Out to Lunch—October 3, 2006

By Joann Chen

One rather embarrassing thing about me is that I cannot, for the life of me, manage my finances. The proof of this flaw rests in my many, many shocking credit card statements and in being told by my mother on more than one occasion that I had spent more in one month than my family pays on the monthly mortgage.

So recently, when I was put to the task of baking for a dozen of my co-workers, all I could imagine was that due to months of extravagant summer spending, my October rent check might actually be spent on the obscure ingredients needed for a homemade cake. Light and dark molasses? Non-self-rising cake flour? Lemon leaves? Where the hell was I going to find a tube of almond paste?

While madly scouring cookbooks and the internet for a recipe that avoided such ridiculous ingredients, I found my salvation in this recipe for an absolutely marvelous orange cake. It was delicious and unique, and most amazingly, I spent less than three dollars on ingredients because most of them were common enough for me to already have on hand. Making this cake was only slightly more complicated than baking one out of a box, and the uncommon flavor (orange as opposed to the typical yellow or chocolate) made it surprising and impressive.

What I like most about this cake is that the recipe is fairly flexible and therefore lends itself to creative substitutions. Lemons, limes, and even grapefruits could easily replace the oranges that the original recipe requires. My own substitution was almond extract (no doubt one of my frivolous summer purchases) to replace the vanilla extract. The almond extract actually added another unusual flavor to the cake, giving it an even more noteworthy taste.

Navel Orange Cake

For cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, margarine or vegetable shortening, softened

1 and 1/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon freshly grated navel orange peel

For icing:

1/2 cup butter or margarine (softened)

1 16-oz. package confectioner’s (a.k.a. powdered) sugar

4–6 teaspoons milk (or half-and-half, or light cream)

2 Tablespoons fresh navel orange juice

1 teaspoon freshly grated navel orange peel

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in one bowl. In another bowl, beat shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating the mixture after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk alternately, beating after each addition (make sure to start and end with the flour mixture).

3. Divide batter between the two pans, and bake for 25 minutes.

4. For the icing, beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar, three tablespoons of milk, orange juice, and orange peel until smooth and fluffy. Beat in more milk if needed to get the right consistency.

5. After the cake has cooled, frost the top of one of the two cake layers. Stack the other layer on top, and finish frosting the rest of the cake.