Photography by Annie Peel

I love Seville oranges. They are so hardcore, so unremittingly bitter and so apparently useless. They belong to that group of foods and drinks that make you wonder who came up with the idea of thinking them edible or drinkable. Cacti are a case in point, so are oysters. Just about all shellfish come to think of it. Sea urchins?

Be that as it may, they have a remarkable and unmistakable flavour. The bitterness takes an inordinate amount of sugar to make it palatable and even then, the bitterness cuts through like a rapier through a peasant. Apparently. I say apparently because yesterday I made a cocoa, almond and Seville orange cake and forgot to up the level of sugar to well above normal and the result was delicious. Deep, unusual and interesting. Sophisticated even.

orange tree2

Photography by Annie Peel

I had read a Nigella recipe a few years ago which called for the oranges to be boiled, blitzed and used in the cake dough. I was intrigued by this idea. I cannot remember if it was Seville oranges that she used but on sifting the internet I found 107,000 entries in 0.17 seconds on Google, so take it to be a fairly well established recipe. I am at the end of day three now and still have 27,576 to go. Mine is still the best. I haven’t reread Nigellas since but reckon mine will be better, if not quite so enticing. Oh yes, feel the rich nutty chocolate slide into you mouth and caress it with your tongue before swallowing. You gotta love her.

I decided to make this cake in May because I was clearing my freezer of winter/spring stuff and came across the bags of surplus Sevilles. Gently, oh so gently, the remembrance of the untried recipe came drifting back across my mind. I began by boiling the oranges. I then walked out of the kitchen and some time later the smell of burning caramel brought me back downstairs.

I opened the pot to find the bottom of all the oranges blackened to cinders and the bottom of my longsuffering pan once again caked with soot. I salvaged the top of each orange, scooped out the flesh and passed it through a food mill. I chopped the skins and whizzed them, then mixed the two together. The result is an incredibly sticky paste that is almost threatening. Below is the recipe so I won’t go on but the result is a dessert cake not to be messed with.

choc cake1

Photography by Annie Peel

Seville orange, cocoa and almond cake
60g Seville orange paste
130g sugar
120g butter
2 eggs
120g almonds (buy whole blanched almonds then whizz them to a powder)
25g cocoa

  • Boil the oranges in plenty of water with the lid on for about 40 minutes or till the oranges are soft. Remove from the water and cut in half. Cool enough to handle then scoop out the flesh and pass it through a food mill. Chop the skins and blend the two together.
  • Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, then the paste then the almond powder and cocoa (all this can be done in a blender).
  • Pour into a cake mould and bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees with fan. Test it with a skewer. It is done if the cake mix just holds onto the skewer.