Eating seasonally means eating fruits and vegetables grown locally, or at least within the continental U.S. – not oranges and tangerines plucked from trees down under or berries flown in from South America. Winter – or cooler and somewhat rainy weather as we define the season in Southern California – is not only ideal for drinking tea, but also is the time to rejoice over local and seasonal citrus fruits, with kumquats being one of my favorites (though all of those Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges, and pummelos on my local farmer’s market and supermarket shelves are hard to resist as well). If you cannot get them at your markets, go online to Melissa’s and you can order some of the best there.
So inspired have I been by the season and also by the Chinese tradition of ending the New Year’s feast with kumquats, which are symbols of luck, wealth, unity, and perfection, I have combined fruit and tea in one simple-to-make, long-keeping cake, which the French would call a gâteau de voyage since it travels so well. Unlike other citrus, the peel of the kumquat is the sweet part (the flesh can be quite sour and contains tiny seeds); in this recipe, it is cooked in a sugar syrup until tender, drained, and then chopped. The tea (in this case, Chinese Keemun) is used in the glaze, which coats the top of the cake. Whether you choose to gift it to friends or family, Chinese or not, or make it for yourself as a gift to launch the first few days of the new calendar year, this cake symbolizes elements of timeliness (the precious seasonality of the fruit) and timelessness (the long traditions, tea drinking, and greeting the new year with gifts), all whipped up in a delicious package.
Gung Hay Fat Choy and happy baking, eating, and sipping to all!
Candied Kumquat Pound Cake with Keemun Tea Glaze
Yield: 1 loaf; finished size will measure 8½ x 4½ inches by 3 inches high at its highest point; approximately 8 slices
Prepare the baking pan by spraying the inside of the pan with an aerosol pan spray; then set aside. Next set the oven rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven and then preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the candied kumquats:
6 ounces fresh kumquats
2 ounces (approximately 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
4 ounces water
Cut the kumquats into halves. Remove the pith and seeds and place the peels into a small heavy sauce pan. Add the sugar and water, stir gently once, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue cooking, at a simmer, until the peels are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Once cool, remove 4 to 6 pieces and set aside to use as garnish; then cut the remaining peels into thin strips. You should have approximately 3 ounces of cut peel and 1 ounce of reserved halves. Reserve the cooking liquid to use in the glaze.
For the cake batter:
8 ounces (approximately 2 cups) cake flour, sifted
2 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
8 ounces (½ lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces eggs (5 large eggs), separated (after separating the eggs, be sure there is no egg yolk in the egg whites)
6 ounces (generous ¾ cup) granulated sugar, divided – half into egg whites for meringue; remaining half into base of cake batter
1 t. real vanilla extract
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with half of the sugar until light in texture and light in color. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl frequently during this process. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix to blend. Remove from the mixing bowl and place into another bowl. Set aside.
Thoroughly wash the bowl used for the creaming of the butter and place it on the electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until light and frothy. Add the second half of the granulated sugar and beat until soft shiny peaks form.
To finish the batter, using a spatula or clean hands, lightly folding the dry ingredients into the butter and sugar base, alternating with the beaten egg whites. Lastly, fold in the kumquats, distributing them evenly in the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 55 minutes. Test doneness by inserting a thin skewer into the center of the cake. The skewer should come out clean. The cake will be golden brown and have a cracked appearance on top. Let it cool and now prepare the glaze.
For the Keemun tea glaze:
3 ounces (6 T.) unsalted butter
2 T. whole premium leaf Keemun tea (the tea needs to be fresh and highly aromatic; if not, discard it and buy new, from a good source)
7 ounces (approximately 2 cups) sifted confectioners’ sugar
Any remaining cooking liquid from the kumquats
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the tea leaves. Stir occasionally while continuing to heat the mixture over a low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the tea flavors the butter. Do not burn. Pour through a fine meshed sieve, pressing hard on the tea leaves to extract as much flavor and color as possible.
Now add the butter and any cooking liquid from the kumquats to the confectioners’ sugar, mixing to blend well. Add hot water, if needed, to thin the glaze to a pourable consistency. Pour over the cake, allowing the glaze to run over the sides. Place the reserved kumquat halves decoratively on top of the loaf, as desired. Allow the icing to set and serve.
Thanks to Lauren Wemischner for all the photos.