Nigella Lawson's moist flourless clementine cake

I stumbled across this recipe in a very oblique manner a couple of weeks ago and can safely say it’s getting filed away in the “Make again and again” category. An article on Food52 with it’s “The One Piece of Nigella Lawson Advice I Live By” headline claimed my attention. I expected a short piece, I also expected to be a little irritated that the claim wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

What I found instead was a touching article that detailed how Ms Lawson came to be an affirming presence in the author’s life through her TV show and her cookbooks. He was an overworked, underpaid PhD research student and Ms Lawson taught him the importance of feeding himself—perhaps most significantly, affirming that he was worthy of feeding at all. 

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

It was a moving, well-written article (that academic background helped!) and one of the two recipes briefly mentioned intrigued me—a cake made with clementines that were boiled whole. I filed away my two pieces of information and went on with my day.

Fast forward to two days ago and the sudden realisation that May 1st was creeping up. This happens to be F’s birthday and I needed a cake! I needed something quick and easy, that I could squish into my other pre-planned activities and so I looked up Ms Lawson’s recipe. It had all of 4 ingredients, which totally confused me, as did the fact that the clementines had to be boiled for 2 whole hours! Where was I going to find that time? But the fact that F loves citrus cakes, I really like Ms Lawson and that this seemed super easy convinced me.

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

In the end, it was a late-night-boiling and early morning baking session that brought this cake together but it was easy—and fun! Also, very delicious. It has a moist, dense crumb and a lovely fresh citrusy flavour and I read it gets better with time, so I’m waiting for tomorrow to roll around to cut another piece!

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

Since this was a birthday cake, I prettied it up with some candied orange slices and edible flowers I fished out of a box of salad leaves. These are all completely optional though. As my mother pointed out, this cake would also work very well with a cream cheese frosting or some creme fraiche on the side, as the original recipe points out. Either way, it’s delicious and large enough that you can treat yourself—or loved ones—for a few days running.

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

Note: My substitutions from Mr Lawson’s recipe were to reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup (especially since I was adding the caramelised topping), using baking soda instead of baking powder and using navel oranges instead of clementines. To make this completely gluten free, use baking powder or soda without gluten, line your cake pan with paper instead of using flour as I did.

Nigella Lawson’s Flourless Moist Clementine Cake
8—10 servings

approximately 375g clementines (or other oranges, see note), preferably organic
2 1/4 cup (250g) finely ground almonds
6 eggs
3/4 cup cane sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (1 teaspoon baking powder)

Wash the oranges and place them in a bowl, cover with cold water and bring to boil. Cook, covered partially, for 2 hours. Remove from heat, discard the cooking water and allow to cool completely.

Once cooled, slice the oranges in half, remove the seeds and blend the entire oranges in a food processor until smooth. You can use an immersion blender as well.

Grease and flour or line a 26 cm baking tin. Pre-heat the oven to 170° C.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together by hand or with a beater until thick and foamy. Add the sugar and whisk for another minute. Add the ground almonds and baking soda and mix to combine. Finally, add the pureed oranges and mix well.

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake in the middle shelf of the oven for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Rotate once or twice during this time, after about 30 minutes you might have to cover the top with foil to keep it from browning.

Remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely before gently loosing it from the tin and removing. Serve by itself or with some creme fraiche—or top with caramelised oranges (see below). 

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

Caramelised orange topping:
1 small orange, preferably organic
4 level tablespoons cane sugar
90 ml water
A few edible flowers or herbs like basil or rosemary (optional)

Wash the orange and slice 2/3rd of it into thin rounds. Set a small saucepan on high heat, add the sugar, water and the juice from the remaining 1/3rd orange into it. Bring to a boil and gently add the orange slices to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium, making sure the mixture is bubbling. It should have reduced to half after about 20 minutes, following which you can reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until a few tablespoons of a clear, sticky liquid is left. Allow to cool slightly before using.

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

To assemble, drizzle the caramelised sauce onto the cake and spread using the back of a tablespoon. Use a fork or a pair or tongs to arrange the orange slices around the top of the cake and dot with edible flowers or some herbs, if using.

A quick, easy, moist, flourless clementine cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, in her seminal cookbook "How to Eat" made with ground almonds and boiled oranges or clementines.

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Images & Text: Vatsala Murthy

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