Friday, March 28, 2014
Orange Poppy Seed Cake
I think I've mentioned before my obsession with simple, everyday snacking cakes right? The kind of cakes that you can mix up in one bowl with a wooden spoon and have in the oven in no more than ten minutes. The kind of cake that you can't help but slicing off a small piece for yourself every time you walk past it in your kitchen. It's the kind of cake that is simple and delicious and satisfying
The recipe for this particular cake comes from one of my mom's cousins, and is really famous among the members of my mom's side of the family. I've never actually had the opportunity to eat the cake as she makes it, but since my whole family raves about it, I knew this cake had to be worth making. Fortunately for me, my mom had gotten the recipe from her cousin. She hadn't had a chance to make it herself, so I was the first one to give it a go. The recipe was handwritten on an index card, just as a good family recipe should be. The only issue I had was that I had to do a little bit of guess work when it came to the pan size and baking time for the cake. The recipe on the index card simply said to use a "baking pan" and to bake the cake for an hour (my cake was for sure not ready after only an hour!). My mom helped me figure these parts of the recipe out based on what she remembered about the cake, so it really wasn't all that bad. Mixing the cake up was a breeze, and within ten minutes, I had my cake ready to go for the oven.
When I finally pulled the cake out of the oven after some guess work on its baking time, my mom took one look at it and said, "hm...I don't know if that looks right..." I couldn't understand how I could have messed up such a simple recipe, but I figured she had to be right since I'd never seen, let alone tasted, this cake before. We decided to cut into the cake and see how it turned out, even though I hadn't taken any photographs of the cake yet. We figured that the cake was simple enough to make that if I really had messed up, I could just remake it with no problem. Of course, with my luck, the cake was actually pretty good, and my mom just looked at me and said, "oops, sorry..." I didn't really mind that I need to make the cake over again just to take pictures of it though, because I did notice a few small areas for improvement.
The first change I made had to do with the baking pan. My mom had suggested that I use a 10-inch pan, and of course, I didn't listen and used a 9-inch pan. This made for a really tall cake with a dense texture, so on my second attempt at the cake, I made sure to use a 10-inch round pan, which I think made a huge difference. The cake had a much softer texture and a finer crumb, which my mom said more closely resembled her cousin's cake (note to self: just listen to mom next time!). Along with determining the correct pan size, I changed up the flavoring in the cake ever so slightly to add a bit more orange flavor. My mom's cousin calls this cake a "torta blanca," or a white cake, not an orange poppy seed cake, so it made sense that her original recipe yielded a cake with only a very subtle hint of orange flavor. The orange flavor was there, but you really had to focus to notice it. I happen to really love the combination of citrus and poppy, so I decided to go ahead and add more orange juice and zest, which I think really helped to create a lovely citrus flavor. Aside from that, the recipe is exactly the same. Be sure to use freshly squeezed orange juice when mixing up the cake batter, as this will make a huge difference. Freshly squeezed citrus is much brighter than anything that comes in a bottle!
I'm not kidding when I say that this is one of my new favorite cakes. I know I say this a lot, especially when we're talking about simple everyday cakes, but I really do mean it this time. It has such a bright, happy sort of flavor, and has just enough sweetness that all it needs is a sprinkling of powdered sugar as a finishing touch. I love the way the cake is speckled with poppy seeds, and the fact that this cake takes so little effort to prepare makes it so wonderful. This is the perfect fuss-free, ready-to-bake-in-fifteen-minutes cake for snacking on, and I'm already looking forward to the next time I make this cake!
Orange Poppy Seed Cake
slightly tweaked from a family recipe
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 oranges, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Spray a 10-inch round cake pan with nonstick spray and flour, making sure to tap out the excess flour.
In a bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside. Mix together the milk, canola oil, and vanilla extract in a large glass measuring cup. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and eggs with a wooden spoon.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, mixing only until just combined. Mix in the orange zest and orange juice, followed by the poppy seeds.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake in the preheated oven until the top of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about an hour and 15 minutes. It's ok if your cake is domed and has a crack in the middle, it'll add to its charm!
Let the cake cool for a few minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack. Let the cake cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, slice, and enjoy!
Makes 1 10-inch cake