“But spring is mine. In the heat trapped between our cupped palms, I hold every spring on earth.” – Dulce Mariá Loynaz, from ‘Absolute Solitude: Selected Poems.’
The writer lives two lives. The first self, the living, the experience, the pure impulse and instinct. The second self, the creative, the slowed psychoanalysis, the agitation for heightened living, the poetic madness. Each fragment of identity, culminating into prose destined for written page. Dissolving into atmosphere, blossoming into illusion. And loving. Loving everything. The point of loving being pure, unadulterated ecstasy. The modern romantic infatuated with all that blooms, engulfed with literature, with song, with poetry, with people, with cities, with jazz. The many faces of light, darkness, agony and pain. An unwavering passion for life, and all its mysticism.
The writer loves the world. But, you can never fully love a writer. You can never fully hold a writer. Just like how you can never fully hold raxeric light. The point of strength being temporal. The shadows illuminated and broken. I loved a writer. Why? The creation of phosphorescent beauty is the nearest we can ever truly come to sanctity, divinity on this too-human level. Divinity can come in the form of many things. Travel, that’s my most intimate connection to godliness. There’s never a day wandering when the soft music in my head stops. It inhabits every crevice of my body. The scenes, the acute happiness of a foreign street, a foreign sound, a single spark in a stranger’s eye. Cake, too. My other larger known vice.
I vowed to bring more layer cakes to the blog, one per month, to be exact. And it’s happening! There was this Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Cake with Earl Grey Swiss Meringue Buttercream and this Pink Champagne, White Chocolate and Rose Layer Cake too. And now this. An Italian Orange Blossom and Almond Cake with Orange Curd, Mascarpone Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Salted Caramel for sunny days and sweltering nights.
This cake was inspired by the scent of Sweet Italian Orange Blossom, an effervescent fragrance that’s part of dusk’s new Travel Notes collection. It’s stunning. It captures the cool breezes, sparkling clear water and lush foliage of the Italian terrain. I can breathe it all in, the crisp hints of citrus, the perfumed notes of floral and musk. It reminds me of petal-hued sunsets, warmth, passeggiata, fruit lined orchards, abandoned fields and delicate, white blossoms. It’s a scent that makes me dream again. Wanderlust has always been etched into my heart. And with this scent, I can breathe easier. And there’s more scents to explore. Take a trip. Let your mind wander.
Oh, this cake. It’s perhaps one my most loved cakes to date. I say that all the time, but it’s true. The shadows that shroud its dulcet body. The light that streams through and illuminates the already glistening caramel. The diaphanous florals. Bloom, wither, fade. It’s imperfect. I got restless, I am, by nature, restless. The fleur d’Oranger infused salted caramel was poured on too hot, taking with it an avalanche of buttercream…a very beautiful avalanche of contrasting medium, colour and texture. I’ve always managed to find the perfection in the imperfect. The beauty in all things abandoned. And I wouldn’t have this cake any other way. In all its sweet, fragrant and slightly buttercream smelt glory. To me, it’s the ideal. Cut a thick slice. Brew milky tea. Light a candle, a Sweet Italian Orange Blossom candle. Eat. Pause. Enjoy.
ITALIAN ORANGE BLOSSOM AND ALMOND CAKE WITH ORANGE CURD, MASCARPONE SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM AND SALTED CARAMEL
The orange curd:
150 grams granulated sugar
zest from 1 orange
3 large eggs
140 milliliters freshly squeezed orange juice
200 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
Place the sugar and zest in a small bowl. Use your fingers to rub the mixture together until the zest is evenly distributed and the mixture is fragrant.
Pour the sugar into a medium sized saucepan then add in the eggs and orange juice. Whisk until evenly combined. Set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly until the sugar has dissolved, 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gradually add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time over the course of the next 5 minutes, whisking constantly until smooth and incorporated. Continue to whisk, for 6 more minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Make sure to concentrate the whisking around the edges of the saucepan. Remove from the heat.
Set up a timer to count down 6 minutes. Then, use a hand-held immersion blender or stand blender to blitz the mixture for the total of the time. The curd will be smooth, light and aerated when done. Use a rubber spatula to give the mixture a final stir, to remove any air bubbles that may have formed. Strain the curd into a sealable container and cover the surface closely with plastic wrap. Chill until very cold before use, preferably overnight.
