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Saffron – Orange Semolina Cake with Blood Oranges

A friend and colleague brought a variation of this cake to work one morning. It didn’t take long to devour it.  I then immediately started pondering  how I could improve not only the taste but write a method that is easier to follow. (Let me know if I accomplished either.) This version is a compilation of a myriad of recipes that I researched both from print and the inter-webs.

It’s delicious with just the soaking syrup, but if you want to gild the lily add the whipped mascarpone and/or the lemon curd. Or, you could just whip some cream and serve with fresh berries. As you know berry season will soon be upon us.

Serves 12

For soaking syrup and oranges:
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup (2 1/4 oz / 67 g) granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup water
2 – 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided

For the cake:
butter for pan
3/4 cup (6 oz) whole milk, divided
Large pinch saffron threads, crushed
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
zest from 3 medium blood or navel oranges (preferably organic)
1½ cups (9 oz / 255 g) coarse-grind semolina flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
2 teaspoons (1/4 oz / 5 g) baking powder
1 teaspoon finely ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (8 oz / 230 g) plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

For the filling:
1 cup (8 oz / 230 g) mascarpone
1/4 cup (2 oz / 56 ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz / 230 g) lemon curd [1]
Powdered sugar for decoration

Make the syrup:
In a small saucepan add bay leaves, sugar, salt, and ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally to dissolve sugar, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9″- diameter cake pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter paper. Set aside.

Make the Cake:
In a small saucepan warm 1/4 cup milk, add crushed saffron threads and stir until dissolved.  Add butter to milk mixture and heat until butter is melted.  Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl measure out sugar, add the orange zest and using your fingers evenly incorporate the zest into the sugar. Whisk the semolina, baking powder, cardamom, and salt into the sugar mixture.

In a large bowl whisk together yogurt and remaining milk. Using a spatula or wooden spoon mix the dry ingredients into the yogurt mixture. Stir in the cooled (still liquid) butter mixture and then scrape batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 50–60 minutes. It is done when a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer pan to a wire rack and allow cake cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn a 10″ rimmed plate or platter over top of pan and invert cake. Using a cake tester or toothpick, poke holes all over cake.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the bay leaf syrup in a medium bowl.  Gradually pour remaining syrup over cake allowing it to soak in. Let sit at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the remaining peel and white pith from oranges. Slice into ¼”-thick rounds; remove seeds and add to reserved bay leaf syrup. Gently toss the oranges on occasion and allow to macerate at least 30 minutes. Taste and add lemon juice as needed.

Make the Filling:
Whisk the mascarpone and heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Whisk in vanilla extract.

Assemble the Cake:
Split cake horizontally. Using the bottom of a removable tart pan as a spatula carefully lift off the top half of the cake and set aside. Spread the mascarpone evenly over the bottom cake layer to within about an inch from the outside rim of the cake. Top with a layer of lemon curd again leaving about an inch from the edge. Set the reserved layer on top of the filling. (When placed, the top layer will press the filling to the edge of the cake.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Do Ahead: Cake can be baked 2 days ahead and stored tightly wrapped at room temperature before filling with the mascarpone and/or lemon curd.

Serve cake with oranges in syrup.