This past Saturday, the sky was a flawless canvas of blue, the sun shone all day long and our neighborhood coffee shop passed out free coffee. It was my birthday, which made all of it feel like a gift just for me. We went to the market in the morning, filling our bags with purple potatoes and big bunches of leafy greens and all manner of citrus. Back at home, we baked a birthday cake with blood oranges from the market’s bounty. At first, Ben protested at the idea of me assisting with my own birthday cake, but I insisted. I love to bake, I like being involved and besides, baking with one’s husband is a lovely thing. And so, all protests quelled, oranges were zested and juiced and supremed, their scarlet juices spilling across the cutting board and running up my wrists. I leaned over the sink and ate the bits that clung to the peels, unwilling to let any vibrant goodness go to waste. As the cake baked, we ate a simple lunch of leftover soup, the fantastic scent of citrus mingled with sugar wafting through the apartment, swirling around us.
Cake golden brown and set to cool, we went into the city to visit the darling of a bakery that is Tartine. The sun poured through the windows, the people bustled, our shared treats of a chocolate hazelnut tart, small slab of shortbread and rocher speckled with cocoa nibs were, all of them, delicious. Satisfied and warmed by tea and espresso, we wandered, peacefully, in no hurry and with no end in mind, through Bi-Rite Market and up the hill in Dolores Park and back to the train station by way of a new chocolate shop.
Back in Oakland, we walked some more, this time under a dark and star-filled sky to Camino for our first-ever visit — a worthwhile extravagance, to be sure. And back at home, we ate Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake with a bit of whipped cream and popped open a cheap bottle of red wine and watched a movie we had both seen before, Ben dozing off rather predictably by its end.
The day was simple and, for the most part, not very flashy. But it was perfect. Thinking on how happy I was, how I couldn’t stop smiling, I realize that I want more of this in my life: more calm, more days when the car doesn’t leave the garage, more simple, pure joy in my company and the food in front of me. These things get lost on the busy days, when I’m not content to be calm until everything has been crossed off of my list and the whole apartment is spotless. But those are the days in which I miss out, in which I crawl into bed still dissatisfied, without reason I can identify.
There is always space for celebration and joy and revelry for the sake of it. There is always space, too, for peace and calm and simplicity, which will seep into our bones to refine us. In the interest of furthering all of these, I offer you cake. My birthday cake, to be precise — flavored with zest and juice and slices of orange, its richness hinting of the olive oil within it, even boasting a bit of kefir in the interest of both taste and our health — which can, I assure you, be your cake for any occasion at all.
Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite
The original recipe called for yogurt or buttermilk, but I substituted kefir with fantastic results. Feel free to revert back to yogurt or buttermilk if you can’t find kefir. Also, you might note that I approximate the amount of kefir in the list of ingredients; the amount you need depends on how much juice your oranges yield.
In the recipe (below), I included a link to instructions on how to supreme oranges in case this technique is new to you. It’s a worthwhile extra step here and a good opportunity to practice the skill: baked into a cake, no one will know how precise your slices!
3 blood oranges
1 cup natural cane sugar
about 1/3 – 1/2 cup kefir
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or more all-purpose)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper, and grease the parchment.
Pour the sugar into a large bowl. Grate the zest from 2 oranges; add to the sugar. With your fingers, rub the sugar and zest together until the zest is evenly distributed and the mixture is fragrant.
Supreme 2 oranges. Drop the segments into a small bowl and break them up a bit with your fingers.
Halve the remaining orange and squeeze the juice into a measuring cup. It will yield about 1/4 – 1/3 cup. Add kefir to the juice until you have a total of 2/3 cup liquid; stir briefly. Pour into the bowl with the sugar and whisk well. Whisk in the eggs.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and gently combine, using the whisk until the batter becomes too difficult to stir. With a spatula, fold in the oil a little at a time. Fold in the orange segments. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake the cake for about 45 – 50 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into its center comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly, tent it with foil.
Cool the cake on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan. Gently flip the cake onto a plate to remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper, then return it to the rack to cool completely right side up.
Serve at room temperature, with whipped cream if desired.
Yield: 8 – 10 servings