Wednesday 21 July 2010

Syrup cake, shoes and chooks

Last Wednesday at midnight I was brushing mandarin syrup on a cranberry cake remembering childhood dentist visits. It was also a day for new shoes and on the weekend we went to visit my parents, to share cake and show off the shoes. But it all started with the giant mandarins.

E swore that the giant mandarins were the only ones he could find in the supermarket. Sylvia wasn’t keen on them and nor was I. We like imperial mandarins, which are much smaller. (See photo.) So I decided to make cake with them. I also stumbled upon a packet of frozen cranberries at a posh supermarket and had some yoghurt that needed using. A quick internet search turned up Smitten Kitchen’s Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Loaf.

I decided to make the loaf with mandarins and cranberries. As always I was full of good intentions to bake early on Wednesday but the day was busy and Sylvia wasn’t keen on sleeping. We had an excursion to the shopping mall to get fitted for her first pair of hard sole shoes. She still prefers her old soft Dunlop volleys that are full of holes.

In over three years of blogging, this is my first syrup cake. I dislike the idea of soaking a cake in syrup and too many of them are made with lemon juice. However this was my opportunity to use some of the mandarin juice. Mandarins are so sweet and fragrant that I thought they might taste different to lemon.

The cranberries also seemed a good idea. I rarely see fresh or frozen cranberries (probably never) so am always curious about them. When in Scotland last year I put them in a cranberry banana cake and loved it. I thought that their sourness might offset the sweetness of the cake. What I didn’t reckon on was how frozen hard they were. Blithely I tossed some cranberries in the cake without defrosting and paid the price. The cake took twice as long to bake as the recipe said.

Hence I found myself at midnight brushing the cake with syrup. I was tired and just wanted to go to bed by then. To make matters worse when I tasted the syrup it wasn’t any better than a lemon syrup. It’s all citrus, I muttered to myself, in displeasure. I found myself wondering why sour cranberries were interesting and sour lemons were distasteful.

My mind wandered back to primary school where a dental van visited our country school every so often and gave all the kids free check ups. If your teeth were good you got a butterfly made of dental cotton bud wads. But what I remember most was the cleaning treatment, which entailed sitting in the dentist chair forever with a mouthguard full of horrid orange fluid. It made me feel ill.

The cake was far better than the dental van fluid. The mandarin wasn’t as intense as I had hoped, even where the syrup was sticky at the top. The cranberries were really sour, especially those at the bottom of the cake which were not soaked in syrup, but the bursts of fruit saved the cake. I loved the moist soft crumb but it would have been too bland without cranberries. I'm glad to have made this cake but I have no desire to make syrup cakes again. Too many bad memories.

Unlike me, my mum loves lemon in desserts so I took some of the cake down to her place on the weekend. She loved it. E liked it but kept telling me it was the wrong time of day to eat it. So I left some with my mum and took away a slab of her excellent, soft, dark gingerbread cake (I have asked for the recipe). A great exchange!

We had a lovely time at my mum and dad’s place. My nieces were there and lots of fun. Mum’s chooks are quite grown up now and producing eggs. When we were little we just shooed our chooks out of the way but Ella and Grace were delighted at picking them up. We even tried to lure the chooks onto the mini trampoline with worms but they didn’t fall for it.

Woody amused us though by wearing E’s cap. Sylvia is still scared of Woody but can spend all day on the swing or pushing the doll’s stroller. She was too little to join in with the dress-ups but had fun on the piano with her cousins. I spent some time with Maddy on her latch hook project and discussed Masterchef with the girls. We stayed for dinner and had a delicious roast dinner and apple sponge. A fine way to spend the weekend.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: SHF Apricot sponge – by any other name
This time two years ago:
Vegetarian Cassoulet
This time three years ago:
Hubert the Hog’s Head

Cranberry Mandarin Syrup Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten via Smitten Kitchen
Adapted loosely from

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated mandarin zest (I scraped the pith off about half the skin on a giant mandarin and finely chopped it)
  • seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1½ cups + 1 tablespoon plain white flour 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (but must be thawed if frozen)
For the syrup:
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed mandarin juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line a loaf tin. Deb suggested an 8½ by 4¼ by 2½ inch tin but my tin is a little narrower.

Lightly whisk the yoghurt, sugar, eggs, zest, vanilla and oil in a large bowl. Gently stir in 1½ cups of flour, baking powder and salt until mixed. Toss cranberries with 1 tablespoon of flour and fold into batter.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes or til a skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly. (Mine took 1 hour and 40 minutes.)

While cake is baking make the syrup by gently simmering the juice and sugar in a small saucepan until the latter has dissolved and the liquid is clear. Set aside.

Leave cooked cake in tin for about 10 minutes – or if it takes forever to cook and comes out of the oven at an outrageously late time like mine just remove from tin earlier but be very gentle, even though patience is at low ebb at this time of night. Flip cake upright on wire rack and place a shallow oven tray beneath rack to act as a drip tray (NB I usually line a rack with a tea towel but didn’t for this cake).

Make lots of holes all over the top of the cake with a skewer and carefully pour or brush the syrup over the cake while still warm. This cake tasted excellent warm but was still soft and moist but not soggy after about 5 days.

