Vanilla Orange Buttermilk Cake
At one point in my life, I ate three oranges a day. Two with lunch and one more when I came home from school. By the time I got to college, I was a little orange-d out, though I never failed to sneak them off people’s plates or drinks (Blue Moon, anyone?). Lately I’ve been feeling the need for a little Vitamin C and wanted something orange. And if you’re looking for fruit, what better place to put it than in cake?
In full disclosure mode, I am totally baffled by this cake. The recipe, from Molly Wizenberg at Orangette, looked foolproof: fresh vanilla bean and tangy buttermilk added to a standard cake recipe with an orange glaze. The word “creamsicle” was tossed around, and I knew I had to make it.
But since I don’t really like vanilla bean, I swapped in pure vanilla extract. Even that was by Molly’s instructions in the comments section of the post. Okay, I made one minor change — I didn’t want to create an orange glaze, so instead I added some orange zest (using a Dorie Greenspan trick of rubbing the zest into the sugar by hand to release the orange’s essential oils) and a teaspoon of orange juice. Not that big of a change right?
Well, this cake didn’t quite turn out as I’d hoped. While mixing the flour in, I thought that the batter looked a little flour-y, but I charged ahead, thinking that it would all work out in the end. After the cake took a full 50 minutes to set in the middle (Molly suggests only 35-38 minutes), I thought maybe my batter was too wet. And then after cutting into the cake, I realized it was overbaked on the edges, drying it out significantly. The vanilla and orange were there, but very subtle. I still can’t figure out what happened.
I will say this: as an accompaniment to coffee, this cake can do no wrong. It is slightly sweet and has subtle flavors that balance well with a strong cup o’ joe. Best of all, the coffee takes care of the cake’s dryness. I can’t stop eating it with my morning cup cups, so perhaps it wasn’t a total failure after all.
My recipe is below. Other than the tweaks above, the only thing I changed was the order in which I did some things, to use fewer bowls. Orangette advises laying out all of the indgredients first and then adding them as needed. But I measured and added in one step, using mostly my measuring cup as a “bowl.” For the Orangette version with an orange glaze, head over here.
– 1-1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
– pinch of salt
– 3 large eggs
– 1-1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract (the original recipe calls for 1 6-inch vanilla bean)
– 1/2 cup buttermilk
– 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
– 1 cup granulated sugar
– 1 orange (I used navel)
1) Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
2) Cut the butter into cubes and using an electric mixer, blend for a few minutes to soften. (The original recipe called for an electric mixer, so I blindly followed. I think mixing by hand would work even better here, since the point is not to over-mix. Less to clean up that way too!)
3) Measure out the sugar. Zest an orange over the sugar and then, using your fingers, mix the zest and sugar together. The sugar should turn slightly orange and the kitchen should smell heavenly. Blend the sugar and the butter together to form a sandy batter.
4) Rinse out your measuring cup and crack the eggs in it. Mix them until the whites and yolks are completely blended. Add the eggs to the sugar and butter and blend until the batter is smooth and emulsified.
5) Rinse out the measuring cup one last time and pour in the buttermilk. Add the vanilla extract or vanilla bean, and 1 teaspoon of the orange’s juice. Mix well, breaking up any clumps in the buttermilk.
6) Alternating between the flour (in thirds) and the buttermilk (in halfs), mix the batter together. Work only to incorporate the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Do not overmix.
7) Pour the batter into a well-greased 8-inch cake pan. Bake at 325˚F for 35-38 minutes (though my cake baked closer to 50 minutes). The top should be a golden brown.
Note: I still have a ton of leftover buttermilk, even though the point of this whole exercise was to get rid of some that I had bought earlier (it’s like a never-ending carton). So if you have any recipes that call for lots and lots of buttermilk, please (please!) send them my way!