I was lucky to grow up on a street lined with houses full of kids near my age. We spent countless evenings playing outside until dinnertime: taking turns frolicking on one another’s lawns, making necklaces out of wildflowers, and chasing down the ice cream man. My best friend Jenny lived two doors down, and my memory of her mom’s cozy house is crystal clear to this day — including the prolific fruit tree alongside the driveway.
When I came across kumquats as an adult, I was at first convinced they were the same as the fruit on that bygone tree. But upon tasting one, I realized these were different: tart, citrusy, firm. (It turns out I’d been nibbling on loquats all those younger years; their similar name had puzzled me — and I haven’t actually experienced their apricot-like essence since those days at Jenny’s.) But meanwhile, guided by my misdirected memories, I fell in love with kumquats, bringing mountains home from the market. Their sweet-sour punch and dainty size proved both satisfying and addictive — no nostalgia necessary.
While I still hope to reunite with loquats (and Jenny!) one of these days, I found myself dreaming of ways to celebrate my new craze for kumquats. I envisioned their tangy, clean flavor in balance with something creamy, something warm. I decided on a skillet cake with silky mascarpone and toasty almond meal in the batter, along with a good dose of whiskey and vanilla. Vibrant with layers of complementary character, this creation turned out to deliver pure lusciousness. Here’s the recipe.
Caramelized Kumquat Cake (makes a ~9.75” skillet cake; 8-10 slices)
- about 12.5 ounces kumquats (around 35 kumquats)
- ½ cup (8 tablespoons) butter, divided
- ¼ cup + 2/3 cup dark brown or muscovado sugar, well-packed
- 6 tablespoons whiskey, divided
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup almond meal, well-packed (preferably milled with skin on – not blanched)
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese at room temperature
- 1 egg + 2 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 9.75” ovenproof skillet such as cast iron*
Rise the kumquats and discard any stems. Use a paring knife to slice each kumquat in half, cross-wise, carefully removing any seeds with the tip of the paring knife along the way. Over low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the saucepan. Whisk ¼ cup brown sugar until all sugar is wet and beginning to look less grainy. Turn off heat and stir in 3 tablespoons whiskey.
Place kumquats sliced-side down starting on the outside edge of the pan, arranging them rather tightly in concentric circles. Bring heat to medium: a steady simmer. Cover and cook for 8 minutes. Remove lid and poke backs of kumquats; they should be soft enough to penetrate easily with the paring knife. Cook uncovered for another 2 minutes or so if needed. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Add the almond meal and whisk until no lumps remain; set aside. Melt remaining 5 tablespoons butter and place in a large bowl. Add the mascarpone and beat until smooth. Beat in the remaining 2/3 cup brown sugar and the vanilla. Add the egg and beat; then add the egg whites and beat thoroughly, until well incorporated. Place the almond-flour mixture into the bowl of wet batter and mix until smooth and thick, gradually adding the remaining 3 tablespoons whiskey. Mix until even.
Check the skillet for any kumquats that have turned over, and re-place them cut side down. Gently spread the batter over the cooked kumquats, extending the batter to the edges of pan evenly, with no fruit showing. Place skillet in preheated oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes*, until edges are toasty and center tests clean with a toothpick.
Let cake cool until pan is lukewarm or room temperature to the touch, about 1.5 to 2 hours. (If not serving immediately, let cool completely, wrap tightly with foil, and store at room temperature up to 24 hours.) When ready to serve, heat for about 30 seconds over medium heat, loosen sides with a butter knife, and carefully invert onto a plate.
Draped with succulent, caramelized citrus, this tender skillet cake offers tempting and a distinctive play of harmonious flavors. Its whisper of warm whiskey and its nutty almond-flecked batter present a delectable balance alongside the kumquats’ tartness. The decadent mascarpone creates a crumb that’s moist with a creamy quality, and blends delightfully with the vanilla and fruit. Rustic yet rich, caramelized kumquat cake is fabulous for almost any occasion — or any time of day, for that matter.
*Maybe next time… My skillet is 2″ deep; it’s marked as 10″ in diameter, but it’s only 9.75″ across the top at the widest part. Feel free to use one that’s close to this size, and carefully watch the baking time, adjusting as needed and checking early for doneness. This cake has a lot of flavor complexity already, but if you’d like to add more, real vanilla bean and/or cardamom would be great candidates. I prefer whiskey for this cake, but if you’d like, try dark rum, cognac or brandy. For an extra indulgent treat, serve warm with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of mascarpone. A burnt caramel sauce could also be divine.