Living part-time in the Mediterranean we’re blessed to have an abundance of locally-grown and fresh produce available year-round. Oranges, for example: at any time of the year in Crete you can buy ripe oranges at the grocery store, at the laiki agora (farmer’s market), at rickety stands on the side of the highway, and from farmers’ pickup trucks parked in the center of town.
But my H and I do not even have to buy oranges. Our landlord owns a large grove and every once in a while drops by with a bag full of 30-40 of them. Occasionally, My H and I will head out to the grove on our own for a nice walk and to collect some oranges ourselves.
So with last week’s oranges I put on my Mediterranean hat and I:
- Channeled memories of kindergarten and made orange and clove pomanders to place all over our house (I don’t remember the cloves hurting my fingertips so much when pushing them into the orange skin!)
- Cooked up a huge pot of marmalade (and put some in a pretty jar for our landlord’s wife, Evi)
- Diced 2 pounds of orange segments to have in the fridge to throw in Greek yoghurt and cereal, for snacking…and
- Dried a few oranges’ worth of peels for future“green” air freshener and ant killer experiments.
Today, at My H’s request, I used even more oranges to make one of his favorite Greek specialties, Portokalopita, which roughly translates to orange (portokali) + pie (pita). (This and other orange-based recipes will also be in our new book on the Mediterranean Diet due out later this year.)
Now, this is not quite a pie as we know it, but more of a custard-y cake, drenched with a tangy yet sweet orange syrup. No flour needed, as the structure comes from simple phyllo dough. This orange cake is actually very easy to make, and – even better - you can involve the kids!
- You will find phyllo dough (also filo or fillo) in the freezer section of your grocery store near the frozen pie shells and puff pastry. Keep it in the freezer and the day before you make the Portokalopita put in the refrigerator to thaw. Take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you start.
- Don’t use a substitute for the Greek-style yoghurt, although you can use full-fat, low-fat or non-fat.
- If you like even more glaze on top of your cake, spread a bit of marmalade (ideally home-made) on top after it has cooled completely.
And if life has given you lemons? Replace the oranges in this recipe with lemons for a different flavor.
- 1 package (450-500 grams or 1 pound) phyllo dough
- 1-1/4 cups olive oil, divided
- 2 cups sugar, divided
- 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 4 large eggs
- 1-1/2 pounds oranges (about 4 large)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup Greek-style yoghurt
- ½ cup raisins (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Put 3/4 cup of the olive oil, 1/4 cup of the sugar and all of the cinnamon into separate small bowls. With a pastry brush, lightly grease the bottom and sides of a medium baking pan (about 12 inches round or square x 2 inches high) with a bit of the olive oil. Unroll the phyllo dough onto a flat surface. Zest the oranges and then juice them.
Again using the pastry brush, lightly brush the top sheet of phyllo with olive oil and then sprinkle with some of the sugar and cinnamon. Starting at the short end use your fingers to fold the single sheet in accordion style into 1-inch pleats. Place the folded sheet on its edge in the prepared baking pan, opening the pleats just a bit to cover the bottom surface. Repeat with additional sheets of phyllo until the baking pan is covered (about 6-8 sheets in total); reserving the rest of the phyllo sheets for the filling.
Make the Cake:
- Now for the kids! Have them use their little fingers to shred the reserved phyllo sheets into very small, confetti-like pieces.
- Pour the batter evenly over the phyllo base, using a rubber spatula to make sure the batter goes into all of the nooks and crannies and down the sides of the base.
- Place the cake in the oven and bake until lightly browned on the top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
Make the Glaze:
- While the cake is baking, put the remaining 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Measure the orange juice and, if needed, add enough water to make 2 cups of liquid and add that to the saucepan with the sugar.
- Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces to a syrupy glaze, about 30 minutes.
- Keep hot, and when the cake has cooled enough for you to handle the pan, pour the syrup very slowly and evenly over the top (most of it will sink in to the cake). Note that it is important that the cake be cool and the syrup hot. Let the cake cool completely before serving.