Long before the food revolution in England brought us gastro pubs, Jamie Oliver and the Fat Duck, there was British marmalade.
Dense with chunks of candied Seville orange peel and darkened with Demerara sugar, marmalade is one of the gems of traditional British cooking. The finest are thick enough to defy a hot crumpet by refusing to melt down its sides.
Crumpets may be the highest use for good marmalade, but the next best is to bake it into a marmalade cake.
I got hooked on this fine-grained, citrus-scented butter cake on a long-ago trip to London. Back in Brooklyn, I had to make it myself. There was no shortage of recipes online, however, many from British blogs.
Some were for froufrou, layered affairs under fluffy snowdrifts of icing. But I was looking for something simpler and more like a pound cake, a simple slice of sweetness to nibble with a mug of afternoon tea.
Nigel Slater’s recipe is just that. It is an elegant and compact loaf with a fragile confectioners’ sugar frosting and a hint of orange in the light and tender cake crumb.
My version doesn’t stray far from his, though I couldn’t help tweaking here and there, like adding a little lime zest to diversify the citrus notes. The biggest change was increasing the marmalade. I put more in the cake batter and stirred some into the glaze as well. It makes the cake a little heavier than Slater’s, but worth it for the enhanced marmalade flavor.
And a note about that flavor: It is wholly dependent on the marmalade you use. If you use an insipid marmalade — one that’s mostly made up of cloying, neon orange jelly without many (or any) pieces of peel — you’ll get a mild cake. Pleasant, but not as intense.
Seek out the good stuff, preferably made from bitter Seville oranges. I was able to find a quality brand of thick-cut marmalade (also known as coarse-cut marmalade) in the international foods section of my local supermarket. When I first looked for it, I was discouraged; the jam aisle had only that runny, overly sweet kind. But around the corner, wedged between the coconut milk, red curry paste and chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, was a modest British section with Bird’s custard powder, golden syrup and several kinds of good marmalade.
If you find it, buy a couple of jars. Because you also may get hooked on marmalade cake. You’ll see.
Orange Marmalade Cake
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coarsely chop any extra-large chunks of peel in the marmalade. Grease a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together softened butter, sugar, lime zest and orange zest until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one a time, until incorporated. Beat in 1/3 cup marmalade and the orange juice.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet until just combined.
4. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until surface of cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack. Cool 10 minutes; turn cake out of pan and place on rack right-side up. Place a rimmed baking sheet under rack to catch the glaze.
5. Heat remaining 1/3 cup marmalade in a small pot over low heat until melted; whisk in confectioners’ sugar and 1/2 tablespoon butter until smooth. Slather warm glaze over top of cake, allowing some to drizzle down the sides. Cool completely before slicing.
Note: Measurements for dry ingredients are given by weight for greater accuracy. The equivalent measurements by volume are approximate.
Yield: 8 servings