On the stereo:
The end of the rainbow: an introduction to Richard and Linda Thompson


  1. It does looks good. I need to build up a repertoire of loaf cakes. I wonder how the giant mandarins would work in something like Nigella's Clementine cake where you poach the entire fruit and then blitz it? I cook a batch of citrus and the freeze some ready for the cakes.

  2. Mr NQN likes to laugh at me with my story about mandarins. I call them magic orange because they taste so much better than regular oranges. One of my favourite juices is the mandarin juice by Grove!

  3. I like mandarin as it is. No cake :P. but I do have a soft spot for citrus syrup cake

  4. What a shame you weren't too keen. I've made a few nice syrup cakes, but they've all been lemony. Orange does sound like really good alternative though. I find cranberries very tart - I haven't tried baking with them (except the dried ones at Christmas of course!). Glad you had such a nice weekend and that Sylvia is bonding with her cousins.

  5. Sounds like you had a fun visit to your Mum. I love the plate that the gingerbread is sitting on. Sorry the cake wasn't for you - but it looks delicious. I have never seen frozen cranberries. I love citrus, so I would probably have loved this.

  6. What an interesting cake indeed - I would NEVER have though to use mandarins!
    I do love that you and your mum were able to do a cake swap thougH!

  7. Haha I'm happy to hear the cake was better than the dental van fluid! ;) I love the look of it and how brown the crust got mmmm I would eat the end piece! I don't like cakes with syrup on them either. They become so sweet and can be too moist or mushy. I'm always wary of adding frozen or fresh cranberries to things because they're so tart! I will try it soon though as it's been requested by my fiance to make a fresh cranberry and orange muffin. We shall see how that goes..

  8. I can't help myself, seeing as you mentioned the show.... Jimmy's gone! Caloo calay! Hurrah! I'm definitely going for Adam, now, but I'm quite happy with any of the final three winning :)

    Would this cake work *without* the syrup? I'm enticed by the cranberries but turned off by the mandarins... you know what? I think I'll hang out for the gingerbread :)

  9. I love cranberries in baked goods and for some reason don't find them sour when in something sweet. THe cake sounds lovely--I'm sure it would be just my thing. And the dog with the hat--too funny! (I think he deserves a guest spot on my blog). :)

  10. You must know by now that I'm not much of a baker, Johanna. I hate to think what I would have done with such a large Mandarin not to mention frozen cranberries which I too have never seen. The thought of me having a syrup cake repertoire is as unappealing to me as that dental van:)

    It sure sounds like you had a wonderful visit with your family. Do you wonder whether Sylvia will remember the Syrup Cake or the Gingerbread? Just curious:)

    I meant to drop by yesterday o wish you a Happy Lamington Cake Day but time just got away from me. I do hope you had a nibble...

    Thanks for sharing...Your cake looks berri..licious to me!

  11. Thanks Helen - I think that giant mandarins might be more like clementines and would work in nigella's cake - re loaf cakes - I prefer banana and zucchini loaf cakes than citrus ones but if you love citrus I would recommend this one

    Thanks Lorraine - I like the idea that they are magic oranges - they are less harsh tasting and much less messy to eat - I think I would enjoy mandarin juice - have one of my giants left so maybe a smoothie is in order

    Thanks Anh - I usually like mandarins plain but I like my fruit small not gigantic

    Thanks Lysy - I can't say I have ever eaten many syrup cakes - admittedly this one wasn't as sticky as I feared - I still have some cranberries in the freezer and am not quite sure what to do with them - maybe I might try them in a pudding

    Thanks Cakelaw - I think if I loved citrus I would love this cake. The frozen cranberries were found at the little supermarket in Queens Parade in Clifton Hill if you are ever looking - and the plate is from my grandmother so it is quite special

    Thanks Lisa - love doing a cake swap with my mum - feels like having more variety in life!

    Thanks Ashley - look forward to hearing about your orange and cranberry muffins - this cake was just the right texture for those who enjoy such soft citrus cakes - not at all mushy - but give me a fudgy chocolate cake over this any day!

    Thanks Hannah - I much preferred the gingerbread - much more my type too - must get that recipe - I was pleased to see Jimmy go - he was sweet but had to go - I just now hope that Adam wins because Callum is sweet too but just too gormless to be masterchef!

    Thanks Ricki - wish I could have sent you a piece of the cake - I am sure you would love it although it would break every ACD rule - and Woody is a sweet old dog - she probably looked like an old guy with E's hat but she is actually one of the girls and would love a spot with your girls :-)

    Thanks Louise - you don't need to be a baker to appreciate cakes - but you do surprise me that frozen cranberries aren't everywhere in the USA - I obviously have a skewed view from reading too many foodie bloggers who seek out such things - didn't have a lamington to celebrate but keep promising myself I must make them soon - maybe when Sylvia is old enough to help - she enjoyed her few mouthfuls of the syrup cake that I allowed her to have but I think she was too busy with her gingerbread men to eat the gingerbread cake

  12. I'd say that was one glorious trade! I'm always in wonder at how great cranberries are in so many different things.
    Sweet stories of Sylvia.
    It's probably good we don't all like the same things. I have a lemon cake that I really do love but hey I love gingerbread cakes too!

  13. What a beautiful cake! In most instances I would much rather eat the fruit alone, but orange and cranberry is rather enticing

  14. Thanks Tanna - oh yes, different tastes make for excellent food trading!

    Thanks Sendfood - I agree food alone is great but some of it needs cooking or baking and cranberries is one I couldn't eat raw


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