A great orange cake, but don't forget the flour Daily bread
By Wanda Adams
The recipe I'm about to introduce is one about which I have very mixed feelings. Not because of the recipe itself — which is easy, reliable, surprising and delicious — but because of something that happened the first time I encountered it.
The recipe is for a whole orange cake — quite simply, a sweet quick bread in which a whole orange is used, peel and all, all ground up.
The recipe won a contest that I had helped judge for the dairy industry in Washington state, where I was then living. I interviewed the woman who sent it in, who turned out to be a very interesting person who lived on a remote island off the coast; we would become friends, and I would go to visit her, flying into a grassy field in a tiny plane and walking to her generator-powered home through dark woods.
But I digress. The recipe. It was a busy week for everyone in the food business in Seattle; the International Association of Culinary Professionals was in town, including such luminaries as Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. It was the week I chose to publish the recipe and my interview with the contest winner.
It was the week I didn't proofread the recipe well enough and left out the flour.
Left the flour out of a cake recipe.
It still causes a shooting pain behind my eyeballs to remember it. I had blithely begun my morning at a cooking demonstration with Julia Child, exchanged greetings with friends from around the country, planned a day of attending seminars and workshops when I called the office just to check in.
The receptionist told me she'd started answering the phone "Two cups flour and we're very sorry." I rushed back to the office. This was before the Internet, when you couldn't correct something online right away, tweet out a correction, efface yourself on Facebook, turn on a dime and get a correction in the next day's paper.
Add to that the fact that every important cookbook author, food editor, culinary TV star and cooking teacher in the U.S. was reading my paper that morning.
It was years before I could bake that recipe, though I liked it very much.
Got to thinking about it again when I was eyeing an orange that needs using up in my refrigerator.
I've long lost the original but this one, based on one from "Grande Diplome," looked just like it so I gave it a try.
Unfortunately, it seems as though this recipe has it in for me. When I poured the batter in a loaf pan, it was lumpy, heavy, flat and filled the pan to the brim with nearly a cup of batter left over.
Problem A: Is this texture right? Will the texture be a disaster? Problem B: A loaf pan filled to the brim is guaranteed to 1) overflow (I put a cookie sheet under the pan) and 2) not rise properly because of the weight of batter squeezed into the pan. Problem C: A cup of batter is just too much to throw away; I poured it into a small heat-proof bowl and baked it.
Lesson A: The size and shape of the pan matters! There are three standard sizes of loaf pan, with the smallest being 8 by 4 by 2.5 inches and the largest being 9 by 5 by 3 inches. There is a staggering four-cup difference between the smallest and largest sizes. I had the smallest size, and clearly this recipe is designed for the largest (but none of the recipes I saw online specified pan size; grrrrr).
Lesson B: Error is the mother of invention. That cup of batter I baked? It emerged from the oven with a very soft open crumb, intensely orange-flavored with a great balance of sugar to acid. It was too soft to slice, however, crumbling as the knife went through it. Then it came to me: Spoon cake! I provided my husband with a spoon, the bowl of over-soft cake and a couple of scoops of ice cream. He loved it.
This spoon cake would be great for a dinner party or child's birthday: Pour the batter into individual, buttered heat-proof ramekins, bake them, skip the glaze and serve the spoon cakes hot with ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche melting on top and a sprinkle of finely grated orange peel on top.
In order to be sliceable, this cake must be completely cooled. However, the texture remains rather tender.
Lesson B1: This recipe needed more flour; it called for 2 cups and that produced just too wet a batter. I tried 2 1/2 and got a rather dry, uninteresting bread. At 2 1/4 cups, however, it was just right.
Lesson C: If using smaller pans, make two smaller loaves, filling the pan no more than three-quarters full.
WHOLE ORANGE CAKE
• 1 large orange, quartered
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 1/4 cups flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup milk
• 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)
• 1 cup golden raisins
• Glaze (see below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place orange quarters in blender or food processor, and pulse until finely chopped. Reserve.
In a standing mixer or using a hand-held mixer, cream butter. Add sugar and cream well. Beat in eggs. Add ground orange. In a bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add one-third of flour mixture and 1/3 cup milk to batter alternatively; continue by thirds, beating between additions. Stir in nuts and raisins. Pour into greased or sprayed loaf pan and bake 40 to 50 minutes.
Makes 12 servings.
• Per serving (with walnuts): 330 calories,14 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 400 mg sodium, 48 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 27 g sugar, 5 g protein
Glaze: I tried several glazes for this cake and came back to my old standard, which, when brushed on warm cake or cookies, firms beautifully. It can be made with orange or lemon juice and zest.
Here's how to make it: In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups sifted powdered sugar (it is important to sift first, then measure), 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Drizzle in orange juice to make a good spreading consistency, like thin frosting. Beat until fluffy and add zest of 1 orange. (Refrigerate leftover glaze, spread on hot toast.)
Variation: Skip glaze, squeeze the juice of one orange or a jigger of orange liqueur over cake. Omit nuts; add 1 tablespoon poppy seeds.