Lawson: Sunny cake can cure cabin fever
Neptune made sure I did not leave the house last weekend. Correction, I ventured out the front door to fill the bird feeder; those poor little guys were pecking away in the snow desperate for a seed or crumb or kernel of corn. I felt guilty standing there in the warmth of my kitchen watching them as I fed my face with whatever treat I could find. It must have been a pretty sad sight for them, as well. Watching me watching them while I was safe and cozy while they were freezing their feathers off in the bitter cold. So I filled the feeder to overflowing, scattered more seed on the ground for the doves and squirrels and went scurrying back inside.
Then, in a moment of what I can only describe as a complete self-preservation move or a stroke of genius, I decided to bake a cake. The furnace was working overtime and I still felt a chill; baking a cake would require turning on the oven. I instantly began to feel warmer. Fortunately I had blood oranges and Meyer lemons, which I like to display in a fancy bowl on the kitchen counter and to use in salads and other dishes that benefit from their brightness, and when I discovered this recipe for an upside-down cake using the lemons and oranges atop a polenta cake, I figured I was entitled to a little corn myself.
Sure, that’s a reach of rationalization, but hey, if the temperature can’t bring itself to climb out of the minus category, I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep cozy. And the thought of a sunny cake with a whipped creme fraiche topping, along with a lovely cup of tea while sitting under a warm blanket with a cat on my lap and a good book, was just the prescription I needed to inure myself to cabin fever.
I’m not going to complain about the weather; I know that spring is coming. I can hear the birdsong in the morning and my fig tree that goes dormant in the winter is sprouting new leaves — all signs of hope. And once we tire of nibbling on the cake after a day or two, I’ll scatter the remaining crumbs outside. Won’t the birds be thrilled.
Blood Orange Upside Down Cake
Be sure to use Meyer lemons here, they have a thinner skin and are sweeter than regular lemons. If you don’t have, you can use all blood oranges. Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.
7 tablespoons sugar, divided, plus 3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
3 unpeeled small to medium blood oranges (or use 2 blood oranges and 1 Meyer lemon)
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons polenta or coarse yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons whole milk
Whipped crème fraîche:
1 cup chilled crème fraîche
2 tablespoons sugar
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Combine 6 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoons water in 10-inch-diameter ovenproof skillet with 8-inch-diameter bottom and 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is golden amber (not dark amber), occasionally brushing down sides of skillet with wet pastry brush and swirling skillet, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and whisk 2 tablespoons butter into caramel. Set aside.
Cut off both rounded ends of each orange so that ends are even and flat. Using sharp knife, cut oranges and lemons into 1/16- to 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Remove and discard any seeds. Arrange orange slices, overlapping slightly, in concentric circles atop caramel in bottom of skillet.
Whisk flour, polenta, baking powder and coarse kosher salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup sugar, remaining 6 tablespoons room-temperature butter, and vanilla in another medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beating batter just until incorporated.
Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions. Drop batter by large spoonfuls atop orange slices in skillet, then spread evenly.
Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in skillet 10 minutes. Run small knife around cake to loosen. Place platter atop skillet. Using oven mitts, hold platter and skillet firmly together and invert, allowing cake to settle onto platter. Rearrange any orange slices that may have become dislodged. Cool cake completely at room temperature.
For whipped crème fraîche:
Using electric mixer, beat chilled crème fraîche and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl until mixture thickens.
Cut cake into wedges and serve with dollop of whipped crème fraîche. Serves 8.
Per serving: 422 calories; 21 g fat (13 g saturated fat; 46 percent calories from fat); 54 g carbohydrates; 39 g sugar; 116 mg cholesterol; 172 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2.5 g fiber.