Cara Cara Orange Chocolate Cake
I tasted my first cara cara orange about two weeks ago.
I can’t even count how many I’ve eaten since then.
Perhaps I’ve been incredibly vitamin C-deficient as of late, or perhaps they’re just divinely delicious.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a cara cara orange in person, they seem like your typical navel orange on the outside, but the fruit inside is a ruby-tinged pinkish orange, and the flavor is distinctively flowery and surprisingly sweet. (Surprising because the bright pink color might lead you to expect a cameo appearance of at least some of the bitterness of a grapefruit, but there is little to be found.)
The oranges are sugary with a barely-there backdrop of tartness– inviting, juicy, and refreshing.
I’ve been craving citrus-drenched desserts recently, and this cake fit the bill. I thought the upside-down cake-style topping of candied orange slices would showcase the gorgeous color of the cara cara oranges (although the pink faded to orange a bit as they were simmering in syrup).
I had another (celebratory) reason for baking a cake as well: Paula & I got engaged!
She proposed to me right before our two-year anniversary, and– though I didn’t see it coming– it was the most obvious thing in the world to say yes. I usually try to avoid gushing all over my food blog about anything that’s not about food, but I will say this: she’s the best, and I love her. And we will get married once I’ve finished my dissertation, or once gay marriage is (re-)legalized in California… preferably both.
This cake seems extra appropriate for the occasion, since Paula has been downright obsessed with cara cara oranges for a long time. (So obsessed, come to think of it, that she practically would have preferred getting to slice up and eat those three oranges– which went into the cake– to the cake itself. Too bad this is only occurring to me now… but she liked the cake, too!) Paula used to buy cara cara oranges all the time from grocery stores in Los Angeles, but she hadn’t found them once since moving up to Santa Barbara… until this month. (Thank you, Trader Joe’s.)
I adapted this recipe from a Mediterranean cookbook I got on the sale rack of a bookstore when we went out of town for our anniversary weekend. (I love cookbooks on sale racks. And bookstores!) Considering I am often apathetic (if not antipathetic) toward chocolate cakes, this one won me over. With all the flavors it had going on other than chocolate, how could it not? (And yes, I had to resist calling it a Candied Cara Cara Orange Chocolate Almond Polenta Greek Yogurt Orange Juice Cake.)
The cake itself is not overly sweet and only subtly chocolatey (unless you add the semisweet chips for some extra bursts of chocolate). It’s also not overly dense, considering it has both almond flour and polenta; the Greek yogurt and orange juice lighten things up. Drizzled in luscious orange-flavored syrup, the cake takes on an aromatic, honeyed sweetness that would pair nicely with a side of vanilla ice cream.
Best eaten on the first day, while still warmed from the drizzle of simmered syrup and topped with glossy, stunning orange slices, this cake is sure to impress your guests. I hope you all have just as many reasons to celebrate as we do.
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Cara Cara Orange Chocolate Cake
(Adapted from “Chocolate and Orange Polenta Cake” in “Mediterranean Cooking” by Metro Books.)
~ ¾ cup sugar
~ 1 cup water
~ 2 cara cara oranges, thinly sliced
~ 1 cara cara orange, zested and juiced
~ 8 Tbsp. butter (1 stick), softened
~ 1 cup packed light brown sugar
~ 3 eggs
~ 1 cup flour
~ ½ cup cocoa powder
~ ⅔ tsp. baking powder
~ ½ tsp. baking soda
~ ¼ tsp. salt
~ dash of ground cardamom (optional)
~ ½ cup ground almonds (almond flour)
~ ½ cup polenta (coarse-ground cornmeal)
~ ⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
~ ¼ cup orange juice (from juiced cara cara orange, above)
~ ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, or chopped semi-sweet chocolate
How to make it:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan (or a deep 8-inch cake pan) with cooking oil (or grease with butter), and line the bottom with two sheets of parchment paper.
2. In a large skillet, over medium heat, stir to slowly dissolve the sugar in the water. Once the sugar has dissolved, then bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered and without stirring, for 6-7 minutes, or until the syrup starts to thicken. Use tongs to add the orange slices and simmer, uncovered, for another 6-7 minutes (turning the slices once halfway through cooking).
3. Use tongs to lift orange slices from the syrup and spread them out across the base of the cake pan, slightly overlapping each slice. Then bring the syrup back to a boil (add up to another 1/4 cup of water, if necessary), then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered and without stirring, for several more minutes or until syrup is a light honey color. Pour two-thirds of the hot syrup over the orange slices, and set aside the remaining syrup.
4. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom. Set aside.
5. Beat orange zest, butter, and brown sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients (from step #4), as well as the ground almonds, polenta, Greek yogurt, orange juice, and optionally chocolate chips. Carefully spread the mixture evenly over the oranges in the cake pan.
6. Bake cake for 50-60 minutes (slightly longer if using a deep 8-inch cake pan), or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the cake pan for 15 minutes before running a butter knife gently around the edges, then flipping it out onto a serving plate. Re-heat the reserved syrup for a minute or two, then spoon syrup over the oranges on top of the cake. Enjoy!
Print this recipe! (PDF)