Let Them Eat (Clementine) Cake!

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
April 2013

Biography

This Recipe Is:

Gluten Free

Low in Fat

Unlike many a well-meaning but unenlightened baker, Pastry Chef Jane Tseng doesn’t throw out the flavor with the fruit scraps. At The Breslin, she captures all the potent essence of late winter citrus with an unusual peel-to-pith approach to cake.

To build a dessert based on one of Chef April Bloomfield’s favorite cakes, Tseng gently braises whole clementines in water until they’re tender, on the verge of falling apart, and purées the entire fruit to form the base of a cake batter. Bound with eggs, sugar, and almond flour, this purée-driven batter yields a cake with intense flavor and luscious consistency—“the texture is a little dense, and very moist … what most people would describe as a torte,” says Tseng.

Tseng, a veteran of such San Francisco kitchens as Acqua, Redwood Park, SPQR, and A16, wasn’t familiar with the whole-fruit technique until Bloomfield put it on her radar. But after research and experimentation, she developed the clementine cake as a composed dessert with candied citrus peel, dates, whipped mascarpone, and fresh orange segments.

By using the whole fruit, Tseng taps a world of bitter-edged complexity from the rind and fibrous pith, balancing the sweetness and acid of the flesh. And her all-inclusive technique could work with just about any citrus variety, from floral Meyer lemons to exotic kaffir limes.

Clementine Cake with Dates and Mascarpone Mousse

Clementine Cake with Dates and Mascarpone Mousse

Clementine Cake with Dates and Mascarpone Mousse

Clementine Cake with Dates and Mascarpone Mousse

Clementine Cake with Dates and Mascarpone Mousse

Clementine Cake with Dates and Mascarpone Mousse

Bonus points: the cake is not only low fat and devoid of any added butter or oil, it’s also gluten-free. The almond flour, delivering more than just rich nutty flavor, plays an integral role in giving this cake its distinctive crumb, one that could not be replicated with wheat flour.

“The almond flour absorbs some of the moisture in the purée, and gives the cake structure,” says Tseng. “Regular flour would produce a gummy texture.”

As Tseng’s menu focuses on dining experience over dietary restrictions, she doesn’t go out of her way to feature gluten-free items. But when a dish just happens to pack the double whammy of being indulgently delicious and completely gluten free, there’s nothing left but to thank the pastry gods and dive in.

Tseng suggests that pastry chefs could adjust the ratio of almond flour to accommodate different fruit purées and make gluten-free cakes year-round—in all the flavors of the fruit rainbow. And through this technique she proves that even the most common ingredients still have hidden potential, just waiting to be tapped by an enterprising chef.