you can easily use frozen ones if you can”t find fresh. (I used cranberries from the Oak Park Farmers Market that I had bought months ago and frozen.) They also pair beautifully with orange. The pink blood orange glaze makes this cake party-ready. Serve it at a festive brunch or tea party.
Cranberry Buckle with Blood Orange Glaze
Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts
For the cake
1 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Zest of two blood oranges
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 TB vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt*
1 cup cranberries
For the streusel topping
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 TB sugar
2 TB brown sugar
Pinch of salt
4 TB cold butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp. vanilla
For the glaze
2 TB blood orange juice
3/4 cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour a square 8×8 inch baking pan. Make the streusel topping by combining the flour, sugars and salt in a small bowl. Add the 4 TB of butter and combine using two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle the vanilla over the mixture and place the bowl in the freezer until needed. To make the cake, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter, sugar and orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating each addition with the sour cream or yogurt, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Fold in the cranberries and pour the batter into the prepared pan. Peel one of the blood oranges and cut in half. Tear the flesh of the orange into segments and place on top of the cake. Top with the streusel topping. Bake for 45-50 minutes until the top is firm. Cool on a rack. Meanwhile, make the glaze by whisking together 2 TB of juice from the blood oranges and the powdered sugar. Drizzle on top of the cake while it is still warm.
*The original recipe for this cake calls for sour cream. The day I made my version, I was out of sour cream so I substituted Greek yogurt. The cake was slightly more dense as a result, but the yogurt gave it a nice tang and obviously the recipe has less fat with the yogurt.