We were away this past long weekend. Not far, less than two hours drive north of where we live. Briefly, I wondered why we were going away when we already live near the beach and could do a stay-cation without spending a cent. But a few hours into the holiday I knew. It was the otherness of it all, that just demanded relaxation. The absence of the urge to clean the bathroom, do laundry or even to stick to any kind of routine. It brought with it permission to just read, to move if it felt good, to open a bottle of wine at 3pm or to eat cheese with crackers on the beach in lieu of lunch.
A walk on the beach saw us clambering over boulders, hopping over waves that momentarily filled the spaces between them. We examined deep, straight fissures in rocky plains on the shore, concluding that they were the result of some long-ago sudden impact which sent shockwaves through the otherwise impenetrable stone. Over time, the sharp edges were worn into softly rounded ones on which tiny sea life made their homes. Colonies of perfectly formed grey sea snails no bigger than peppercorns crunched beneath our feet despite our best efforts to avoid them. We returned to the sand and an hour went by with us leisurely stretched out on beach towels, reading books.
On another afternoon, we meandered around the countryside visiting wineries and distilleries, sighing with pleasure when we sampled a wine made of rose petals here, wrinkling our noses not-so-subtly at the first sip of a gin infused with camomile somewhere else. Apple strudel, its buttery pastry filled with perfectly diced stewed apples was bought and shared with sips of hot tea while we lazed in hammocks. A slice of this cake would have also done nicely.
This is not a fluffy cloud of a cake. It is dense, mealy and quite frankly rather hideous looking. Rustic, if you will. This is not a cake that bothers itself with holding together or providing a scaffolding for decoration. The upside though, is that it’s very forgiving. If you don’t manage to get the aquafaba into soft peaks, fear not. Beat it for at least 4 or 5 minutes until it is nice and frothy, and the cake will still work, although without the soft peaks the result may be denser. Forget to buy pecans? Nevermind, walnuts (or just pepitas) will work just as well. No cinnamon to be found? *Shrug* it’ll probably still be delicious. Try not to skip the cardamom though. It is vegan and gluten free. Most importantly, it is the crumbly, fall-aparty, syrup soaked nature of this cake that makes it utterly satisfying with a cup of tea.
Orange, cardamom and pecan cake (GF, Vegan)
6 tbsp aquafaba*
1/3 cup coconut oil
Zest of 2 oranges, finely grated
Juice of 2 oranges- 2 tbsp in cake, rest in syrup
2 cups almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
2tbsp honey for cake + 4 tbsp for syrup
1/3 cup pecans roughly chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Vanilla paste or powder
4-6 cardamom pods- grind the seeds and reserve the skins
4 tbsp honey for syrup
Small handful pepitas or a few more pecans
Thick or whipped cream to serve
Grease a small loaf tin and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (340 F).
Use an electric beater (handheld or stand) to beat the aquafaba until soft peaks start to form. Add coconut oil, 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp orange juice, orange zest and coconut oil. Whisk briefly to combine. In a separate mixing bowl, sieve the almond meal. Add baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and ground cardamom seeds. Stir to combine.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir gently to just combine. Add the chopped pecans and stir just a few times. The mixture will be quite a thick batter, but should still be pourable unlike a dough.
Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 25-30 min on the middle shelf. On another tray, place the pepitas or remaining pecans and toast in the oven for the last 7-10 minutes. Remove cake from oven when a skewer passed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Press toasted whole pecans into top of cake or sprinkle with pepitas. Press the nuts or pepitas lightly into the top of the cake.
To make the syrup
While the cake is cooking, place the remaining orange juice, 4 tbsp honey and the cardamom skins in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 min or until the syrup thickens. The syrup should be about half as thick as maple syrup.
When the cake is cooked, still in the tin, and still warm, use a fork to poke holes all over the top. Pour the syrup evenly over the cake. Remove and discard the cardamom skins. Gently move the tin around to spread the syrup evenly. Leave at room temperature for at least 20 minutes for the syrup to soak into the cake.
Serve with thick cream and a cup of tea.
*Aquafaba is the liquid from a tin of chick peas or beans. You can also use the liquid that you would normally drain away after you cook chick peas or beans.