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California is a fine place to live – if you happen to be an Orange.

                  ~ Fred Allen

I don’t know what it is, but ever since we moved to North Carolina, I’ve had a much deeper admiration towards the seasons. It may have something to do with the fact that we’ve been here only 5 months and have already experienced 3 different climates. As oppose to Floridawhich seems to only have one, annoyingly hot, year long season. I mean, I always looked forward to the 3-5 weeks of cooler temperatures in the dead of winter, but being raised in New York, a winter to me is a little colder than 40°, and a lot longer than a few weeks.

With this new appreciation towards spring and all its glory, I’m continuing my trend of fresh flavors that remind you of a warm breeze blowing through the new born leaves on a tree.

See what this place is doing to me!? I’m talking like Bob Ross!

For me, nothing says “fresh” like a nice, juicy orange. Being the most commonly grown tree fruit in the world, odds are a small part of you feels the same way. Next to pineapples, oranges have to be my most favorite fruit. They’re sweet, packed with flavor, nutritious and perfect for a spring day. And just like pineapples, what better way to celebrate one of natures perfect creations, than to bake it into a sugary cake?

Stop trying to think about it, there is no better way…

Orange Cake

1 cup ~ Raw Sugar
Zest from 1 large Orange
1 cup ~ Butter, room temperature
4 each ~ Eggs, room temperature
1 cup ~ Flour
1 ¼ teaspoons ~ Baking Powder
¼ teaspoon ~ Salt
1/3 cup ~ Orange Juice
1 tablespoon ~ Grand Marnier (optional)

Orange Glaze
½ cup ~ Powdered Sugar
5 teaspoons ~ Orange Juice

This is a really simple cake and it may seem dense but it is actually very moist. If you’d like, I strongly recommend adding the optional Grand Marnier. You can essentially add your favorite dark rum or liqueur, but Grand Marnier is an orange liqueur, so it’s going to make happy nice-time with the rest of the flavors. Heck, if you don’t want to stop there, substitute a teaspoon of Orange Juice for a teaspoon of Grand Marnier in the Orange Glaze, too. I guarantee you someone will be happy you did.

Speaking of the glaze, the amount should be enough. I didn’t think it would be so I made some more, and boy was I wrong, you’ll see the picture below. What you’re going to be looking for is the glaze to spread out over the cake and leave a very thin, hardened layer on the top and drizzling down the sides. It’s not like an icing that you’ll have to spread around and cover every inch. The cake is small, but it feels rich, and it doesn’t really need the glaze to begin with. If you feel the glaze is too thin or thick – use common sense – add more sugar or juice, 1 teaspoon at a time depending on the situation. And if you want even more orangey goodness, put a little zest in there too. Why not? Nobody’s watching.

If you don’t have raw sugar you can substitute for white sugar. There is a bit of a different flavor with raw, since it is less refined than white, you get a hint of molasses with the sweetness. But it’s subtle, and in the end it all depends on what you want to use or what you have on hand. Plus less refined = more natural, so that’s always good.

OK, enough chit chat. Orange Cake…

  • Put the oven on 340°. In a bowl, combine the Flour, Baking Soda and Salt, and set it aside. Then the way I start it off is I put the Orange Zest in the mixer with the Sugar and I turn it on for a minute or two.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel the zest can get more evenly distributed if it’s incorporated with the sugar, rather than the probability of it getting clumped up if you just dump it in the butter. Not to mention simply mixing it with the sugar makes your kitchen smell fantastic!

If you’ve never zested an orange, or any citrus for that matter, then that’s a real shame.

No really, it is. Sure, an orange is great but the magic is all in the peel. Yeah, that part that you always throw away. I’m not saying go and eat the peel, but hear me out…

When talking citrus – Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange, etc… – the outer peel or rind has two parts: the Zest and the Pith. The Zest is the colorful, outer layer which is commonly grated off and used in cakes, pies and other sweet or savory products. And the Pith is the white, bitter layer just underneath the zest and is commonly boiled with sugar to create candied or crystallized fruits. When zesting, it is strongly recommended to avoid the pith due to its bitterness. The zest is often thrown away with the pith, but when grated or even cut off carefully and minced, whatever it is added to will be blessed with an amazing, natural taste. The reason why is because the zest houses essential oils that is concentrated with the flavor of the fruit. These oils are what make citrus fruits magical. Like, Unicorn, magical. Only less Unicorny and more fruity.

Now that you know why zest is important, I hope you feel bad for always throwing it away. So many uses and it’s always wasted. For shame.

Stop crying, we’re not done…

  • Once the Zest and Sugar are happy buddy-buddy, add the room temperature Butter.

You always want butter at room temperature when baking, it’s just easier to blend and work with plus it creams with the sugar much easier.

  • Scrape the sides and slowly add the room temperature Eggs one at a time.

You also want the eggs at room temperature because if you add too many cold eggs at once it could curdle the batter, causing it to separate and therefore produce a flat cake. No one wants that, especially fruity Unicorns.

It sounds scary because it is. Not fruity Unicorns, I’m talking about separated batters leading to flat cakes. So here are a few more tips to avoid curdling: 

Make sure the butter and sugar are creamed (mixed) till light and fluffy so the eggs can be completely absorbed when being added one at a time. Also add a small spoonful of your flour mixture after the third or fourth egg; this will make sure everything comes together instead of falling apart. Lastly, a big step in preventing curdling is to alternate the addition of the dry and wet ingredients, like I describe below.

You know, it seems like this cake is becoming a real pain in the ass, right? It really isn’t, I promise! Blame it on baking, I said it before: cooking isn’t rocket science, but baking is damn near close.

  • Once the eggs are incorporated nicely, scrape the sides, and add a third of the Flour mixture, let it mix till just combined and then add 1/2 of the Orange Juice. Continue adding alternately: Flour, Juice and then finish with the last of the Flour.

Again, this is to prevent curdling and separation along with deflation of the batter. The flour is the key in this prevention which is why you want to begin and end with it when alternating. You could just throw it all in and be a rebel, but that’s up to you. Some claim curdling doesn’t hurt the end product; others throw their deflated cakes into walls and out windows. Your batter, your gamble.

  • The good news about all this stress you’re feeling now is that you’re done. Make sure you generously butter an 8 inchround cake pan, and pour in the batter.

Because it’s dense, I lined the bottom of the pan with a cut out piece of parchment paper, you know, just in case it wants to stay in the pan after it was baked, but I’m sure you could skip that part with enough butter in the pan.

  • Like always, I sprinkled more turbinado (raw) sugar on top because I love the crunch, and then put it into the 340° oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check it because it will most likely be brown and look done, but it’s not. Spray or butter a piece of aluminum foil, and loosely place on top of the cake, bake for another 15 minutes. Make sure a toothpick placed in the middle comes out clean, and it’s done. Let it rest for 10 minutes before you separate the edges from the pan and flip it upside down onto a plate. Let it cool completely before glazing it.

Speaking of the Glaze!

  • Whisk together the Sugar and the Orange Juice (and possibly the liqueur), until smooth.

Yeah, that easy. Ain’t no science to making glaze.

Like I said, if it’s too thin or too thick, adjust accordingly.

  • Once the cake is cooled, drizzle the Glaze around and let it cascade off the sides.

The glaze should thin out and harden to the point where it’s like a glazed doughnut. A nice, big, orangey, addicting glazed doughnut.

This is me.. Getting WAY too excited with the glaze. Do what I say, not what I do.

Perfect for spring, this is a refreshing cake that would surprise the hell out of me if it lasted more than 2 days in your house.