The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the charming Ben Stiller movie based on James Thurber’s very short story in the New Yorker in 1939, is filled with romance, special effects, breathtaking cinematography and adventure.
I had my eye on the food — specifically the intriguing clementine cake.
In the movie, which has been overshadowed by other recent blockbusters, Walter (Stiller) is a photo editor at Life magazine responsible for historic photos. But he has lost the crucial image planned for the cover of the magazine’s last issue. He treks across the globe to retrieve another copy from the photographer (Sean Penn), who’s shooting snow leopards in the Himalayas.
The cake was a minor subplot, baked by his mother (Shirley MacLaine) for his birthday, but it popped up in scenes throughout the movie.
I had never heard of clementine cake and had to try it.
We couldn’t find a recipe in the zillion cookbooks we have here at the newspaper, but we found various versions on the Internet, all based on a recipe created by Nigella Lawson, the British celebrity chef. The best part: It calls for ground almonds (same as almond flour or almond meal), so it’s gluten free — and moist and delicious. Preparation is simple.
You can leave it plain or top it with clementine slices, powdered sugar or glaze.
- 4 to 5 unpeeled clementines (about 1 pound total weight)
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 21/3 cups of ground almonds
- 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons softened butter
- ½ cup clementine juice
- 3 clementines
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
CAKE: Put unpeeled clementines in a pot with cold water to cover, bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours.
Drain and when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the seeds. Chop everything finely — skins, pith, fruits — in a blender or food processor.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and line with parchment an 8-inch springform pan.
Beat eggs. Add sugar, almonds and baking powder. Mix well and add chopped clementines.
Pour cake mixture into prepared pan and bake for an hour, when a skewer comes out clean. You may want to cover the cake with foil after 30 to 40 minutes or less to stop the top from browning too dark. Remove from oven and leave to cool, on a rack, but in the pan. When the cake’s cold, take it out of the pan. The cake tastes even better after sitting for a day.
—“How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food,” by Nigella Lawson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007)
ABOUT THE TOPPING: While Nigella Lawson’s recipe does not call for any topping, I thought it needed some dressing up. I decorated the cake with a circle of clementine slices and sifted confectioners’ sugar. Also following Lawson’s recipe, Deb Perelman, author of “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook” and blog, drizzled lines of glaze across the top made of confectioners’ sugar mixed with a tablespoon of clementine juice.
Cathy Merenda, who said she works for the studio that made “Walter Mitty,” suggests this topping below of candied clementine slices arranged on a thicker glaze. I followed the measurements for this topping to the letter but should have added more sugar, as mine turned out a little gloppy.
GLAZE: Mix everything in a bowl adjusting clementine juice and sugar to make a loose but thick glaze
CANDIED CLEMENTINES: Slice clementines very thinly.
Put sugar and water in a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Add clementine slices and simmer on low for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Pull clementines from sugar mixture and place on parchment or silpat until cool. Arrange on glazed cake.