This week, husband defended his dissertation, and to mark the occasion, I had promised him a cake. This is as much for me as for him – I like having an excuse to take on baking projects, and “because I feel like it” only sometimes suffices.
I told him I’d make anything he wanted, but being rather more knowledgeable about cakes: their varieties and permutations than him, I sent him some links to various recipes that sounded promising. The one he selected was this Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake from Southern Living.
Fussy person that I am, I made several changes to the recipe. The original calls for shortening, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy any. I used olive oil instead, and I think the slightly fruity flavor goes surpassingly well with the orange overtones. In addition to vanilla, I used some triple sec to flavor both the cake and the frosting. If I ever make this again, I think I’ll also throw some orange zest into the batter and frosting, but I didn’t think about it. The recipe also didn’t call for any salt, which seemed weird to me. I added a teaspoon or so and think the cake would have been bland without it. Finally, I added a bit of vanilla to the orange curd.
This cake is quite time consumptive but really very easy. Next time, I might use bottled orange juice for the orange curd. It doesn’t take long to juice the oranges, but of all the “kitchen destroying” steps, that was the most monumental. I’m a messy cook under the best of circumstances, but I don’t like cooking in clutter. Four pounds of oranges leave quite the pile of sticky rinds, and the juice ended up everywhere. I probably ought to get a ladder and sponge off the ceiling. It was epic.
The original recipe calls for candied pecan halves and something called a “boxwood garland.” I’m sure the pecan halves would have been lovely, but I don’t think the cake suffered in their absence. If you feel so impelled, feel free to add a cake garland, but I’ll laugh at you. I mean, it’s a beautiful and imposing 3-layer cake. It doesn’t need the bakers’ equivalent of a giant sprig of parsley to make an impressive presentation.
This came out perfectly – probably the most aesthetically appealing layer cake I’ve ever made, and it tastes even better than it looks. It’s extremely moist with a soft, fine crumb. The orange curd is heaven and is less heavy than all-around frosting. One bonus to the frosting is that since it includes chopped nuts, you don’t need to worry about getting crumbs in it while icing the cake; the crumbs will simply look like nut pieces.
This is definitely a two-day cake. I made the orange curd and cake layers on Friday afternoon, assembled the layers and orange curd on Saturday morning, and frosted it on Saturday afternoon. That seemed sufficient time for the orange curd and layers to set up; I didn't have any trouble with cake instability.
Sub-optimal lighting strikes again
Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake
for the cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, separated, room temp
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon triple sec or orange liqueur
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted (optional, for top of cake)
Beat butter and olive oil at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add vanilla and triple sec; beat until blended.
Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to sugar mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in 1 cup flaked coconut.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans.
Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. (I baked for 28 minutes at 300 to keep the layers from rising too fast – this would be more like 325 with anyone else’s oven.)
Spread 3/4 cup chilled Fresh Orange Curd between layers; spread remaining Fresh Orange Curd on top of cake. (The Fresh Orange Curd layer on top of cake will be very thick.) If desired, loosely cover cake, and chill 8 hours. (Chilling the cake with the curd between the layers helps keep the layers in place and makes it much easier to spread the frosting.) Spread 3 cups Pecan-Cream Cheese Frosting on sides of cake, reserving remaining frosting for another use. Sprinkle 1/2 cup toasted coconut over top of cake, if desired. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Fresh Orange Curd
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups orange juice (preferably fresh-squeezed from approx. 4 lbs. of oranges)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Combine sugar and cornstarch in a 3-quart saucepan; gradually whisk in fresh orange juice. Whisk in lightly beaten eggs. Bring to a boil (5 to 6 minutes) over medium heat, whisking constantly.
Cook, whisking constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture reaches a pudding-like thickness. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter, vanilla, and grated orange rind. Cover, placing plastic wrap directly on curd, and chill 8 hours.
Pecan-Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons triple sec or orange liqueur
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans (I used walnuts since that’s what I had on hand), toasted
Beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended. Beat at high speed until smooth; stir in pecans/walnuts.
Printable recipe here.