What I (roundly) made
This is a mandarin cake, I made it. It’s orange as you see, the brightest, deepest orange, and it’s made with four whole mandarins (or two whole oranges, or four clementines), one-and-a-half cups of ground almonds, two tablespoons of orange blossom water (which comes from Lebanon), and a couple of other things, less important.
My mother made this cake in Florida, where oranges are abundant as you know and where the sun shines all the time, and she gave me the recipe. Then later, in the snows, I found the recipe or a version of it in a book about Spanish cakes, or Mediterranean cakes, or Sephardic Jewish cakes, something like that. I don’t remember exactly what book it was, it was a book on a shelf in a snowed-in house, a white shelf.
The orange blossom water I found in a Lebanese shop down a street which was also snowed, bowed under with snow, but the orange blossom water comes in a bottle, a slim glass bottle with black-curling Arabic script and a picture of trees stencilled on, perhaps they’re orange trees. The oranges are blossoming, or the blossoms are oranging, and the bottle is now on a white shelf in a white cupboard in my snowy kitchen.
The almonds I think grew slowly on a tree (a wild almond tree) along a curved road near a rounding hill, perhaps in Lebanon, but that may not be—no mind.
You have to boil the four mandarins (or two oranges, or four clementines) in water for two hours, you boil them whole and round. Then you process them (crush them), peels and all. Add the ground almonds and the orange blossom water and some other things (less important, as I said), and then you pour the orange-almond mixture into a cake pan (round), roundly, and bake it.
As you see, it is now a deeply rounding orange cake that reminds of golded Seville or shimmering Lebanon (in peaceful times), even if you have never been to Seville or Lebanon or beyond this rounding horizon, and it tastes of Lebanon, is moist and blossomy (bosomy) and orangey (and almondine), and makes you think of that hill, sunned and orangine, and music that wends and winds in a slowing, sloe-eyed way, and Arabic mystery, whatever that is. I have powdered lightly with a circle-sieve white icing sugar on top—that is the snow, because I am here in the snows.
The most important thing I have found in this white place and time is DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH SUGAR. That will ruin it.
Mandarin (orange) cake
4-5 mandarins (about 375g). Or the same weight of oranges or clementines.
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
2 tablespoons orange-blossom water
1 teaspoon baking powder
Wash the oranges/mandarins and boil them whole for 1 1/2 hours, or until they are very soft.
Beat the eggs with the sugar. Add the orange-blossom water, baking powder, and almonds, and mix well.
Cut open the oranges/mandarins, remove the seeds, and puree in a food processor.
Mix with the egg-and-almond mixture and pour into a springform pan. Bake at 375 degrees fahrenheit for one hour. Let cool before turning out.
Originally published in Cosmonauts Avenue (in 2015)
Dawn Promislow is the author of Jewels and Other Stories (Mawenzi House, 2010), which was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2011, and named one of the 8 best fiction debuts of 2011 by The Globe and Mail. She has a novel forthcoming in 2022. She lives in Toronto.