Good food connects and brings people together. A phrase that many have probably heard before and that few will find trivial. Nevertheless, it does no harm to briefly remind at Christmas what a privilege it is to sit at the table together, even if this year it should be smaller than usual, the view a little poorer and the general togetherness can only be improved. But eating together in peace is not self-evident; and the effort people put into making it possible is one of the most beautiful and moving things the kitchen can offer.
Take the “Conflict Kitchen” in Pittsburgh, for example, a place that swept away one prejudice after another by serving only food from countries that were enemies of the United States. Or the Kreuzberg “world kitchen”, which employed only refugees from two dozen countries. There are chefs like the Italian Massimo Bottura, whose foundation opens restaurants for the homeless around the world. Or cookbook authors like the British woman Claudia Roden, who is the subject of this column because her life’s work can also be read as a kind of Christmas message.
The cake works without flour and butter
Roden comes from a Jewish family with origins in Syria and Western Turkey. Like her parents, she grew up in Cairo, but in the course of the Suez crisis, the family was expelled from Egypt and moved to London. Roden, who would not see her homeland again for a quarter of a century, might have had reason to be sad or angry. Instead, she started writing about food. More precisely about the Middle Eastern cuisine, also with the aim of erasing all the reservations of the English and Americans about it. A woman who was also socialized in the West, who traveled alone to Arab countries to gather or simply listen to dishes and culinary experiences, strictly in line with the Arab proverb she likes to quote: “Once you have eaten together , you “can’t cheat anymore.” A Jewish woman displaced from the Middle East who was drinking tea in the kitchen with Iraqi housewives must have caused confusion at the Iranian embassy in London when she contacted them to to ask – about favorite recipes.
Roden, now 85, has written more than a dozen books, worked for the BBC and is a lecturer at Oxford and the University of London. Her latest book “Mediterranean Cuisine” (Dorling Kindersley) is less about Pinot Grigio and sunsets on the Riviera and more about the connecting power of the kitchen. After all, Roden is not a tourism official, but a cook, anthropologist, sociologist and philanthropist. For her, the Mediterranean Sea is neither a romantic cliché nor a border, but the center and link of a large cultural area in which everyone influenced each other and where one would not be there without the other. No tapas without meze, no antipasti, it’s that simple.
Claudia Roden has collected many recipes, but none are likely to be as meaningful and unifying as her orange almond cake, the forerunner of which is said to have been brought to the Middle East by Sephardic Jews in the 15th century and which can be found in many different forms is served in many countries today, whether in Spain, Morocco or Iran. A cake made without butter and flour, saffron golden in colour, moist but light and fluffy and with an intense aroma that tastes a bit Christmassy to Central Europeans. Since a whole orange is added to the batter, the taste combines sweetness and sourness with delicate notes of musk. This makes the cake extravagant and at the same time suitable for the masses. And anyone who has ever had a slice on their plate, perhaps with ice cream and/or cream, will immediately understand why this cake recipe – New York Times, guardians, Youtube – one of the most quoted in the world.
If you disregard the cooking time, the preparation is not very complicated. Simmer a large, unwashed orange in a saucepan of water for 75 to 90 minutes until soft. Allow to cool, remove the stem and seeds, puree the fruit and set aside. Then, in a bowl, beat six eggs (M) with 250 g of sugar until creamy. Mix 250 g finely ground almonds well with 2 equal teaspoons of baking powder and stir into the egg mixture. At the end, fold the orange pulp into the batter.
Pour the rather runny batter into a (tight!) greased spring form (24-26 cm) (line the edge with baking paper if necessary) and bake at 190 degrees (convection) for a good hour. Baking time varies slightly. The only trick is to get the cake fairly set (stick a skewer in to test it) but not burn. If necessary, lower the temperature at the end and cover the cake with aluminum foil. Then leave to cool on a wire rack.
Any bet: Everyone can agree on this cake. It tastes particularly good with a thin layer of dark chocolate. Merry Christmas!