Oh salty sea, how much of your salt
Are tears of Portugal!
To get across you, how many mothers cried,
How many sons prayed in vain!
How many brides were never to marry
In order to make you ours, oh sea!
Was it worth it? Everything is worthy
If the soul is not small.
Who wants to go beyond Bojador,
Must go beyond sufferance.
God gave the sea peril and abyss,
Yet upon it He also mirrored the sky.
— Mar Português, by Fernando Pessoa (Portuguese Sea, English translation)
This, one of my favorite poems about the sea, amply describes the love of the Portuguese for the open ocean. It was the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama who first reached India by the sea and turned Portugal into one of the world’s two greatest empires. Portugal became so influential that Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas where they literally divided the world between them!
The major legacy of the Portuguese empire is Brazil, which still speaks their own dialect of the language of the country who left such a strong imprint on world history (the Island of Macau and the Indian province of Goa, to a lesser extent also have a strong Portuguese imprint). Today, Portugal is a top destination for vacationers seeking sun, friendly people and a laid-back atmosphere combined with GREAT food and wine!
Port (obviously shortened from Portugal) is one of my all-time favorite after-dinner drinks and Portuguese recipes combine the bounty of land and sea in truly creative and delicious ways! They also happen to have a unique cake that combines orange and olive oil into a recipe of stunningly awesome savor! The use of olive oil instead of butter gives the cake a unique dense and exceptionally moist crumb that is redolent of the aromas of Portugal!
The best recipe I’ve ever found was created by the famed culinary writer David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria (one of my favorite food blogs, BTW) who is himself of Portuguese descent. My recipe uses his as a foundation but adds two very optional spices that I feel not only complement the orange flavor, but also are a touchstone for the Portuguese connection to India – cardamom and mace. Leave these out and you have Leite’s original recipe to delight your tastebuds, Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
Nonstick baking spray with flour
4 to 5 large navel oranges
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ¾ tsp kosher salt
5 large eggs
3 cups granulated sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom and 1 teaspoon mace (both cardamom and mace are totally optional – the original recipe does not use it)
1 ½ cups mild extra-virgin olive oil
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling
Position a rack in the middle of the oven, remove any racks above, and crank up the heat to 350°F (175°C).
Coat a 12-cup Bundt or tube pan with baking spray and set aside.
Finely grate the zest of 3 of the oranges, then squeeze 4 of them. You should have 1½ cups of juice; if not, squeeze the 5th orange. Set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar and continue beating until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and oil, starting and ending with the flour, and beat until just a few wisps of flour remain. Pour in the orange juice and zest and whirl for a few seconds to bring the batter together.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 1¼ hours. If the top is browning too much as the cake bakes, cover lightly with foil. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.
Turn the cake out onto the rack and cool completely, then place it in a covered cake stand and let it sit overnight. Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar.
Note: Make sure to use a light-colored Bundt pan. A dark one will turn out a cake that sticks and is unpleasantly brown. The pan I use is the Nordic Ware’s Anniversary 15-cup Bundt Pan. And since this orange-olive oil cake only gets better with age, don’t even think about taking a bite until the day after you make it, or even the day after that. — David Leite