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Monday, January 23, 2012

Golden Mandarin Cake (or, an Abundance of Oranges)

Darjeeling oranges, five to a red net 'sock', are one of my favourite things about winter.

The perfect packaging-free snack to bring along when I go sit in the weak afternoon sun. The nicest prep-free, pre-portioned, no-cook, peelable dessert. They are always so sweet! Round and juicy, fragrant with that velvety oil, small wonder the Chinese use them for auspicious New Year tokens. (Yes, Gong Xi Fa Cai!  Prosperous Year of the Water Dragon! to you too.) 

The Chinese? What are they doing here, invading Darjeeling?!

Well, geography may not be my strong point; but in fact, the Darjeeling 'oranges' are mandarinstangerines, according to some; clementines, to others — rather than true oranges.

It is ironic that in India, we often look down on the loose-skinned mandarin, be it the kinnow or the Darjeeling, and consider them country cousins of the 'real' thing, now flooding into our larger supermarket bins and small corner vendor's basket from South Africa. Not so, after all the prized 'Christmas orange' traditionally filling out the toe of a stocking is a clementine!

Indeed, the orange arrived in medieval Europe from the East, and was possibly an ancient hybrid of the wrinkly Chinese mandarin and that thick-skinned South-East giant, the pomelo. Which makes our familiar sag-skinned citrus a direct descendant of the Chinese mandarin, and mother of the orange! (Interestingly, the rather grumpy father has been regarded as so distant in the West, that many today have never heard of the pomelo or shaddock — some even wonder if it's some novel astringent hybrid, a cross of an orange with something else!)

Time doth make fools of us all, evidently.

And so it is that contemporary Christmas stockings are more likely to have a Terry's chocolate orange than an actual fragrant fruit. Not that this is a bad thing either. In fact, cocoa is a great companion for citrus, as evidenced by one of my favourite recipes from Popina.

It's a lemon loaf with white chocolate frosting. A rare treat at home, where lemons are rare, exotic fruit, and proper double cream more elusive still. Highly recommended. Sorely missed.

But since necessity is the mother of invention, being blessed with several sockfuls of mandarins recently led to... what else? A golden yuanbao of a loaf, which I decided could do with more gilding, by way of a Terry-ish chocolate-hazelnut frosting (a cheat's trick, using that friendly foil for all tangy, soft fruit.)

Mandarin Loaf with Nutella Frosting
(adapted from the Popina Book of Baking)

4 tbsp butter (regular is fine; I like the salty tang to play against chocolate), at room temperature
⅔ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1½ tsp baking powder
zest and juice of 2 mandarins (hailing from Darjeeling, in my case)
⅓ cup Nutella (approximately), at room temperature
  1. Preheat the oven to 165 °C. Line a 6-inch loaf tin with baking parchment or wax paper.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, and add the eggs one at a time, whisking until pale and fluffy.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Fold them gently into the batter.
  4. Stir in the citrus zest and juice.
  5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden on top and springy to the touch.
  6. Remove and cool before frosting with a generous smear of Nutella.
  7. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or so, to help the frosting set and make it easier to cut neat slices — if you can wait that long to dig in!
Mm-hmm. Perfect with coffee as well as Earl Grey. Go on — be generous and wrap an ang paslice for your friends. A sprinkling of coarsely crushed Sichuan pepper adds a more sophisticated nuance and a pretty pink-confetti crunch (and that's an idea inspired by one by favourite NewTree dark-chocolate bars, the poivre rose).

Happy lunar year, folks! May it be golden!



sukanya said...

Hi! Didn't know our humble komola lebu had so many names/variations -tangerines, clementine, pomelo. BTW where do you get baking parchment?

Rodosee said...

Not the easiest thing to find, I confess. I make do with wax paper (from New Market, usually) or grease some brown paper.