Clementine cake

With inspiration from smitten kitchen and knowledge that oranges are (one of the) symbols representing fortune for the Chinese New Year, it seemed only appropriate to mark the occasion by baking this cake. The ingredients list is short enough: oranges, eggs, sugar, almonds, and baking powder. Among the distinguishing features of this cake is the exclusion of both flour and butter from its recipe; however, I think what people will find most unusual here is the usage of whole oranges—both flesh and peel—as its main ingredient.

Before I can make this cake, though, there are hurdles to overcome...like, not owning a springform pan. Okay, no problem, I'll just call my friends to borrow one. Now, with a springform pan in hand, are we all set to bake? Uh, not so fast. It's the wrong size: the recipe is written for an 8-inch cake, but what I have is a 10-inch pan. This means that, to avoid ending up with an orange-flavored chapati, I need to make changes to an untried recipe before even taking the first step. Yikes.

Volumetrically, a 10" diameter cake is 56% larger than an 8" cake of the same height, and the most straightforward way to modify the recipe is simply to increase all ingredients by this amount. However, orange and egg quantities aren't amenable to being altered with such precision. The only practicable solution, then, is to change the recipe in whole-orange or whole-egg increments, change the other ingredient quantities accordingly, and make a cake that will be somewhat different in height from the original recipe and monitor the baking time to accommodate these changes. As it happens, the original recipe makes it easy to increase the egg quantity by 50%, and I was able to parallel this increase fairly well with the oranges I had on hand.

Oh, Just so you know, I did bake this cake in time for Chinese New Year, but it's taken me until now to finish this post. On to the recipe!


Makes one 10-inch cake.

Quantity Alternate Measures Item
560 g 1 lb 4 oz  (6 to 8 ea.) Clementine oranges
375 g 13¼ oz  (3½ cups) Ground almonds
338 g 12 oz  (1½ cups + 3 tbsp) Granulated sugar
10 ml 2 tsp Baking powder
9 large 9 large Eggs
As needed As needed Butter or shortening, for greasing cake pan


  • 3- to 4-qt. saucepan, for boiling oranges.
  • Electric kettle or small saucepan, for boiling water to blanch almonds.
  • Medium-sized bowl (about 4 qt.), for blanching almonds. You can use this same bowl later to whisk the eggs.
  • Large bowl (about 6 to 8 qt.), for final mixing of cake ingredients.
  • Rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
  • Whisk.
  • Colander.
  • Knife and cutting board.
  • Wide and shallow baking pan (such as a rimmed baking sheet, aka jelly roll pan), for toasting almonds.
  • Food processor, fitted with steel blade. This will be used for both grinding the almonds and pureeing the oranges. There is no need to clean the workbowl between the two operations.
  • 10" springform pan.
  • Parchment paper and kitchen shears/scissors.
  • Toothpick, for testing cake for doneness.
  • Kitchen timer, or other time-keeping device.
  • Kitchen scale and/or dry-ingredient measuring cups and spoons.


You can also click on each of the images below to zoom in for more details.


  1. Wash the oranges thoroughly. Remember, you'll be eating the skin.
  2. Remove and discard any stem and calyx still attached to the fruits. I've found that these hard remnants tend not to get pureed in the food processor (see Step 8 photo), so it's best to remove them beforehand.
  3. Place oranges in a 3- to 4-qt. saucepan and fill with enough water to float the oranges up by one-half to one inch.
  4. Place saucepan on the stove. Bring water to boil over high heat, then place a lid over the pan, reduce heat to between Low and Med-Low, and simmer for two hours.

  5. While the oranges are being boiled, check occasionally and refill the water if necessary.
  6. Remove oranges from the cookpot (or drain into a colander) and let the oranges cool.

  7. Once cooled, cut the oranges in half crosswise to check for seeds (pips). Remove and discard any seeds that you find. As you slice open the fruit, juice will run out. Be very careful to save as much juice as possible.

