I have a secret. Don’t tell anyone, but 30 years ago today at exactly 8:02 AM, I was thrust into the world, eyes wide open, crying incessantly; I was loud and proud from the start. At that moment, a look of horror spread across my dad’s face. Apparently, he was a bit unprepared for the site of baby delivery, or so my gramma once told me. It could have been all that black hair on my head, which agreeably would have been a bit unexpected, indeed a surprise to a light-haired guy married to a light-haired girl. Luckily, he came around and decided I was cute after all, and that I was definitely his :). Shew!
Thirty years later, it’s hard to tell what color my hair will be from one week to the next, but that’s a discussion for another day. This week, it’s red, baby.
With the cat out of the bag, I have to admit I have mixed emotions about today. I’m not sure if I’m ready to begin another decade; my 20’s started off somewhat crappily but improved consistently. I like the upward trend, minus the early trough, but I plan to instead start this 4th decade off at a high point, despite my reluctance to enter my 30’s. I enjoyed being a “twenty something”, but I think I’ll start to adhere to the “age is just a number” belief and move forward. So with that, Happy Birthday to me!
I was informed that I didn’t need to make myself a cake this year (and who knows what else Hubs has up his sleeve), so instead, I made one for somebody else. Our pals Jennifer & Jon moved (again! but we moved a lot too before we broke the bank and bought this place) this past weekend. Over their past 5 years of living in Chicago, they’ve slowly moved closer and closer to us and this time – they are 4 blocks away! Woot! Of course, I’m sure that wasn’t their intention, but nevertheless, I likey. So I thought I’d spend an evening making them a special housewarming treat since I had a hankerin’ for baking and I can’t, or rather, don’t need to, bake my own self a cake :).
The beauty of making cake for other people is that you still enjoy the aroma, and in this case, the smell of tangerines dancing into each and every nook and cranny of your place. Tangerines smell like springtime to me, even though you eat them more in winter; they smell sweet and fruity and smelling them makes me want to eat marmalade on toast while sitting in a big field of dandelions, underneath a gingham blanket with sweet wine and my my friend’s puppy running about.
In absence of those fields (and the puppy), let’s eat cake instead. Whether you’re celebrating gracefully leaving your 3rd decade behind, or perhaps a move or an anniversary, or maybe just because you want to and you do what you want when you want, eat cake. Eat tangerine cake, at that.
You’ll question this recipe at first, I know you will, and you should. First, there’s no flour – eek! Second, whole tangerines go into it – double eek! But hold it together, and give this inherently gluten-free novelty a try. It’s an adaptation from Nigella Lawson, mind you. If clementines are available, start there, but probably any thin-skinned citrus will do. This cake is amazingly easy and so moist and soft you’ll question the doneness of it – I certainly did. The texture – different, but in a good way. But trust me; rather, trust Nigella and all the hundreds who’ve made this cake, including Tara at Seven Spoons.
1 lb tangerines (or clementines, nothing with too many seeds…)
9 oz whole, unshelled almonds
8 oz sugar
1/2 of a vanilla bean pod
1 1/2 t baking powder
pinch of salt
1 1/2 c frozen blueberries (or fresh, if in season, but with less water added)
3-4 T powdered sugar
3 basil leaves
put tangerines in large pot and cover with water (they will float like crazy, but use enough water to theoretically cover them). toss in vanilla bean (do not slice open). bring to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook whole tangerines for about 2 hours until they’re extra tender (i.e., soft when you squeeze gently with tongs). remove from pot and let cool. scrape vanilla bean and set seeds aside.
preheat oven to 375 F. over a large bowl, cut tangerines and remove any seeds and sit aside; squeeze to release any excess water (which will help on the “moistness factor”). spray an 8-inch springform pan, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides and spray again.
in a food processor, grind almonds until a coarse, powdery substance develops. add tangerines (skin too) and grind until a smooth, thick paste forms. it will still have some pieces of almond/tangerine visible.
in a large bowl, beat eggs until blended. add sugar and vanilla bean seeds, then baking powder and salt. whisk in tangerine/almond mixture. at this point it will actually look like cake batter, but more coarse.
pour batter into parchment-lined pan and place atop baking sheet. bake for ~60-70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean, rotating once halfway through baking. cool completely on a wire rack.
meanwhile, make blueberry-basil sauce. mix blueberries with powdered sugar and basil leaves in a small saucepan over medium heat. add about 2 T water and cook until juices form. sweeten with more sugar to taste. puree or keep clumpy but remove basil leaves. serve over cooled cake.