It's About Bloomin' Time!

That isn’t a pun this time. Things in Tucson really are blooming! The acacia trees have gone wild, the jasmine is intoxicating, desert wildflowers are abundant and, more to the point of this post, the citrus trees are at their peak. Closing in a bit more on my point, the orange trees are abloom and their scent is everywhere. It is magical to smell the night air.

What is nice about this time of year is that it coincides with the weather change – the time when we can start spending our evenings outdoors in the front courtyard, enjoying languorous meals, engaging conversation with friends and the perfume of the orange blossoms we love so much. Last evening, our friends Lynn and Lee from New York were with us, and it was our first night dining in the garden this season. It got a little chilly by the time we finished with dessert but no one was complaining, as we sat under the stars by candlelight draped in the soft, fragrant air...

And of course that made Mark think that I should cook something with orange blossom water this week. Have you ever used orange blossom water? I have never made my own orange blossom water because I really want as many oranges to eat when harvesting comes in the winter. Happily, someone makes it for us – somewhere in the India – and it works just fine!

We use it an all variety of ways, but mostly in making desserts. Cakes and tarts are often perfumed with it and we have made strange retro beverages (sometime I must tell you of our foray into Ramos Gin Fizzes…), but mostly we use it in a glaze for cakes. One of our favorite cakes to glaze is a citrus almond cake, the recipe for which was originally Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake and was given to us by Lynn and Lee when we were visiting them once in NY City. They taught us that it didn’t have to be just clementines – that we could use any combination of citrus fruits that we wanted.

At that time, we lived in Maine and the citrus available to us was pretty standard… limes, oranges, lemons, grapefruits and the occasional Meyer lemon. But, now that we live in a citrus haven – and in a neighborhood dubbed ‘the banana belt’ for its mild, citrus-friendly microclimate – the options for the cake are many. The cake itself is moist and wonderful but, for special occasions, we like to top it with orange blossom water glaze, especially now when the oranges are ripe for picking and the orange blossoms are blooming! How fun to have a tree bearing ripe fruit from the year before and blossoming simultaneously for the next year’s bounty!

I love that they use Neuschwanstein on their label!
For today's cake, I used two locally grown oranges and a tangerine. I have used many combinations including fruits such as oranges, lemons, limequats, mandarinquats, kumquats, limes, tangelos, Mexican (key) limes, clementines (only once!) and tangerines. When making this cake, I very rarely use only one kind of fruit.

You will need one pound of fruit to make just the right amount of fruit purée for this cake. After making it now for about 10 years, I finally figured out that I should measure just how much purée comes from one pound of fruit. 1 3/4 cups, if you are curious. As the cooking of the fruit is the most time-consuming part of the process, I will start making tons of fruit purée and sealing it in freezer bags in 1 3/4 cup portions for future cakes, which will make this recipe even easier than it already is. One other thing that I have done to simplify the original recipe is using pre-ground almonds (from Trader Joe’s) as I am pretty sure Nigella had me grinding my own almonds.

So here is another wonderful gluten free dessert, glazed with orange blossom water to celebrate this scented season in Tucson!

~ David

Citrus Almond Cake

1 pound citrus – oranges, tangerines, clementines or a mixture
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
Place the fruit in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook fruit whole for 2 hours, adding water as needed to keep citrus covered.  Drain and let cool.  Cut in half across the equator and remove any seeds.  Place fruit – flesh, pith and peel – in the bowl of a food processor and purée; you should have 1 3/4 cups puréed fruit.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Butter a 10-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Beat the eggs in a large bowl with a whisk.  Add sugar, almond extract, almonds and baking powder.  When smooth, stir in the puréed fruit with a wooden spoon.  Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for one hour, covering the cake with foil at the 40 minute point to keep from getting too dark.  Let cool completely before removing from pan.


1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 tablespoon orange blossom water

Place the sugar and orange juice in a saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until all the sugar has been incorporated into the juices and it is of a spreading consistency. Add the orange blossom water and mix in thoroughly. Let cool a little, then pour glaze over cooled cake top and spread to cover. Decorate with slices of kumquat, if desired.


