The clementines you find in winter in Italy are nothing short of extraordinary. Last year when I was travelling, staying in Air BnB apartments and researching my cookbook Italian Street Food, I would always buy a bag of clementines to keep in the apartment to eat for breakfast. As I was tasting inordinate amounts of street food during the day, the only thing I could face first thing in the morning was fruit. Luckily clementines were everywhere: market vendors piling them in pyramids of colour, intensely orange and leafy green. And their taste – a cross between the sweetest orange and the most fragrant mandarin.
The closest I have found to clementines in Australia were fruit that were gifted to me a few weeks ago by friends Prue and Karen, who run the boutique winery Virago. Their property is in the often foggy hills that surround Beechworth in Northeast Victoria and the only grape they grow and wine that they produce is Nebbiolo (and it is an extraordinary wine – dark, earthy and cherry-like). The day we visited the property, Prue asked if we wanted to take home some of the fruit growing by the pool. The trees were laden and she wasn’t quite sure what they were but thought they might be a hybrid tangerine/mandarin. So she picked about a dozen small fruit – then I asked for more, and she doubled that, I tasted one….and then she added more until she could carry no more. The fruit, which I believe is more akin to a tangerine than a mandarin, was firm, tangy and sweet. It reminded me of the seedless clementines I had eaten in Italy. The membranes between the segments were hardly there at all. I could have eaten half a dozen on the spot.
Once we arrived back home, I laid out the fruit on my dining table, together with the other seasonal produce I had brought home from our weekend away: walnuts from the Wangaratta Farmer’s Market, Tolpuddle cheese chevre and nettles from the Jacka’s farm, and a rather large bottle of Hurdle’s Creek gin, considering what I might make with all this produce (gin aside). The wintery combination of tangerines and walnuts seemed destined for a cake. Adapting a couple of recipes from my blog archives (flourless orange cake and pear and dark chocolate cake recipes) I made a tangerine, walnut and dark chocolate torta – flourless, moist and simply delicious. The occasional shards of hardened dark chocolate in the cake brought out the sweet tangy citrus even more. I decorated the torta with candied tangerine segments and walnuts – very festive and wintery. It would make a lovely late December cake in the Northern hemisphere – when citrus and walnuts are in season- or just the thing to have in July in the Southern world. You could accompany the torta with some creme fraiche or mascarpone, but I think it is perfect just as it is, with a coffee mid-afternoon (or a sneaky glass of vin santo).
tangerine, walnut and dark chocolate flourless torta
4-5 small tangerines or mandarins (you will need 375g cooked pulp)
250g shelled walnuts, finely ground
200g raw caster sugar
125 g dark chocolate, roughly chopped into smallish shards
1 tsp baking powder
5 large eggs
decoration (candied tangerine and walnuts):
2 small tangerines, peeled and segmented
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
7 or 8 walnuts, shelled and broken into halves
Bring a small pot filled with water to the boil and carefully drop in 4 or 5 washed, unpeeled, whole tangerines. How many you will need depends on their size. Cover and simmer for an hour. Drain, allow to cool, roughly chop and add them to a food processor, removing any pips. Process until you obtain a smooth pulp. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm diameter tin with a removable base. Beat the eggs with the sugar until well combined and fluffy. Add the fruit puree and continue beating until the mixture is homogeneous. Place the chocolate, walnut meal, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and lightly whisk until homogenous. Fold the dry ingredients a third at a time through the wet ingredients until incorporated. Place the cake mixture in the tin and bake for 65-75 minutes until the cake is golden on top and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, prepare the candied tangerine and walnuts. Make sure you remove all the white pith from the citrus segments. Place the sugar and water in a small frying pan that will fit all the segments in a single layer on medium heat. When the sugar has dissolved, add the citrus segments, reduce the heat and allow them to cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by half and is thick and syrupy (about 12 minutes). Carefully remove the hot segments with tongs and place them on a sheet of baking paper. Add the walnut pieces to the sugar syrup and continue to cook for a few more minutes, tossing the nuts to make sure they are well covered with the syrup. Remove the nut pieces with tongs and place onto baking paper until ready to use.
Decorate the cooked cake with candied tangerine and walnut segments. Serve when completely cool. This torta keeps for a couple of days, covered in the fridge.