The orange and almond cake:
250 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
400 grams granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
300 grams cake flour
130 grams almond meal
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon salt
225 grams sour cream, at room temperature
60 milliliters fresh orange juice, at room temperature
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
Pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). Grease and line three x 15 cm (6 inch) cake tins with parchment paper. Set aside. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment. Mix, on medium speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the eggs, one at a time, until evenly incorporated and the batter is fluffy, 3 more minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the cake flour, almond meal, baking powder, ground cardamom and salt. Set the bowl aside. Next, place the sour cream, orange juice, zest, orange blossom water, vanilla bean and almond extract into a large mixing jug. Stir to combine well.
Pour a third of the sour cream mixture into the beating batter. Beat until just combined then add in a third of the dry flour ingredients. Continue to alternate the additions until all of the sour cream mixture and dry ingredients have been used up. Make sure to finish by adding the last of the dry ingredients. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until well combined, 2 to 3 minutes.
Divide the cake batter between the prepared cake pans and use a rubber spatula to smooth out the tops. Bake, for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 15 minutes before turning out and onto a wire rack to let cool completely. Once cool, level off any domed toms with a large serrated knife or cake leveller.
The mascarpone swiss meringue buttercream:
180 grams egg whites
210 grams granulated sugar
350 grams unsalted butter, very soft at room temperature
4 tablespoons mascarpone, at room temperature
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk by hand to combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water set on medium-low heat. Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Heat, whisking often, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 70 c (160 f) on a candy thermometer. The sugar should be completely dissolved and the mixture hot to the touch. Once at temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the base of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Whisk, on medium-high speed, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture holds stiff peaks. The bowl should no longer be hot to the touch and the meringue should be glossy and cool. Pause mixing and swap the whisk attachment for the beater attachment.
Add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add in the mascarpone and orange blossom water. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until the buttercream is thick and silky smooth, 5 more minutes. Set aside for assembly.
The salted caramel:
125 grams light brown sugar
63 grams unsalted butter, cubed
63 milliliters heavy cream
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
½ teaspoon sea salt
Place the light brown sugar, unsalted butter and heavy cream in a medium sized saucepan set over medium-low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the butter and sugar have melted. Increase the heat to medium and let the mixture come to a light rolling boil, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring. Let the mixture continue to boil, until it has reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water and salt. Set aside until completely cooled to room temperature before pouring over the cake.
Place the orange curd and a few tablespoons of the mascarpone swiss meringue buttercream into two separate piping bags fitted with large tips. Set aside.
Place the first cake layer, cut side facing up, on a cake stand or serving platter. Pipe a ring of buttercream around the edges of the cake to form a buttercream ‘dam’. Then, fill the middle of the ring with a piping of the orange curd. Top with the second cake layer, cut side facing down, and again, pipe a second ring of buttercream around the edges of the cake then fill the center with the orange curd. Finish with the remaining third cake layer, cut side facing down. Use an offset spatula to spread a thin layer of the buttercream over the top and sides of the cake to crumb coat it. Set the cake in the refrigerator to harden the first buttercream layer, about 30 minutes.
Once set, remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread a generous amount of the buttercream over the entire cake to cover it. I thickly frosted the cake but you could also thinly frost it (for a naked cake effect). Set the cake back in the refrigerator to set the buttercream, about 30 more minutes. I was pushed for time so I set my cake in the freezer instead of the refrigerator to chill, for about 15-20 minutes.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour the cooled salted caramel directly over the top of the cake, using an offset spatula or butter knife to help spread it down the sides of the cake to form a dripping effect. Set the cake back in the refrigerator to set the salted caramel until firm, 20 to 30 more minutes. Once set, decorate the cake with some fresh, pesticide free flowers (if desired) and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt before serving. The cake will keep for up to 3 days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature before serving, it can also be frozen for up to 1 month.
Thank you to my friends at dusk Australia for sponsoring this post! The candle, mood reed and hand wash are all part of their new Travel Notes collection. To celebrate the launch of the new collection, dusk is also giving you the chance to win a $10,000 travel voucher! Enter via dusk’s Instagram or Facebook or click here to find out more information and for full terms and conditions.