I'm a little ashamed of how I first met blood oranges. It wasn't a romantic encounter on a market stall in steely-grey London January, or a chance winter break in Spain. It was in my brother's Abel & Cole delivery box around six years ago. I understand that many of you have now closed the browser, but I will continue. You see I was trying to show you that the fact that I recall such a mundane event indicates the esteem with which I hold this particular fruit...
Like the first affair I had with tomatoes in 2007, chopped roughly on crusty bread with crunchy salt crystals and peppery olive oil in Rome had changed my view on what had previously been the yellowing simultaneously slimey and hard slivers I left behind in a salad, so the blood orange subverted all I knew about the bland watery 'easy peelers' of my youth.
I still won't buy 'easy peelers'. I feel that if a food is defined solely by how simple it is to remove from its wrapper, then I don't really want to be involved with it.
Anyway, whilst most people are trying to stick to their new year's resolutions, January always has me deeply excited for my (maybe) favourite citruses. I say maybe, because we have to think about lemons and limes, although I'd argue my ardour for them is more familial and less lusty.
Not only are they short-lived in season, blood oranges don't last long after picking either. Three days in the fruit bowl will have them turn to blue-furred mush. Usually I eat them fairly urgently on their own, dripping pink juice all over myself. In celebration of a happy relationship, though, this year I combined them with the most excellent orange cake recipes of them all, courtesy of the ledge that is Claudia Roden.
It's an old Sephardic Jewish recipe, a flourless affair that makes it edible at Passover, and so lovely and simple that I internalised it immediately after baking it the first time. It uses whole boiled oranges, blended into a pulp and mixed into the batter, giving it a moist, bitter, marmalade flavour. I remixed it here by using blood oranges, adding a Salt Bae sprinkle of ground cardamom to the batter, and with some honey-grilled orange slices on top because they're so pretty and you can't tell otherwise.
Ingredients - feeds 10
4 medium blood oranges (thin-skinned ones, if you can find some)
6 free range eggs
250g ground almonds
250g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
A drizzle of honey
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees celsius and grease and line a baking tin of around 18cm.
3. Put three of the oranges in a saucepan with some hot water and boil them for about two hours, turning regularly. When cool, cut them open and take out the seeds, then blend in a food processor until smooth. Sadly they won't look bloody anymore, but creamy peach.
4. Beat the eggs, and then add ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, and orange mixture. When completely combined pour into the prepared tin and bake for an hour. Check with a skewer and keep cooking if the inside seems very wet. You can cover the top with foil if it starts to look uncomfortably brown. Leave in the tin until cold.
5. Peel the last orange with a knife, remove seeds, then cut into half centimetre slices. Place on a baking tray and drizzle with honey. Watch as you grill them on a high heat and remove when caramelised. Leave to cool.
6. I'll say it once more, because I'm worried about your eating experience. When everything is cold you can put the orange slices on the cake and eat. Yogurt makes a good friend.
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, 2000