  8. Now chop the oranges into pulp. This can be done with a knife, but is easier with either a food processor or a blender.

Commercially-ground almonds, sold as either almond flour or almond meal (different terms for the same product), can be purchased online or in natural- and health-food stores. I've seen Bob's Red Mill almond meal in the natural foods section at a Kroger store near me, so I'm guessing it's the most widely available brand for local purchase. If you have or plan to buy commercially-ground almonds, then you can skip this entire almond-prepping section.

Before grinding the almonds, I removed their skins by blanching to avoid a mottled appearance in the cake and possibly avoid any additional bitterness from the skins. This is probably an optional step, though, depending on your preference. You can also buy blanched almonds in the store, in which case you can grind them up immediately.

The advantage of commercially-ground almonds, beyond the obvious labor savings, is a finer and more consistent grain size than almonds ground with a food processor. However, toasting nuts before adding them to recipes enhances their flavor, and, as far as I can tell, almond flour sold in stores is not toasted before grinding. Can you toast store-bought almond flour? Maybe, but I'd imagine the margin of error between "toasted" and "burnt" is a lot smaller with the flour than with whole almonds. Commercially-ground almonds also retail for about $12 per pound, whereas raw (skin-on) almonds cost around $6/lb. Update 2009-03-10: Well, maybe you shouldn't roast the almonds. Yikes.

You should prepare the almonds while the oranges are being cooked.

  1. Place raw (skin-on) almonds into a bowl. As I mentioned above, if you have already-blanched almonds on hand, steps 2–5 are unnecessary.
  2. In a separate pot (not the one with the oranges in it), boil some water. The quantity is not critical—you just need enough to cover the almonds.
  3. Pour the boiling water over the almonds to cover, and soak for 1 minute.

  4. Drain the almonds into a colander and rinse with cold water. Pinch the almonds between your thumb and forefinger, and the skin should slip off. Discard the skins.

  5. Place blanched almonds on a towel and pat to dry.
  6. Make sure the oven rack is at the center position. Turn on the oven and set the temperature to 375 °F.
  7. Spread the almonds out on a wide baking pan. Place the pan into the preheated oven and toast until fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Remove almonds from oven and let cool.
  9. Place the almonds into a food processor and grind into flour. I did not record how much time this took and simply stopped processing once the almond grains appeared "fine enough." The top image at left shows the ground almond's texture in the food processor, and the bottom image is a closer-in photo of the almonds in a mixing bowl. I don't know if it's possible to get the grain size to be much smaller and more consistent than this without using millstones, and I was afraid that I'd end up with almond butter if I had let the food processor run for much longer. Update 2009-03-03: Grind for no more than 30 seconds. See my homemade almond butter post.

  10. Pour the ground almonds into a large mixing bowl so that the food processor can be used for pureeing the oranges.


  • If you haven't already done so for toasting the almonds, make sure the cake rack is at the center position, turn on the oven, and set the temperature to 375 °F.
  • The original recipe (see Nigella Lawson, below) instructs to prep. the pan with both butter and parchment paper but doesn't explain why. The 1997 Joy of Cooking mentions that butter can applied between the pan and the parchment to keep the paper in place, yet How To Cook Everything has a recipe that instructs adding butter to the top (exposed) surface of the paper, which seems redundant to me. (I mean, isn't parchment non-stick already? Why add butter on top of it? Isn't that just gilding the lily?) Now that I've baked this cake, though, and know how sticky it is, this is what I think the procedure should be:
    1. Cut a 10" diameter disc of parchment paper and place it onto the bottom of the cake pan. Apply butter to the top side of the parchment. With this cake, this is not redundant, as it needs all the help it can get to release from the pan.
    2. Butter the sides of the springform pan, then line with a parchment. A total length of 31½" is needed to fit a 10" pan, although it is not necessary to have this in one continuous strip. Add butter the exposed surface of the parchment.


