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Tunisian blood orange-olive oil cake

Tunisian blood orange-olive oil cake

Every time January rolls around, I get the winter blues. The holiday season has just wrapped up, I've put on pounds from indulging in baked goods and eggnog throughout the month of December, and worst of all- the weather is still dreary. Cue winter citrus. (And island escapes.) The first time I had a blood orange was about 14 years ago in Los Angeles, at the encouragement of my dear mother, a citrus fiend (and January Aquarius baby). She was buying them up at the Westwood Whole Foods and I was attracted by their color and eager to try one, even though I'm not a huge orange fan (lemons and limes are more my thing). I was in for a surprise- the tang of the first bite curled up my tongue and I was hooked. 

In Tunisia, blood oranges are known as "maltaises sanguines" and despite the name, they are native to Tunisia. These sweeter blood oranges grow with such abundance that a large quantity is exported to France, where they are immensely popular. (Side note: Tunisia just experienced a boom in yield this year and hopes to grow its market in France, with a visit to the upcoming Salon de l'agriculture in Paris.) With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we have a bright dessert to share with you today: a blood-orange olive oil cake made with Tunisian extra virgin olive oil and just a pinch of orange blossom water. 



Adapted from Melissa Clark


Butter for greasing the molds

4 blood oranges

1 cup sugar

Plain yogurt

3 large eggs

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more for greasing the molds

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Tunisian

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

Orange blossom water, optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease your heart molds (12) with butter and a dusting of flour. If you don’t have heart molds, use a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Zest the 3 oranges and place ⅔ of it in a large mixing bowl with sugar. (Reserve the zest from the third orange for the glaze.) Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until orange zest is evenly distributed in sugar.

Halve all the blood oranges and squeeze juice into a measuring cup until you have about 1/2 cup or so. (Continue to juice the rest of the oranges and set aside remaining juice for glaze.)  Add yogurt to the ½ cup of juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into the bowl containing sugar/orange zest and whisk well. Whisk in eggs.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gently whisk dry ingredients into wet ones. Switch to a spatula and fold in olive oil a little at a time. Scrape batter into molds and smooth top.

Bake cakes for about 12 minutes, or until they are golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. (Be careful as the small cakes cook quickly!) Cool on a rack for a few minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up.

Take 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar and mix with ~2 tablespoons of blood orange juice, 1 teaspoon of zest, and a very small pinch of orange blossom water. Whisk together and spread over the cakes while they are still somewhat warm. Enjoy!

Tunisian citrus

Tunisian citrus

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