February 2018, Rome.
I went to the giardino degli aranci for the first time.
It is an easy climb to a quaint corner with four romanic churches, and, amongst them, a garden of orange trees from which St. Peter’s cupola can be seen. And, when February/March approach, it is a sort of magic: the city is lined with bitter orange trees, and each tree is heavy with fruit. When the fruits start to overripe and fall to the ground, every street smells like orange and scents of citrus hit your nose suddenly, like someone reaching for your shoulder from behind you.
February 2018, Rome. warm rays of sun had a way of filtering through leaves and porticos like, I thought, no other place in the world. Silly as it may sound, that’s how it is.
It mends hearts, that Roman light.
Or at least it does to find, in a garden, such a strong smell of citrus for someone who finds citrus one of the very few things that makes winter bearable. I love citrus, and I love how you have the fruits in the winter and the blossoms in the spring to create a cycle that is almost half a year long.
So I’ll surely go to the orange garden again soon, on a sunny day. I’ll sit there and think about how oranges were associated with the fruit of paradise in medieval and Renaissance art, how the trees were often painted with both the fruits and blossoms on them, symbolizing both the ripeness of spirit and the promise to bloom and flourish. And I’ll think of how their evergreen leaves were seen as the symbol of eternal life and unbreakability.
So, if you are in Rome in March, do climb your way to the garden of orange trees, on the Aventino hill, and breathe in the wait and let the bursts of citrus smell hit your nose. Do so on a sunny day. And, when the sun is on the way to its descent, go to Santa Sabina church and look for the cloister with a big lemon tree on the right side garden. It is not the best cloister you’ll see in Rome, but the sun rays will have a way of hitting the floor through the arches that it will almost look like entering the very garden of Eden.
And, if you stand there in a moment of blissful contemplation and walk through the light, it might leave you feeling something that is scarily close to what you feel when you’re in love.
The only thing that gets closer to paradise than this is, well, experiencing this along with a good orange cake, methinks.
Silly as it may sound, that’s how it is.
This cake was a recipe sent to me by the lovely @Disgrafica. I tried to make it as clean as possible, adding in whole wheat flours and using rice flour – I LOVE the texture it gives to cakes. You can make it even cleaner by subbing the stone milled flour with any other flour you love, it’s a very forgiving recipe.
The amount of sugar in the original recipe was 200g (1 cup), but I scaled it down to 150g (3/4 cup) and subbed 50 (1/4 cup) grams of the sugar with muscobado. It really is not sweet, so you can diminish even further to make it even healthier or restore the original proportion of 200g to make it more of a cake. Do not skip adding the sugar to the bottom of the cake, it makes the oranges on top 1000 times yummier (and actually edible).
The original recipe also used 80ml oil instead of just 60, but the carrots make the cake so moist that it really doesn’t need any extra fat.
It’s great for breakfast in case you have a bit of a sweet tooth, or even as a mid afternoon pick-me-up with tea. Or, why not, as dessert if you decide to sugar it up a little bit.
Everyone who tried it absolutely loved it and asked me to make it again. Enjoy!
Wholesome, Clean(ish)Carrot Orange Cake
- 200 g (1 1/2 cups) whole flours (I use half whole wheat flour, 1/4 rice flour and 1/4 stone milled flour)
- 50 g (1/2 cup) almond flour
- 3 tsp baking powder (or 1 bag -16g- Italian leavening powder)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 oranges or blood oranges zest and juice
- 250 g carrot grated (about 2 medium carrots)
- 60 ml vegetable oil
- 3 eggs large
- 50 g (1/4 cup) brown sugar
- 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 2 blood oranges for decorating
- extra brown sugar for sprinkling
- Combine the flours, almond flour, baking powder and cinnamon, and set aside.
- Oil and flour a 9” / 22cm cake pan (a 20 or 24cm pan also works). Preheat the oven to 180 C˚/355 F˚.
- To a blender, add the orange juice and zest, the grated carrots, and the vegetable oil. Blend until smooth.
- Beat the eggs on high speed with the sugars until white and fluffy and tripled in volume (if using a handheld mixer, getting the eggs to multiply their volume might take longer). Add the cream of carrots, and mix delicately until incorporated. Add the flour mix a little at a time, whisking after each addition or while keeping a stand mixer on its lowest setting. Make sure everything is well incorporated and the batter has an even texture.
- Slice the oranges thinly. Keep the peel if they’re organic and if you like eating the peels (they will caramelize during cooking), otherwise cut them off with a paring knife.Sprinkle the bottom of the cake pan with brown sugar - about 2 or 3 tablespoons, and line with the orange slices. Pour the batter on top.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your oven. The cake will turn quite a dark brown, but will be perfect inside. Check batter consistency with a stick: if it comes out with no signs of raw batter, the cake is done.
- Let it cool slightly and dig in! I think it pairs marvelously with delicate teas such as green Jasmine or white tea.