Smell, it’s said, is our most powerful sense. Just one whiff can transport us through time and space, bringing to life those experiences archived back in the deep recesses of our memory – a departed grandparent’s cooking, an exotic meal from faraway travels, our first childhood encounter with a strange and exciting fruit. In the gray days and ice storms of winter, the smell that I find most powerful is that of fresh oranges. I’m thinking about that moment when you first break through the peel; a bright burst of citrus suddenly hits the air and color seems to come streaming in, gradually diffusing throughout the room.
Nature has a funny way of giving us what we need just at the right time. That’s exactly the joy of seasonal eating, the fact that the bounty of citrus in the U.S. overflows at the very point of the year when we desperately crave sunshine. Lately I’ve been getting my fix with a recipe for an aromatic orange spelt cake. It’s a humble little dessert (or breakfast item), almost like a cornbread, but with uplifting notes of citrus – and it also happens to be sugar and dairy-free.
Orange Spelt Cake
Adapted from Little Upside Down Cake
1/2 cup sunflower oil
2 oranges (Minneolas are my favorite for this recipe)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 2/3 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
Handful of golden raisins
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a baking pan (springform, loaf, bundt – whatever tickles your fancy) with olive oil.
Roll the oranges on the countertop with the palm of your hand – it will break open some of the “juice pockets” (that’s my technical term for membranes), making it easier to squeeze all of the juice from the fruit. Zest the oranges before cutting them in half and juicing.
In a large bowl, stir the zest and juice together with the sunflower oil and maple syrup.
In a smaller bowl, combine the dry ingredients (spelt flour, ground almonds, baking soda, and salt), then fold into the wet mixture, stirring in the raisins at the end.
Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. If the top colors before the inside sets, cover with aluminum foil for the remaining time in the oven.