Oh my darling (and tasty) clementines

A cake inspired by scenes from the recent movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

A CLEMENTINE cake is sweet and moist, and not too hard on the waist line. (photo credit: MCT)
A CLEMENTINE cake is sweet and moist, and not too hard on the waist line.
(photo credit: MCT)
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.
How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, by Nigella Lawson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007.)
Clementine Cake
❖ 4 to 5 unpeeled clementines (about 450 gr. total weight)
❖ 6 eggs
❖ 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
❖ 21/3 cups ground almonds
❖ 1 heaping tsp. baking powder 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 190º. Butter and line with parchment an 20-cm. 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 is cold, take it out of the pan.
The cake tastes even better after sitting for a day.
About the topping:
While 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.
❖ 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
❖ 3 Tbsp. softened butter
❖ 1 cup clementine juice Mix everything in a bowl, adjusting clementine juice and sugar to make a loose but thick glaze.
Candied Clementines
❖ 3 clementines
❖ 2 cups sugar
❖ 1 cup water
❖ 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 silicone mat until cool.
Arrange on glazed cake.
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/MCT)