  1. your photos are fantastic!
    As I commented on fb, I'll have to try this soon, but it may be later as I don't own a food processor (probably that last person on earth who doesn't). Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  2. Wynne - you can chop the fruit finely with a knife, just make sure you keep all the juice! It gives a slightly different texture but still really goof. You could also try the blender!

  3. This looks and sounds heavenly ~ looking forward to trying it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It is wonderful, Darce - thanks for reading!

  5. Orange blossom water would have to be one of my favourite ingredients. I even have a perfume made from it. It is now Autumn here in Sydney so I so look forward to following the warmer seasons through your beautiful blog! Your cake is beautiful and I will definitely be making this.

  6. Jenny - thanks for the reminder! I had completely forgotten that. I remember your mother gave me my first-ever almond cake recipe (maybe originally from Esther) way back in the 80s! We had it at the family seder. I hope you like this cake!

    Anna - Summer was on its way here last week with temperatures promising to hit about 32-33°C here this week. But we got a winter reprieve and it is rainy and cold today! One more lovely day by the fire with hopes the orange blossoms don't suffer!

  7. I feel SO in the know! Not only have I eaten this cake at Lee & Lynn's table (I think even once when you and Mark were in town), but I have BEEN to Neuschwanstein! I feel like I just opened a celebrity magazine and know all the people! Lovely description of the orange blossoms...I've smelled that in the air and it's heavenly.

    :-) Karin

  8. Karin - don't you love at they chose Neuschwanstein for the orange blossom water? Quel hoot! Glad you enjoyed the post and felt so 'in the know!' (But we knew that, didn't we?)

  9. David, I am trying to lose weight. Please, no more beautiful photos of lucscious desserts! I am "blooming" in my waistline! Can you take pictures of a Fruit Cake left over from Christmas? Just kidding! The cake looks wonderful and an appropriate introduction to Spring in New England. Very sunny today...almost like Tucson in the dead of winter. Love your recipes and photography.

  10. Thanks for another great GF post! Told Steve I simply HAVE to make this, pronto. ~Gaelen

  11. Gaelen - I knew this would make you happy! You will love it!

  12. Towny - if YOU can't control yourself, don't look at me! :) The cake is actually pretty healthy, especially if you skip the glaze. Thanks for your kind words about the blog and photos.

  13. oh my, where does the time go? I went to go make this cake this afternoon--it has been enticing me for days and longer--and I looked closely at my Orange Flower Water--I assume that is the same as Orange Blossom Water, although mine is made in England--and the label tells me that it was best before October '97!!! yikes!

    I do have rose water--from The Shakers in New Gloucester, Maine and from Marrakech--would that work?

    To further complicate matters, I was going to use grapefruit as I have a lot of really good grapefruits (that I receive from Red Cooper in Texas, a terrific source if one doesn't live in Tucson!).

    What are your thoughts about the rose water and the grapefruit? Shall I experiment and report back?

    Beee-U-ti-ful photos!

  14. Susan - I say you should give it a try! You might be onto something very special (I would use the Moroccan rose water simply for the exotic sounds...)! Orange Flower and Orange Blossom wasters are the same. Did it still smell fragrant? I find that OBW keeps its flavor longer than rose water. Let me know how it goes!

  15. This cake has been like a ghost for years.. I don´t know why I never made it, but now I will. First because you mentioned kumquats (which are not in season but I adore)and orange blossom water. I spent a few weeks hunting it down, and couldn´t find it so I went online and it´s not something to do at home unless you have the blossoms... I finally found it and bought it only to find it is Azahar! Such a common ingredient found everywhere because it´s used in our end-of-the-year pannettones!

  16. Paula - this cake is especially good when the glaze is added. We both love orange blossom water and don't know it by its name: Azahar. And I didn't know it was in pannettones! No wonder I love them! I hope you can try this cake soon and, if you can't get kumquats now, you can go some coarsely grated orange zest.


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