Mandarin, almond and chocolate cake

Things are looking up. I have started running cooking classes at home again – but have not been doing it alone. While I hobbled around (or rather sat down a lot) with a broken ankle, some very special ladies came along to the classes and helped me clean up, pack up and set up. Hopefully I will not need help for much longer; with a specialist review appointment in under a week, the end is in sight. I am hoping the good doctor will tell me that I can banish my moon boot and for the first time in nine weeks wear a shoe on my left foot. It probably won’t be the high-heeled yellow suede boots that I was wearing that fateful evening in Trieste in May, at least not initially.

The other great thing about running classes again is the time I get to spend in the kitchen with the lovely foodie people who come to classes (these weeks of recovery at home have been quite lonely). Occasionally they generously bring edible gifts, which is totally unnecessary but greatly appreciated. Last weekend Dianne brought me a huge bag of mandarins from her suburban backyard. They not only brightened up my dining table, but also inspired me to bake. There are so many of them I will probably also be making marmalade, but not before I make this cake for a third time: mandarin, almond and chocolate cake.

As I was searching for baking inspiration online, I noted that there are not many cakes made with mandarins. This syrup cake recipe is what inspired me to make the one you see in the photos, though I didn’t think it needed the syrup, as it is so moist anyway with boiled whole mandarins in it. I also decreased the sugar by a quarter (as I do with most recipes I adapt these days) and added dark chocolate pieces for texture and flavour. It is also gluten free (yay!).

Citrus also makes me think of Sicily, with its orange and lemon groves and colourful street markets. While we are on the subject of Sicily, I wanted to introduce you to my Giacomo Alessi Sicilian head vase that I bought from Fenton and Fenton a few weeks ago. I put some photos on Instagram and many of you admired the vase. It sits on the top of a bookshelf full of cook books where I usually serve morning tea during cooking classes. The inside of the head is hollow so can be filled with water for flowers. The beautiful thing is that the vase gets a new hairdo every week – sometimes a potted succulent is in there, other times bunches of flowers. The golden ones that are there now remind me of the colours of Sicilian citrus. Don’t you think the vase is a beauty?

And in other news:

    1. Trieste Tour: I have sadly had to cancel my tour of Trieste in September 2019. I am so sorry to those who had booked! My cousin in Italy had told me it would take up to 6 months to recover fully from a broken ankle (I had initially believed I would be back to normal in 6 weeks!) and now, two months in, I absolutely believe him.
    1. Southern Puglia Tour in May 2020 in conjunction with Southern Visions Travel; I have already had bookings (half sold if my calculations are correct). Click here for a wrap up of the 2019 tour and here to find out more about the 2020 tour.
    1. Sydney cooking class at Casa Barilla – this is another class that I had to defer in July due to my injury (and it was fully booked too). I believe most people have transferred their place to the new date of Thursday 5 September, but there are a few who couldn’t, meaning there are new openings. I will be cooking dishes from Adriatico as well as a few surprises. Click here to book
    1. Travel in Italy – I often get asked for advice on travelling in Italy. I do not have intimate knowledge of all of Italy, but do go to some towns and regions regularly. So I have listed my favourite foodie places in Italy here.
    1. Instagram recipes: I have started putting a few recipes on instagram. It seems like a quick way to get a recipe out there. Judging by the people who sent me photos of the lime and coconut biscuits they made, it is a pretty popular medium for recipes. If you would like to have a look at the photo and recipe for lime and coconut biscuits/cookies, click here. You do not need to have an Instagram account to access it.

Finally a big THANK YOU to Sally, Amanda, Carmen and Jenna would helped out at my cooking classes over the last few weekends. I simply could not have done it without you. This is one of the things I love most about the online foodie community that we have all created – we help each other out. I hope I can in some way return your generosity. And thank you also to all the others who offered their time (via an Instagram call out) – it is not over yet, I may still need your help in the coming weeks (but fingers crossed I won’t)!

mandarin, almond and chocolate cake

350g mandarins (about 6 small ones)
100g almond meal*
100g hazelnut meal*
5 eggs
1 heaped tablespoon flour (GF if making gluten free)#
1 tsp baking powder (GF if making gluten free)
big pinch salt
150g sugar
70g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
(*NB. or you can use 200g almond meal)
(# I used Ardor Food Co gluten free flour)

Place the washed mandarins in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer covered for about an hour. Drain, chop in half and allow to cool on a colander (make sure you catch the juice).

Preheat the oven to 150C fan-forced and line the sides and base of a 23cm tin with baking paper (mine was spring-form).

Remove all the pips from the cooled mandarins and discard. Place the remaining mandarin pieces (skin, pith, juice and all) in a food processor and blend until a thick puree forms. Add the eggs, almond/hazelnut meal, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt and blitz until combined. Stir in the chocolate pieces.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour. It is ready when it is firm to touch, golden in colour and when a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin.

Serve on its own or with thick Greek yoghurt on the side. You can dust it with icing sugar, if you like, just before serving. It lasts 4-5 days in a sealed container. I keep it in the fridge, it is lovely to eat cold as well as at room temperature.

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