Only a handful of posts into 2015 and it’s already mid-March; the end of my final undergraduate year is no doubt leaving less time to chase the sunshine with my camera and elaborately garnish every bowl of soup. Regardless, there is always time for a birthday cake.
Wandercrush only just turned 1 in 2014 and, much to my astonishment, the first week of March marked its 2nd anniversary. Goodness, it’ll be a toddler running around the house before I know it.
I’m one to stubbornly shy away from celebrating my own birthday with cake (and managed to run away for some candle-free birthday camping last summer), but even I can’t avoid making a cake when it’s a food blog’s birthday being celebrating.
Staying true to the seasonality behind every Wandercrush recipe, I figure the March birthday will call for blood-orange-infused variations as long as I’m still in the UK. Last year it was tiramisu mille crêpes, and this year it’s gotta be cake-ified baklava. The dense cake layer is inspired by the flourless Jewish passover recipe, using an entire blood orange that’s boiled until pulpy. The peel and pith’s all there, but all the bitterness is boiled away, just leaving you with citrusy perfume.
As was last year’s tiramisu, baklava (باقلوا) is undoubtedly one of my favourite desserts. Hailing from the former Ottoman Empire, it’s now common in cuisines throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Luckily, I can get my fixes from the Turkish grocer around the corner. I should have done this the proper Greek way with 33 layers of phyllo—one for each year of Christ’s life—but phyllo dough tends to come in packs of convenient dozens… next time.
Blood Orange Baklava Birthday Cake
• 1 blood orange, whole
• 1 organic egg, beaten
• 115g (~⅓ cup) honey
• 150g–170g (~1½ cup) almond meal
• ½ t baking powder
• 120g (~1 cup)walnuts, chopped finely
• 75g (~¾ cup) pistachios, chopped finely
• ½ t cinnamon, ground
• ½ t cloves, ground
• 24 sheets phyllo dough
• 150g neutral oil / melted butter
• 300ml (~1⅓ cup) water
• 100g (~½ cup) sugar
• 175g (~½ cup) honey
• 1 blood orange, zest and juice
• 1 cinnamon stick
Wash oranges and place in a deep saucepan to cover with water. Boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Drain, cover with fresh cold water, and chop roughly when cool enough to handle. Remove any seeds before blending into a smooth pulp.
Preheat oven to 170ºC / 340ºF.
Whisk eggs and honey before adding the orange, almond meal, and baking powder. Fold together without overmixing and pour into a greased, round baking dish. Depending on the size of your orange, you may need to adjust the amount of almond meal slightly for a thick but pourable consistency.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove carefully from the tin and set aside on a wire rack to cool.
Blend the nuts and spices, setting aside in a bowl.
Preheat the oven to 175ºC / 350ºF.
Remove phyllo pastry from the refrigerator, but make sure everything is set up and ready so that they don’t dry out and become difficult to work with.
With all the phyllo flat on a cutting board, place the bottom of your baking tin on top and trace around the inside with a knife, cutting all the phyllo into circles of roughly the same size. Grease the baking tin and set to the side.
For the phyllo base of the cake, simply layer one sheet of phyllo and brush with oil/butter mixture before laying another sheet directly on top. Stack 12 sheets in this fashion.
For the upper phyllo layers, use the same layering method with the addition of nuts. Before placing the next layer down, sprinkle a generous handful of the prepared nut mixture, spreading to the very edges. In this process, it’s easier to spread the oil/butter on the phyllo sheet before placing it on the stack, as the nuts underneath will make it more difficult to smooth over. Repeat until all the phyllo sheets are used up. Using the ragged edges left over from the circle tracing, garnish the top.
Cut ¾ of the way down into this nutty top stack into 6 slices, which will make post-baking cutting much less messy and difficult.
Place both into the oven side-by-side, baking for about an hour and rotating the tray at halfway point for even browning.
Meanwhile, make the syrup. Simply boil the mixture of water, sugar, honey, and blood orange juice in a saucepan for about 3-5 minutes until thick and clear. Add orange zest and cinnamon stick, setting aside to cool.
When the phyllo is browned, crispy, and cool enough to handle, carefully stack all 3 layers back into the round cake dish: nutless phyllo at the bottom, blood orange cake in the middle, and nutty phyllo on top. This takes some manoeuvring, but a spatula makes things much easier. Between stacking, generously pour some syrup to soak through each layer. Over the very top, drizzle the remaining syrup evenly and between all the cracks. The longer you can stand to let the syrup settle in and soak the phyllo, the less crumbly your top layer will be… but for instant gratification, garnish with a final sprinkle of chopped pistachios and a fan of thinly sliced blood orange.