Last weekend, my friend Lisa turned twenty-two and she and I decided that there would be no better way to celebrate than to host a dinner party for some friends. It seems these days on campus that on any given weekend or in any given week I hear of at least three to five dinner parties going on, and this news always makes me happy. There’s something really joyful and loving about communal cooking that makes even the most mediocre of meals taste delicious. Of course, armed with a few friends who are, like me, food enthusiasts, I was sure that their dishes would turn out wonderfully, and that dinner would be a hit. Lisa made a spinach and ricotta lasagna, Allie made a crunchy and tangy salad and a to-die-for white bean dip, and my friends Dan and Edie made garlic bread and a wonderful veggie barley soup that I think Edie might have made for the week, but she was gracious enough to share a few bites with those of us eager for a taste.
I decided to make dessert. The week before, I tried pickycook’s recipe for Blood Orange Yogurt Cake (her adaptation of Ina Garten’s grapefruit yogurt cake) for an event in my residential college. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but I figured that if most of the ingredients for the recipe looked tasty themselves, then mixing them together could only result in something good. Because I was cooking for a bunch of other seniors, some of whom know that I am involved with the Sustainable Food Project on campus, I felt both the need and the desire to make something that was in season, healthy, and delicious. It proved to be quite a challenge to find a recipe that I was excited to make that took those ideas into account.
You might have noticed that in Connecticut, blood oranges are hardly “in season.” In fact, according to the seasonal wheel that one of my friends emailed me over winter break, care of Good Magazine, the only things that are really in season during the winter out here are apples and potatoes. Up at the Yale Farm, the winter greens are only sort of coming along in their protective houses. And together, these facts were reminders of how difficult it is to eat locally and in season, especially when you live in a part of the country where natural resources and pleasant weather all year-round are not its strong points. Many advocates of local, sustainable eating will readily admit that it is a difficult exercise to adhere to 100% of the time. While there are some who are able to due to some combination of the availability of produce and their own determination, ultimately the point of promoting a more sustainable table seems to be to improve the health of our nation’s food system and the American relationship to food and farming. Any small steps towards this goal that we all make in our diet and meals really do affect the larger picture. And while many might write me off as rationalizing my decision to not make a dessert with apples or potatoes (apple cinnamon potato kugel?), I will be the first person to say, “that is exactly what I’m doing.” I set aside my better judgment about food, which happens a lot when you are a college student, and I chose to make a recipe that I had never tried before. Picture and recipe after the jump.
I guess, all things considered, since the blood oranges came straight from my dining hall, in a far-fetched way I was cooking locally. Now that I have made this cake, of course, I have discovered that it is, in fact very versatile and delicious and can be adapted to include almost any kind of fruit that you’d want to flavor it. Now that I know this, I will definitely be making it with whatever fruit is actually in season next time. The recipe for the yogurt cake was already quite basic, but I adapted it to be even simpler and arguably healthier; I skipped the vegetable oil in the recipe, replaced the sugar with honey (that the dining hall really does get from a local CT source), and cut the recipe by an egg in order to keep the mixture from getting too runny as a result of swapping out the sugar for honey. My guess is you could also use agave syrup to make it. Remember that the ratio of sweetness from honey to sugar is about 2:1, so you only need half the amount of honey to sweeten the batter to the same degree. The cake is still really moist even without the addition of vegetable oil, perhaps because of the texture of the Greek yogurt. I suppose if you are a traditional sugar and butter person interested in trying something new, you might prefer to use full-fat Greek yogurt. I used 0% and my friends and I thought they tasted great, but it’s up to you.
I may not have started with the intention of baking sustainably, but as a result of my desire to experiment, I came up with a trusty recipe so versatile that I now have a go-to dessert than can change with the seasons.
Recipe for Blood Orange Yogurt Cake (serves 8-10)
2 medium-sized blood oranges, zested and juiced
1 cup Greek Yogurt (fat content of your preference)
1/2 cup honey + 1 tbsp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
For the glaze:
2-3 tablespoons blood orange juice (about one orange)
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan. In a bowl, mix honey, zest, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla together. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt together.
2. Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Be careful not to overmix the batter. Bake for about 50 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then move to wire rack.
3. Mix half the juice with the extra tablespoon of honey and pour it over the cake to let the juices soak in. Then, once the cake has fully cooled, mix the glaze and pour that on.