People are going to think all I eat are cakes and desserts soon. People are going to think I look like all I eat are cakes and desserts; rolling about the place like a big, round cookie. But really, most of the time the meals I eat are simple and easy – salads, soups and what I call funny stove-top vegetable throw-togethers. There really are no boundaries with these sorts of meals. Last Tuesday night’s dinner was a fine example: Brussels sprouts halved, cooked in a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter then two diced tomatoes thrown in, salt and pepper, fresh thyme and cubes of stale bread. The bread had been sitting on the kitchen table for a few days so I diced it up before I could think too carefully and threw it in with a “what the hell” flick of the wrist. Sometimes not thinking in the kitchen is a damn good idea; this dinner was very, very good.
The Brussels sprouts browned at the cut edge while the outer leaves softened into translucency and the tightly wrapped insides were sweet and toothsome. The tomatoes simmered down to a sauce, herbaceous and with a bit of tang. The pieces of bread, nestled amongst the red and the green, absorbed the sauce and the juices until almost cake-like in texture.
Occasionally I think people may want to read about these sorts of dinners; this funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I could write about my mother and her funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I think I learnt that brazen flick of the wrist motion from her. I love it when she says, while stirring a pot or searching through the spice shelf, “I have no idea what this is or what I’m doing, I’m just going with it.” I love that honesty in cooking, the thrill of being guided by instinct. Forget the recipe books for a while, I say, cook with abandon.
But then I bake a cake and it seems exciting and something of a revelation. The margin for error is greater in baking, I think, than simply throwing together vegetables and herbs in a pan. When a cake emerges from the oven golden and perfect there is a small sigh of relief and then a celebration to be had for this small victory. My kind of cooking, my week day throw-togethers, take place in the moment and without occasion so very rarely are they eaten by anyone but me. These meals are flavourful, yes, and healthy, yes, but they’re not pretty like a cake or uniform like a biscuit.
This cake, though, it’s a keeper. It has earthy, floral notes of olive oil and is sweetened with honey and fresh orange juice. The ginger and the orange and the honey; they go very well together. A honey sweetened cake is much more interesting than any white processed sugar counterpart. Honey feels balanced and produces a sweetness with a real flavour. Sugar is not a flavour. There are jubes of crystallised ginger in the batter and grated ginger throughout so there is a spicy warmth to the cake.
There appears to be a lot going on here – Orange! Ginger – ground, root, crsytallised! Olive oil! Honey! Wholemeal flour! But it works, perhaps it’s the wholemeal flours toning everything down a bit, maybe it’s the savoury of the olive oil. This cake is simple and honest. It’s wholesome, a quality I love in a cake. It feels approachable and user-friendly; it’s a scone cake, a Sunday morning tea cake, a snacking cake, a breakfast cake. It is not striving for centre stage or a grand feast, much like my on-the-spot dinners.
Orange Ginger Olive Oil Cake
I adapted this recipe from the Eating Well website – a very good reminder that sweet treats can be made and eaten well. I think this cake would almost be better with ground almonds instead of the mixture of plain flour and wholemeal. Let me know if you try this.
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup mild flavoured olive oil
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger root
5 tablespoons chopped crystallised ginger
1 cup wholemeal flour
2/3 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of an orange
1/4 cup icing sugar
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
In a small bowl mix together the honey, olive oil, egg yolks, orange zest, grated fresh ginger and the crystallised ginger.
Into a large bowl sift the flours, baking powder, ground ginger and salt.
In a third bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the honey mixture into the flours then gently fold in the egg whites with a spatula until the mixtures are well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.
Check the cake after 20 minutes, or bake until golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning onto a wire rack to cool. Mix the orange juice and the icing sugar together and drizzle over the warm cake.