One of the most exciting seasonal foods to have in winter are citrus fruits. From Niembru to Doiras, it is not uncommon to see lemon and orange trees laden with fruits all around Asturias, for citrus fruits have a long standing tradition in the region.
In the 17th century they were one of the main exports to important trading ports in England and The Netherlands, where Asturian oranges were very well regarded. According to the book “Asturias y el comercio con el norte de Europa (1650-1700)” written by Luis Cueto-Felgueroso, ships loaded with Asturian citrus fruits, -oranges and lemons mainly- set sail from the Asturian coast regularly at that time.
Spain is the main European producer of citrus fruits and it is among the top ten in the world. However, these days it is hard to find Asturian citrus fruits outside the region.
When Liz Prueitt of San Francisco based Tartine Bakery posted on her social media her adaptation of the classic River Café polenta cake, she almost broke the Internet. The baking-world bit of the Internet I mean. Since I saw her recipe I have been daydreaming of making that cake with my uncle’s oranges and delicious Asturian requesón. Unfortunately, my uncle’s oranges didn’t make it safely to London, but the requesón did.
Blood oranges, requesón and polenta cake
Adapted from Liz Prueitt who adapted it from the River Cafe Cook Book
If you have a very sweet tooth, please choose the sweeter option in the sugar measurements. The resulting cake from adding less sugar has a very citrusy, not that sweet finish. This cake is gluten free.
70gr sugar (if you want a really glossy-looking cake, add between 40 and 50gr more of sugar and 5ml more of water)
2 oranges (blood oranges make a more colourful cake)
120gr sugar (150gr if you go for the sweeter option)
3 eggs (separated)
170gr requesón (the original recipe calls for ricotta, similar, but not identical, but obviously you could use it if you don’t find requesón)
1 lemon and 2 oranges (zest and juice)
135gr ground almonds
A pinch of salt
Butter and flour a 9” or 10” (anything between 22 to 25cm) round cake tin and line it with parchment paper. If you want to be very cautious, flour the paper too. Mix the sugar and water until the sugar has dissolved and spread it on the bottom of the tin. Cut the two oranges in thin slices –the thinnest you can- and arrange them on top of the sugar/water mix trying to cover all the surface of the cake tin, ideally in a single layer. It is tricky because the orange slices are very fragile, but try your best. The thinner the slices, the better the cake will look.
Preheat your oven to 160C (325F). Cream together the sugar and butter until you get a pale, soft batter. Add the three yolks and then stir in vigorously the requesón. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and two oranges and a pinch of salt.
Mix the cornflour and ground almonds and fold in the batter. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and mix them in. The batter will be very thick and consistent. Pour it into the cake tin and spread it evenly over the sliced oranges –already on the bottom of the tin-.
Bake until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. As always, time depends on the oven but around 40-50 minutes.
As much as you might want to see how it turns out, make sure you let it cool for at least 30 minutes before unmoulding it. Invert, unmould and transfer it to a platter or cake stand.