Posted on July 18, 2013
Every year, I try to make V. an orange cake for his birthday that lives up the one that his mom used to make. I know. More ridiculous words have never been written. Hers was moist and “so much more orangey” than anything I’ve ever made.
It also came from a box.
I’m only being a little bit snarky, since the last time mom made said cake was in the 1960′s. This was the decade when instant foods and drinks like mashed potatoes and Tang were a fabulous novelty that brought you that much closer to the magic of being an astronaut, not to mention the sudden ease of feeding the family.
When I showed V. the first draft of this post, and mentioned the terrible ingredients in cake mix (preservatives that need emulsifiers to incorporate into the batter, which make for the metallic aftertaste), his eyes glazed over and he said “but it was soooooooo good.” Of course, it isn’t the cake mix I’ve been trying to live up to, but the memory of a perfect birthday cake, and therein lies the difficulty. I have tried cakes with orange juice, orange zest, orange liquor, orange extract, and even a combination of all of the above, but in every case the result has been good, but incredibly subtle. This year, inspiration hit, and instead of googling recipes in English, I searched for “gateau orange.” Obviously the French should know how to do it right, but somehow this fact hadn’t occurred to me until now, after nine years of hearing “wow! This is great. Thank you so much for making me a delicious cake. But you can’t really taste the orange. Mom always added orange zest…you should try that…”
Nope. Orange zest doesn’t cut it. But three whole oranges do! You boil them for two hours, and then purée them in their entirety. That’s the whole secret. After that, the mixing takes about 60 seconds. I prepped my oranges the night before I baked (while watching 4 episodes of Nurse Jackie back to back), so despite it sounding kind of involved, it’s incredibly simple and absolutely worth it. We had six people at the party and five of them declared it in the top 3 favorite cakes of all-time. V. loved it too. Though his mom’s used to be lighter.
3 small organic oranges (or 2 large, weighing about 1 lb)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/3 cups powdered almonds
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
juice of 1/4 orange
juice of 1/3 lemon
Wash your oranges and put them in a pot, covered with water. Bring to a boil, then put a lid on it and simmer for two hours.
Cool. Cut off the ends, then cut into large pieces without squeezing out any juice. Purée in the food processor. Set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 375°F.
Grease a 9″ springform cake pan.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Add orange purée, then the sugar, powdered almonds and baking powder.
Pour batter into pan and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake is golden-brown.
Mix your orange and lemon juice and brush it on the hot cake.
Let it cool, then use a spatula or a brush to spread a layer of marmalade on the cake. If your marmalade is too thick to spread, you might need to heat it on the stove first (I used Bonne Maman and the consistency was fine without heating).
Use your hands to press the almond slices against the sides of the cake.
The cake is great if you bake it a day ahead of time, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight, giving the flavors and juices time to marinade. On the third day, it started to get soggy, so eat it quickly (shouldn’t be a problem).
If you want to have orange slices to place on top, cook 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup water. When all the sugar has dissolved, add the lemon slice(s) and cook until the sugar syrup thickens. Gently lift out the orange slice and cool on a plate.