Fresh kumquats flaunt a sweet, tart punch and a conveniently dainty size. With their scarce edible seeds and not-too-tart skins, they can be popped in one’s mouth whole, making them a satisfying and addictive winter fruit. But it didn’t take long before I found myself dreaming up ways to celebrate kumquats in the form of a baked good. I envisioned their tangy, clean flavor in balance with something creamy, something warm. I decided on a skillet cake with silky mascarpone cheese and toasty almond meal in the batter, along with a good dose of vanilla and whiskey.
Vibrant with complementary character, this dessert offers a tempting play of harmonious flavors in a distinctive yet rustic form. Draped over the tender, almond-flecked cake, the kumquats soften into juicy, buttery succulence while retaining their structure and bright flavor. The whiskey presents a mellow, warm contrast, while decadent mascarpone adds a tender and creamy quality — highlighted delightfully with a generous splash of vanilla.
Kumquat Skillet Cake
Serves 8-10 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided 1/4 cup + 2/3 cup dark brown sugar, well-packed 1 pound kumquats (see note) 6 tablespoons whiskey, divided (see note) 1/2 cup unblanched almond meal, well-packed 2/3 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 8 ounces mascarpone cheese at room temperature (see note) 1 egg + 2 egg whites, at room temperature 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract Over low-medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 10″ ovenproof skillet such as cast iron. Gently lift and rotate skillet to spread butter partway up the sides. Whisk in 1/4 cup brown sugar, cooking just until all sugar is wet and beginning to look less grainy. Turn off heat and stir in 3 tablespoons whiskey.
Rinse and dry kumquats. Remove and discard any stems. Use a paring knife, slice each kumquat in half, cross-wise, carefully removing any seeds with tip of knife. Be sure to cut them horizontally; a vertical cut will leave seeds hidden. (While the seeds are edible, removing them results in a much more pleasant cake texture.) Place kumquats sliced-side down in the skillet, starting on the outside edge, and arrange them rather tightly in concentric circles (they shrink a bit when cooked). Bring to a steady simmer over low-medium heat; cover and cook for 6-8 minutes. Remove lid and poke backs of kumquats; they should be soft enough to penetrate easily with paring knife. Cook uncovered another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Measure almond meal into a medium bowl, then whisk to loosen and remove any lumps. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt over almond meal. Stir mixture until combined; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add remaining 5 tablespoons butter, melted. Add the mascarpone and beat until smooth. Beat in the remaining 2/3 cup brown sugar and the vanilla. Add the whole egg and beat; then add egg whites and beat thoroughly, until well incorporated. Add almond-flour mixture. Mix while gradually adding the remaining 3 tablespoons whiskey, until batter is even in consistency.
Check skillet for any kumquats that have turned over, and place them cut side down. Gently spread batter over kumquats to the edges of pan. Place in preheated oven and bake for about 25-35 minutes, until cake’s surface is toasty brown and center tests clean with a toothpick. Let cake cool until pan is lukewarm to the touch. (If not serving immediately, let cool completely, wrap tightly with foil, and store at room temperature up to 12 hours.) When ready to serve, heat skillet for 30-60 seconds over a medium burner. Gently loosen sides with a butter knife, and carefully invert onto a plate. Serve immediately.
It’s likely that you’ll need a little less than a pound of kumquats, depending on their size and density. If you want to ensure that any extra kumquats are left whole, feel free to halve them in stages, stopping when you have enough to fit in the pan tightly, cut side down. The flavor of the whiskey comes through in this recipe, so use one you like — preferably not one with a smoky character such as some scotches. Irish or Tennessee whiskey and/or many bourbons tend to work well here. If you don’t want to splurge on mascarpone, cream cheese is a fine substitute, though it adds some extra tang and firmness to the cake. Make sure it’s at warm room temperature before use.