Orange Cake with Apricots and Lemon Rose Syrup

Spanish Orange Cake with apricots and Lemon Rose Syrup
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Spanish Orange cake and nutty middle eastern desserts with ground nuts and rosewater live in that same world of aromatic, romantic and elegant desserts.  I don't really love when the rose water or orange blossom water of many persian, arabic or sephardic jewish dishes is overdone, but just a little bit adds something glorious to cake.

I find these flavors quite regal and for the more discerning palate, because let's face it, these desserts are a far cry from a chocolate cupcake with buttercream icing.  Nothing wrong with that.  But you need to enjoy the oils and aromas that come from citrus to love a cake like this.

This recipe is inspired by Claudia Roden's NYT recipe.  A few years ago, a friend asked me to help her mother make a DIY wedding cake, using this recipe which is gluten free.

It was incredibly simple to make.  I made it and Lucy's mom dusted it with confectioner's sugar tied a white ribbon around it and placed some flowers in the center.  It was the perfect and lovely cake for the small wedding gathering they were having.

This spring as I was preparing for passover and working on testing cake recipes using dried fruit, I remembered that orange cake and wanted to make  something inspired by it but of course kosher for passover and that didn't take as long to prepare given the boiling time of the oranges.  So I started playing with all of the fruit and flavors I had at home and of course the flavors of sephardic jewish cooking. 

Apricots and oranges.  Similar in color, complimentary but very different in flavor, the latter  bright and acidic, the other muted with its own special perfume.

Surprisingly during the process, I assumed I couldn't use baking powder and later learned that baking powder, though it aids in leavening, is in fact kosher for passover.  At the time, I assumed it was not so omitted this ingredient and find that the recipe which unfolded was perfectly light and fluffy from the egg whites.

In developing this sponge cake recipe, I wanted to find a marriage between the ingredients used in these Spanish and Persian cultures, and I found that the oranges, apricots, lemon and rose all join together beautifully.

I simmer the oranges with apricots, sugar and water for only 15 minutes, allow it cool and puree. It is used to flavor the cake base which is whipped egg yolks and sugar made light and ribbony.  I stir the puree into this, followed by the almonds and vanilla.  The stiffly beaten egg whites are then folded into the base in 1/3rds and into the oven.  After the cake is baked, I lightly brush a simple lemon and rose syrup onto the cake while it's still warm and then a little more when it's completely cool to emphasize the citrus and rose.  You can leave the syrup off is you wish but it adds a certain je ne sais quois.  You'll see.

This is a lovely breakfast cake (Yes cake for breakfast is an excellent idea) or the perfect cake for tea.  It happens to be a gluten free cake, so celiac dessert lovers and gluten free folks rejoice!

Serving Size: Serves 8-10


For the Cake:

6 eggs, separated*

3/4 cup sugar, divided

2 cups orange and apricot puree

2 cups almond flour

1 tsp. vanilla

Pinch salt or cream of tartar

Vegetable or canola oil, for greasing pan

Lemon Rose Syrup** for brushing (optional)

Vegetable oil or cooking spray, for greasing


For the Orange and Apricot Puree:

1 navel orange, cut in 8ths and pitted

½ cup dried apricots

½ cup sugar

1 ½ cups water


For the Lemon Rose Syrup:

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

Juice of lemon

1/8 tsp. rose water


For the Cake:

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease a spring form pan with vegetable oil or cooking spray.

Whip the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar until pale, fluffy ribbons form.  Mix in the puree.

Add the almond meal and vanilla and combine well.

In a separate bowl, whip the whites on medium speed with a pinch of salt or cream of tartar.  When foamy, turn up the speed and gradually add the sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.

Carefully fold the egg whites in 1/3rds.  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer come out clean.

Meanwhile make the syrup and allow cooling completely (you can also make the syrup a day ahead while making the orange and apricot puree).

Brush lightly with some of the syrup while the cake is warm and again when completely cool.  You won’t need all of the syrup for 1 cake recipe.


For the Orange and Apricot Puree:

Bring the mixture to a boil.  Simmer on low for 15 minutes until the oranges are fragrant and tender.  Cool completely and puree until smooth.   You can refrigerate the pureed or soaked mixture overnight if preparing this step ahead of time.


For the Lemon Rose Syrup:

Bring the sugar, lemon juice and water to a boil and simmer for about 3-4 minutes until glossy.  Add rosewater.  Cool completely.  **

Cook's Notes

*Separate the eggs while cold, as they are far easier to work with.  Then leave them to come to room temperature in two separate large bowls.

** Rose water may be found in Middle Eastern markets or ordered online in stores such as