Lunar new year celebrations are full of traditions that have their origins in wishes for happiness, prosperity, and health in the coming year. My mother even tells the story that my grandfather knew my father was ‘the one’ for her when he came by to send her family New Year’s greetings and the hoa mai tree bloomed on that very day.
Growing up, my parents liked to decorate the house with freshly cut flowers to symbolize spring. They also always had a pretty pile of oranges and/or pomelos on display, a nod to their association with prosperity. “Cau vua du xai,” which translates to “wishes for prosperity that meets and exceeds your needs,” is often used as a play on words to determine the fruits displayed: cau (mang cau, or soursop), vua (dua, or coconut), du (du du, or papaya), and xai (xoai, or mango). Families will often have those specific fruits or other fruits depending on their geographic origins.
Needless to say, I have loved all the citrus that is currently in season, and now aptly available for the holiday: blood oranges, cara cara oranges, meyer lemons, and…kumquats! They are different from other citrus because the sweetness lies in the peel, while the pulp and juice are actually quite tart. Eaten whole, these delightful little orbs are an eye-popping burst of sweet-tart flavor. People often gift kumquat trees during the new year, with the thought that the more abundant the kumquats, the more luck and prosperity will come to your family.
Fortune aside, I have been having fun experimenting with them in my kitchen. It’s been a busy weekend of traveling to see friends, but just before I left, I made a spiced kumquat compote and spiced kumquat and almond tea cakes. Enjoy!
Spiced Kumquat Compote (makes about 1 cup)
- 1 cup thinly sliced kumquats, seeds removed (about 8 oz)
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 1/2 tsp grated ginger
- Thinly slice kumquats transversely into rings and remove seeds.
- Put water and honey in heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.
- Add kumquats, cinnamon stick, ginger, and star anise to the water and honey.
- Simmer uncovered (think gentle bubbling) for about 30-35 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
- Remove from heat, discard cinnamon and anise, and store in sterilized jam/marmalade jar.
Enjoy the warmly spiced, citrusy compote on bread, muffins, with cheese and crackers, or in the following tea cakes!
Spiced Kumquat and Almond Tea Cakes (makes ~12, inspired by Tartelette)
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cup (150 grams) powdered sugar, unsifted
- 4 medium eggs
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup (100 grams) ground almonds
- 1/2 cup spiced kumquat compote (recipe above)
- Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Butter 12-sized muffin pan or baking tins (your preference).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cream together butter and powdered sugar using an electric mixer.
- Add vanilla and then the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Add flour and ground almonds, mixing another 30 seconds.
- Fold in the spiced kumquat compote.
- Divide the batter into prepared tins, top with either fresh or poached kumquat slices and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown (baking time may vary depending on cake tin size).