  1. Add the sugar and baking powder to the ground almonds in the large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs.
  3. Pour the whisked eggs into the large bowl and mix with the dry ingredients already in the bowl.
  4. Pour the orange puree into the large bowl. Mix thoroughly with the egg/almond batter.
  5. Pour cake batter into the prepared springform pan.
  6. Place cake pan into the preheated oven and bake at 375 °F for approximately 1 hour. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into its center comes out clean. When I checked my cake at 45 minutes, it was still jiggly, but had firmed up at 1 hour. My cake was done at 1 hr 10 min., which is consistent with other recipes that call for 1-hour bake times.
  7. Once done, remove cake from oven and let cool in the pan.
Note: The original recipe suggests that you may need to cover the cake with aluminum foil after 40 minutes to avoid burning its top. I did not find this extra step to be necessary.


  • First of all, this cake is easier than my recipe makes it look—it's actually easy, period. I just didn't want to leave out any details or render any steps ambiguous. If you've read this far, congratulations, and go make the cake. If you know anyone who wants to make a simple cake but got scared by the length of my post, tell them they can follow Nigella Lawson's recipe for it.
  • This is apparently a very popular recipe, and copies of it are all over the Internet, most of which refer back to Nigella Lawson. However, from what I can tell this cake is probably Middle Eastern in origin, and Claudia Roden has a variant that uses large oranges (such as Valencias or navels) instead of clementines; you can find her recipe at the bottom of this page. It was also pointed out on Chowhound that James Beard had included a large-orange cake recipe in one of his cookbooks from the early 1980s.
  • I think the original recipe is a bit vague in its instruction to boil the oranges. Should I cover the pot with a lid? How hard should I boil them? With the amount of water originally specified (just enough to cover the oranges), I'd be afraid of cooking the pot dry if it's left on high heat without a lid for two hours. It's much safer, I believe, to cover the pot and leave it at a gentle simmer for this amount of time.
  • Speaking of vagueness, I have a feeling this recipe can tolerate pretty broad variations in the ingredient quantities, so measurement accuracy isn't a crucial factor in its outcome. As an example, the original recipe called for one heaping teaspoon of baking powder for an 8-inch cake, which is an imprecise quantity that can vary up to about 2x depending on how tall the heap is. For the sake removing ambiguity, though, I've specified exact quantities for all ingredients.


  • The cake domed up during baking, but it fell as it cooled so that the top of the cake flattened nicely.
  • The texture of this cake is denser than those made with wheat flour; however, it is not heavy.
  • The cake is also very moist—so moist, in fact, that it almost feels underdone. However, as the toothpick came out clean, my cake was properly baked by that test. I've seen descriptions that range from a soaked sponge to being almost pudding-like.
  • There is a bit of graininess from the almonds, though it is not unpleasant. I'd imagine that commercially-ground almonds will result in a smoother texture. The occasional bites of orange zest provide zing to the cake.
  • I like this cake, and, judging by the comments from the Food Network page, so do most people; the few negative reviews, however, are rather strident. Aside from just a matter of individual taste, I think it's possible that the negative reviewers may have expected a cake similar to those made with wheat flour instead of something so dense and moist. Another issue is that clementine oranges are by no means uniformly sweet, and it may be difficult to predict their flavor until they're baked into the cake; it is possible, then, that the negative reviewers may have mixed bitter oranges into their cakes.
  • It's not entirely clear to me why this cake is so sticky. I tried to compare it to cake recipes that contain butter, which only revealed to me that either a) there is no such thing as a standardized cake recipe (and therefore no comparison is possible), or b) my search skills stink. At any rate, my guess is that it's a combination of the number of eggs (more than most recipes, it seems, though not excessively so) and the amount of butter used (zero). While almonds contain a lot of fat, I think they're still bound up in the ground particles, and thus are not useful for lubricating the cake. On the flip side, the protein in the almonds is similarly bound up, so it should not contribute to making the cake any stickier.


