This post was supposed to be about chocolate cake, but instead I find myself yearning and longing for Sicily and the island’s unforgettable blood oranges.
Chocolate cake for every occasion
Chocolate cake must be one of the most versatile for all cakes. There seems to be a chocolate cake for every country, season, mood and occasion. From the ubiquitous simple chocolate cake topped with shredded coconut or jelly fruits served at almost every Norwegian child birthday to the dark and classic patisserie style Sachetorte. From the American Mississippi mud cake with marshmallow topping to the centrepiece of a French Christmas dinner, the Bûche de Noël (Yule log). And in between the fudgy brownie so simple and quick to make it fits for any occasion.
Still, I rather choose other cakes. Since childhood I have been faithful to my one and only Kvæfjord cake with its almond meringue and vanilla cream. But as the saying goes, variation is the spice of life. Why not go for the classic combination with chocolate and oranges? To kill the last remains of winter blues, a bowl of blood oranges might be the perfect choice. Chocolate and oranges, companions forever and ever.
King of oranges: Arancia Rossa di Sicilia
While berries reign the sweet kitchen in the summer, oranges and citrus fruits truly shine in the winter. And the brightest star of them all, the citrus fruits from Italy. Sample the word: Arancia Rossa di Sicilia. Red orange from Sicily. The King of Oranges come from Italy’s boot.
Arancia Rossa de Sicilia grows in the fertile foothills of the Mount Etna in eastern Sicily. Mount Etna is Europe’s highest and most active volcano. It has caused the devastation of cities but also made possible the growth of citrus fruits, peaches, cherries, apples, vine terraces, pears, chestnuts and a whole range of other nuts. At the foot of Mount Etna’s white powdered peak lies the city of Catania – Sicily’s second largest city after Palermo. This is where the dish Pasta alla Norma originates from, and probably also granita.
The orange arrived in Sicily from China in the 15th century. Later an ordinary orange mutated. The blood orange was born; in the beginning very small and filled with seeds. Later bigger, sweeter and even without seeds.
Arancia Rossa de Sicilia has a protected geographical status. As with champagne from the Champagne district in France it all depends on what is called the terroir. Only the best blood oranges from eastern Sicily has the right to the name. What makes the orange magic is the fertile volcanic soil and the contrast between warm days and rather cold nights.
Tarocco – the sweetest of them all
There are three types of blood oranges: sanguinello, moro og tarocco. Looks can be deceiving. Moro has the appearance of a blood orange, but the orange skin of the tarocco hides the most lovely sweet flavour.
Moro is deep red, sometimes on the verge of black, aromatic and slightly bitter. Sanguinello is orange with red streaks and originates from Spain. The tarocco on the other hand is the most popular table option in Italy, in contrast to moro and sanguinello used mainly as orange juice. The tarocco has no seeds, the highest level of C-vitamins and the sweetest flavour of them all. The season for the tarocco is January until May.
Cold night, ruby colour
What creates the ruby colour of the blood oranges, the arance rosse, is a red pigment called anthocyanin. Cold temperature during the night is what activates the pigment. Anthocyanins is also a powerful antioxidant. Hence blood oranges contain more antioxidants than other oranges.
In Italy blood oranges are often served in a salad with red onions and fennel. For dessert however, the Sicilians who usually have a sweet tooth, serves the oranges plain with no adornment. I deviate from the rule and travel with my Italian blood oranges to France to make a caramelized blood orange sauce similar to the sauce the French serve with pancakes, Crêpes Suzette.
To make the cake moist, the filling should be spread on the cake while it is still warm.
Dark and moist chocolate cake
135 g / 4,8 oz butter
75 g / 2,6 oz dark chocolate (70 %)
75 ml water
100 g / 3,5 oz light brown sugar
125 g / 4,4 oz caster sugar
135 g / 4,8 oz flour (or gluten-free flour)
2 tbsp cocoa powder
50 g / 1,8 oz butter
50 g / 1,8 oz caster sugar
100 ml heavy cream
100 g / 3,5 oz dark chocolate (70 %)
1. Preheat the oven to 175C/350F/Gas 4. Line a baking tin (about 20cm/8in).
2. Melt the butter, allow to cool for a few minutes and add chopped chocolate. Stir and add the water.
3. Whisk the sugar and eggs with an electric beater until pale and fluffy.
4. Mix the dry ingredients and gently fold into the egg mixture, alternating with the chocolate mixture.
5. Pour the batter in the baking tin, and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, make the filling. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cream and chopped chocolate and stir until everything is smooth. Keep warm.
7. Allow the cake to cool for about 15 minutes, remove the parchment paper. Carefully divide the sponge into two, and spread the filling on the cut side of the bottom half. Place the top half of the cake on top and spread the rest of the filling.
5 blood oranges (or 4 ordinary oranges)
50 g / 1,8 oz caster sugar
1. Grate one orange to make zest. Bring the zest to boil in a little water and drain. Repeat three times. This process reduces the bitterness of the zest. Put aside.
2. Segment the oranges and save the juice. It should be about 200 ml juice. This post explains how to segment an orange.
3. Make the caramel: Place the sugar in a pan on medium heat and allow to melt. Be patient. Do not touch the sugar.
4. When the sugar has turned into caramel, add the orange juice and boil for 10 minutes until the sugar has melted and the sauce has reduced. Do not boil longer, then the taste will become somewhat bitter.
5. Allow the caramel to cool and add the zest and orange segments.