It's March, and the weather is still pretty miserable. There are cold fronts, snow storms, dense fog, and freezing rain blanketing various parts of the country.
While I can't make the daffodils grow any more quickly, I can share a recipe for a refreshing Italian Almond and Orange with Blood Orange Compote that is sure to make you feel warm and happy. I created the recipe a few weeks ago and have since made it two more times. It's that good.
While this Italian torte bakes, your home will be filled with the bright scent of citrus. Since it's subtly sweet yet rich with almond flavor, it's ideal for pairing with a glass of Italian Vin Santo on a relaxing afternoon. It also makes a lovely formal dessert when dressed with a spicy compote of tart blood oranges soaked in honey, vanilla, cloves, and star anise.
Italian Almond and Orange Torte with Blood Orange Compote
1 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
the zest of 1 navel orange
1/4 cup freshly squeezed navel orange juice (carton juice is fine too)
Blood Orange Compote:
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or half of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise)
4 whole star anise*
4 whole cloves
8 medium blood oranges, peeled and sliced into into sections
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter then flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
In a food processor, grind almonds until a fine meal forms (it's okay if there are a few bigger pieces; it adds to the texture).
In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the ground almonds.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer set on high, beat butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs. Add almond extract, orange zest, and orange juice; beat until batter is fluffy. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture; reduce speed and beat until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. When you insert a toothpick or cake tester into the middle it may come out slightly moist with little bits of cake clinging to it. That's OK. This is a super moist, dense cake. If, however, it is wet or jiggly, then it needs to be baked longer. Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto the rack, then turn right side up.
Meanwhile prepare the blood orange compote. In a medium pot over high heat, combine water, honey and sugar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and add lemon juice, vanilla, star anise and cloves. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until a syrup forms. Add oranges and simmer 5 minutes more.
Note: The longer you simmer the oranges, the softer they will become. For firm orange slices, simmer no longer than 5 minutes; for softer slices, simmer up to 10 minutes. Any longer than that, and the oranges will begin to break down. They will stay taste good, but their appearance won't be as attractive.) Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Remove the star anise and cloves before serving.
Serve cake warm or at room temperature. Top each slice with a spoonful of blood oranges and drizzle with the syrup. If desired, garnish with orange zest curls and star anise; just make sure to remind your guests that the star anise are inedible!
Note: The cake can be made 1-2 days ahead and left on the counter top. However, it's best to make the oranges just prior to serving.
By Susan Russo