Well, I'm not going to get into details about Jewish dietary laws, because I know almost nothing about them. From what little I understand, though, I believe chemical leaveners are acceptable for Passover, and the only offending ingredient in most baking powders is cornstarch. If that's the case, then it's easy to make this recipe kosher by mixing your own baking powder at home.

The standard formula for homemade baking powder is two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda by volume. Cornstarch is sometimes added (same quantity as baking soda) to absorb moisture during storage, but if you're going to make and use your own powder right away, this is a non-issue. For this recipe, the quantities are:

1 tspCream of tartar
½ tspBaking soda
Sift together the two ingredients. This will make 1½ tsp of baking powder, which at first appears less than what I had specified above; however, please realize that the original quantity assumes usage of commercially-made baking powder, which has added bulk from cornstarch whereas this homemade powder doesn't.

This is a single-action baking powder, which is activated by mixing with a liquid. All the baking powders I've seen in stores are double-acting, which are activated again by the high temperature inside an oven. To make sure the leavening action from this baking powder doesn't fizzle out, make sure to place the cake into the oven as soon as possible after the batter is mixed.

Of course, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.


So what's the difference between a clementine orange, a mandarin orange, and a tangerine anyway? Well, to start with, the tangerine is a type of mandarin orange, not a different variety of citrus fruit. While the clementine is commonly thought to be an accidental cross between a mandarin and a sweet orange discovered in the Algeria by Father Clement (Vincent Rodier) in the early 1900s, some scholars maintain that "it is indistinguishable from and probably identical to" the mandarin orange common in the Guangzhou (Canton) province of China. Now, I'm no expert so don't take my word as gospel, but it seems the short answer is: they're all mandarins.

The satsuma is yet another member of the mandarin family, though I don't think I've seen it in the stores around here lately. This may well mean that, in terms of eating and cooking, the question of distinguishing between different mandarin breeds will become moot as the clementine increases its market share and displaces other mandarins. Specifically with regard to this recipe, considering that a large-orange variant of it exists, I'd venture to say that all mandarin types can be used interchangeably for it.


I did not record this, but if my memory is correct, I started with 388 grams of raw almonds. After removing the skins and toasting them (and eating a few along the way, I admit), I weighed them again and got 358 g of almonds and 14 g of skins. Did I eat that many? Almonds with skins weigh, roughly, around 1.7 to 2 grams each, which calculates out to a loss of between 8 to 10 almonds. Except I don't think I ate that many. Really, I don't. My guess is that the difference between the original quantity, what I ate, and the final weight is the result of moisture lost during toasting, but I don't have enough data to be sure. For future planning, though, I think that the weight ratio of these blanched/toasted almonds and skins (358:14) is a good place to start.

For this cake, I added a second batch of almonds to bring the blanched/toasted almond weight up to 375 g, although as noted above, exactly quantities are probably not imperative for this recipe.

Update 2009-03-03: From my homemade almond butter post, 286 grams of skin-on almonds yield 280 grams after roasting. If whole almonds and blanched almonds evaporate similarly, we should expect an after-roast weight of 380 g for a start weight of 388 g. From above, the blanched almonds and skins add up to 372 g, meaning an unaccounted-for loss of 8 grams. Taking into consideration how much an individual almond weighs, this calculates to a loss of 4 or 5 almonds—which actually sounds about how many I snacked on, so the data appears correct.


  1. I just found that the baking powder from Hain uses potato starch instead of cornstarch. Does that make it kosher for Passover? It's usually found in health- and natural-foods stores.

  2. Thank you very much for this recipe. There are a lot of Clementine recipes around, but you have provided a great deal of insight into the making of a good cake.

  3. I have never enjoyed reading a recipe more! I just love your detailed, funny scripts on it! I think the same way, people tell me I worry too much! But sometimes, most times, recipes are incredibly vague. I am going to try it, even though I was looking for the Almond Butter recipe:) I wonder how this cake would be with allspice or cinnamon etc.?


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