Sunshine cake from a sun blessed land – Orange Semolina Cake Inspired by Greek Portokalopita

Greece – By Oscar Wilde
The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
Burned like a heated opal through the air;
We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
The ripple of the water on the side,
The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
The only sounds: -when ‘gan the West to burn,
And a red sun upon the seas to ride,
I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!
I am still waiting for the day i will stand upon that hallowed soil while S has already made her pilgrimage. And while I wait, I decided to try out the bounty of that country. I had oranges waiting to be used and Greece on my mind. And then I wanted some exoticness. So I traveled all over the WWW till the allure of Portokalopita on Saveur charmed me to a stop. Portokalopita in Greek can be translated to “orange pie” – fair enough, except that the secret ingredient giving it the Greece-ness was missing from my fridge – Phyllo Dough. I don’t know how to make one and was too lazy to dress up and buy some from the grocery. So I adapted the original and came up with my version. The idea is to try, cook and have fun doing so.  Here’s what i did to adapt. The original Greek cake does not use flour (I used some to give it a little body), has more olive oil (I wanted to cut back on the calorie), discards the syrup but adds on the sugar (hate wasting all that nice cinnamon orange flavored syrup) and has phyllo added to it (didn’t have phyllo – you can buy packaged phyllo in your supermarket’s frozen section).
This is the version I created using the original one for inspiration. Hence please feel free to go with the original, use my version or create your own version. As long as you enjoy doing it, and provide the proper references, no one’s complaining. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.   🙂
INGREDIENTS
Orange Topping/Syrup                                    
2 Large Oranges,  zest intact
1 Cup Orange Juice (8 oz)
2 Cups Water (16 oz)
¼ tsp Cinnamon Powder
¾ Cup Sugar (6 oz)
Cake
2/3Cups All Purpose Flour
½ Cup Sugar (4 oz)
6 tbsp Olive Oil (6 oz)
2 eggs
½ cup Greek yoghurt (4 oz) (substitute with full fat yoghurt that has been hung for at least 30 mins to drain out all water)
Zest of 2 large oranges
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1/8 cup fine semolina (1 oz)
¾ tsp baking powder
DIRECTION
Orange Topping/Syrup
1. Heat oven to 325 ºF
2. Cut the 2 large oranges into 1/5” thick slices and spread them on a baking dish
3. Pour in the orange juice and bake it in the oven for 45-50 mins, till oranges are cooked
4. While the oranges are cooking, prepare syrup using the water, sugar and cinnamon – put all three in a saucepan and boil them for 10 mins.
5. Take out the oranges and pour the syrup over it. Let it cool completely.
You can prepare this in advance and refrigerate it for up-to 5 days
Cake
6. Heat oven to 325 ºF
7. Grease & dust a 9” round baking pan
8. Beat the ½ cup sugar with the eggs till pale & thick.
9. Add ½ cup of the orange soaking syrup in the mix and beat well. (can use a hand mixer, blender whisk or stand mixer)
10. In a separate bowl whisk semolina, flour, and baking powder. Add it to the egg mixture and mix well.
11. Add the oil, yoghurt, vanilla extract and zest and mix well
12. Pour mixture into prepared dish and bake 45-55 mins till the cake is set and a toothpick comes out clean.
13. Make toothpick holes on the cake. Pour ½ – 1/3 cup of the soaking syrup over the cake. Let cool completely.
14. Arrange the oranges nicely on top of the cake and chill for a few hours before serving.  Top with whipped cream if you have to.
Insights:
a) Another variation can be to use half of the soaked oranges in the batter itself. Chop them up into small pieces and mix in the batter. Will have more of a marmalade feel I guess.
b) You can chop 6 oz of phyllo sheets and add it to the batter to be really close to the authentic version
c) If you don’t have 9” round baking pan, use whatever size/shape you might have. The cake size will vary accordingly and you might have to check regularly to ensure a perfect bake.
This cake has a terrific, uber smooth texture and a really nice but not too strong orange flavor. But with the syrup addition, it tends to be on the sweeter (but not oversweet) side. If you plan to go psuedo-healthy (Ha!) or like your cake less sweet, you can skip pouring the syrup and just arrange the oranges. Also the cake does not rise a lot and has a nice plain top. I mean it’s the kind of perfection you always dream of when frosting (at least i do :))
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