Today I’m making a California orange cake to send to my brother and his wife in Missouri. It’s a fabulous cake made with a whole orange chopped in the food processor along with some raisins, and there’s buttermilk and cinnamon to round out the flavors.
My brother loves, loves, loves date bars and every time we get together I make them for him, squirreling a tub of dates, an orange and a lemon into my luggage. When I get to his house I chop them up and simmer them with the citrus zest and brown sugar; they become a smooth, silky filling that’s sandwiched between cookie layers of oats, walnuts, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Date Bars were always his first and favorite request so imagine how surprised I was when he said he might just like this orange cake better! Years of tradition, smashed, just like that.
The recipe was published a few years ago in the Los Angeles Times along with a charming story about its origin; originally the fruit was ground up with a hand-cranked meat grinder/food chopper so the new directions cautioned against processing too long – you want rough pieces of orange and raisins throughout the cake and on top.
The orange pictured is from my back yard – it’s a Seedless Valencia Orange, the best of both worlds: heavily floral, perfumed with notes of vanilla and orange blossom, juicy and seedless. I use the fruit for marmalades, candied orange peels and this California Orange Cake for my darling brother who lives far too far away.
Old Fashioned Orange Cake
1 cup raisins
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup plus 2 TB. buttermilk, divided
2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup powdered sugar
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13×9″ baking pan.
Scrub the rind of the orange well. Remove both ends of the orange and cut it into large chunks. Set aside.
Place the raisins in a food processor and pulse 6 or 7 times until coarsely chopped. Add the orange chunks and pulse 5 or 6 times to reduce them to evenly sized small pieces. Empty into a small bowl and set aside.
Pulse the granulated sugar and shortening together in the food processor 4 or 5 times to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, and process in between, scraping down the sides. The mixture should be smooth, light and fluffy. Add 3/4 cup buttermilk and process to combine. The mixture will be very liquid and may look slightly separated.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon and add to the processor. Pulse just to combine into a smooth batter. Add all but 2 TB of the orange-raisin mixture and pulse once or twice. Add the walnuts and pulse once; do not over-process. Pour the batter into the pan; bake until the sides have begun to brown and pull away from the pan, 35 to 40 minutes. The cake should still be a little moist in the center.
Whisk together the remaining 2 TB of buttermilk and the powdered sugar until smooth. Whisk in the reserved 2 TB of the orange-raisin mixture and spread it over the hot cake. Serve at room temperature, or mail to someone you love who’ll become besotted with the lure of California and the promise of sunshine & oranges in every bite.