Grandmothers’ orange cakes are the best! And today, it is the traditional Portuguese version of the orange cake that is in the spotlight. It is called bolo de laranja.
Do not be fooled by its looks, this cake is airy, soaked in syrup and deliciously scented with orange. But this orange cake, which may look simple, has a long history.
Bolo de laranja and Lent
Bolo de laranja is a “household cake” that is strangely similar to the Savoy cake or the pound cake. The orange zest in the dough gives it this pretty golden color. It is traditionally baked in a crown-shaped mold. Then as soon as it comes out of the oven, it is soaked in plenty of syrup made from orange juice and sugar.
Bolo de laranja, a delicious orange cake, is said to be a legacy of the Sephardic Jewish community’s presence in Portugal and could be traced back to the 15th century. The climate was particularly conducive to citrus growing. Thus, there are variants of this cake with lemon and clementine.
Bolo de laranja is often eaten on Sundays during the Lenten season. As the Church is at the center of Portuguese life to this day, bolo de laranja is a staple of the Portuguese culinary tradition.
What is Lent?
Lent is a forty-day period of fasting and abstinence that Catholicism instituted in the fourth century in reference to the forty days of fasting of Jesus Christ in the desert. Lent, according to the computation of the Latin Church, lasts forty days from Ash Wednesday (46 days before Easter) to Easter Sunday and ends with a period of fasting and more intense celebration (Holy Week).
The Lenten period must be a period of deepening, spiritual quest and prayer for the faithful in preparation for Easter. Thus, for a period of forty days, the diet is more frugal and animal foods are restricted.
Also, fasting is less rigorous on Sundays and on the day of the Annunciation. It’s therefore time to indulge with bolo de laranja!
Orange cakes around the world
Bolo de laranja contains oranges and has numerous cousins. In Spain, coca de llanda is a very popular orange cake. It is prepared in the region of Valencia and its base is similar to a sponge cake, scented with lemon or orange zest. This orange cake is baked in a container of the same name (traditionally called llanda). It is typically eaten at lunch. It is also called coca de mida in Valencia, because “mida” means measure and refers to the measure of the different ingredients that compose it.
In Greece, a very similar orange cake is prepared except Greek yoghurt is added to the dough. The cake is also soaked with a syrup made from orange juice. It is called portokalopita.
In Morocco, they have meskouta, a delicious cake with orange, but without syrup!
Earlier, I compared bolo de laranja to pound cake (called quatre-quarts in France). However, pound does not contain orange zest or orange juice, which makes it more compact than the bolo de laranja.
Pound cake actually takes its name from the fact that the ingredients are introduced into the dough in the same quantity: one pound.
Enjoy this bolo de laranja, with delicate citrusy flavors.
- 5 eggs
- 1½ cup flour , sifted
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup butter , melted
- Zest of an orange
- Juice of 2 oranges
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- Juice of 2 oranges
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 320 F.
Separate the eggs.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is white, has tripled in size and is firm.
Mix the baking powder and the flour and add them to the egg yolks.
Mix the melted butter, zest and juice of the oranges and add them.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and incorporate very gently with the previous mixture using a spatula. Be careful not to break the whites.
Pour the mixture into a ring mold pan (Savarin mold), previously buttered and floured and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
In a saucepan, bring the juice of the 2 oranges and the sugar to a boil and cook for 1 minute.
Once the bolo de laranja is fully baked, unmold immediately on a rack and pour the syrup over.
Let cool before serving.