Orange torte is a bright reminder of spring

Susan Russo

The weather can be pretty miserable in March. So while I can’t make the daffodils grow any quicker, I can share a recipe for a refreshing Italian almond and orange torte with a blood orange compote that is sure to make you feel warm and happy.

As the 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

For the cake

1 cup whole almonds

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Zest of 1 navel orange

1/4 cup freshly squeezed navel orange juice (carton juice is fine too)

For the 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 sections

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter then flour an 8-inch round cake pan.

In a food processor, grind almonds until a fine meal forms. It’s OK 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 to 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.

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 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.

Note:The cake can be made one to two days ahead and left on the counter top. However, it’s best to make the compote just prior to serving.

Serves 10.

Per serving: 463 calories; 18 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 35 percent calories from fat); 74 g carbohydrates; 64 g sugar; 80 mg cholesterol; 230 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 4.5 g fiber.