Queenie Cooks: Whole Blood Orange Cake

By Terry Harris

Today I’m sharing the recipe for my Whole Blood Orange Cake. If you prefer a somewhat more genteel sounding name, they are also known as Moro Oranges, but whatever you call them just the aroma of this cake baking? Oooooh, if only it were possible to bottle that!  And that fresh, tart scent just tantalizingly lingers, even after the cake has cooled. 

This recipe is special to me because I developed it while trying to find something different for a dear friend’s going away party. I long ago lost count of all the kinds of cakes I’ve made, but I could think of nothing that was QUITE what I wanted to take to celebrate Ruth’s Bon Voyage.  She was a great friend for many years, and had a unique, unflagging sense of adventure, a spicy but sweet nature, and a traditional but ever-fresh zest for life. I wanted to make a cake that would be as unique and interesting and tasty and FUN as she deserved, so I started searching for new ideas.  And searching.  And searching!

I had nearly given up - was about to settle on an old favorite – when a random recipe popped up in my email for a Whole Orange Cake.  Whole orange? Interesting.  Sure enough, it called for emulsifying whole oranges – peel and all - in the food processor and using the resulting slurry as the moistening agent in the cake batter.  Now I like a bit of zest in a citrus dessert, but I find that a little goes a long way.  So, I was hesitant.  Also, I have found that the taste of fresh oranges, after baking, can seem a bit watered down. 

Suddenly a little light went off in my head – Blood Oranges!  If you’re not familiar with them, they’re a natural mutation of a “regular” orange, and the distinctive dark flesh color comes from anthocyanins (try saying that fast three times!) which basically has to do with antioxidant pigments that are in many flowers, but are pretty uncommon in citrus fruits. Who knew?  They really are beautiful, and their slight hint of raspberry added to the citrus flavor is amazing. 

I really liked the idea of using the blood oranges, both for a more robust flavor and to see if they might produce a natural red tint of Ruth’s favorite color. But I was not excited about the potential bitterness from all that orange peel. In another “Eureka!” moment I thought, “Well you don’t have to use ALL of it!”  So I used more oranges, left only half of one unpeeled, and rough-peeled the rest, leaving all the pulpy parts and some of the white pithy part, but no more actual rind. And you know what?  This cake might be ok with “regular” oranges, but in the immortal words of Goldilocks, with the Blood Oranges it turned out to be JUSSSSST right! 

There you have it! This cake is quite simple to make, comes out kind of like a pound cake, and, like a good cheesecake, it only gets better over a couple of days. It also tastes even better than it looks. Everybody at the party loved it, and so did I! Now I’m betting that you will, too. Just follow the simple directions, bake slowly, take it out slightly before all the little crumbs disappear when you do the toothpick test, and you’ll have a sure winner.

One caution: Watch for juice spills as you’re cutting/chunking/seeding your oranges.  I skipped that one the first time and the white plate underneath my cake looked like something out of a scene from “Psycho.”  Fortunately, it didn’t stain anything, but it did bring on a bit of a panic.  But that same red juice, when contained, produced a lovely, all-natural pink glaze that I really think you’ll love.  Ruth did.  Enjoy! 

Queenie’s Whole Blood Orange Cake

2 ½ sticks softened butter

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

3 large Moro Oranges

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed Moro orange juice

Place oven rack in center of oven, then preheat oven to 325°F.  Generously butter one medium (10 C) Bundt pan. Beat the remaining 2 sticks of butter and the granulated sugar on medium until fluffy.  Beat eggs into the mixture one at a time. 

Peel half of one of the oranges. For the other two, peel off just the orange outside part with a paring knife, leaving the white, pithy part intact. Cut all three into chunks and place the chunks in a food processor and almost puree them. Beat 1 1/2 cups of the pulpy orange mixture into the batter. Add in flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, beating just until smooth.  Spoon batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top and banging the pan on the counter a couple of times to release any possible air pockets.

Bake about 50 - 55 minutes until cake is firm to the touch and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging.  Set pan on a rack atop a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any glaze runoff during the next step) for 10 minutes, then invert cake onto rack to cool completely.

When cake is completely cool, whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl, adjusting amounts for a thinner or thicker glaze, as desired. Spoon glaze over the top. As soon as glaze sets, cake is ready to slice and serve.  Store at room temperature in airtight container.