Italian Orange Cake

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Sometimes I hang on to a cookbook just because there’s one perfect recipe in it. And this is one of those recipes, although fortunately, there are plenty of other recipes in this cookbook that I love. But I’d keep the book just for this cake. Here’s the book, by Patricia Wells, published in 1993:

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I never really wanted to like Patricia Wells, probably because her life is so enviable. She never owned a restaurant or worked as a chef. In fact, she started out as a food journalist, but fell in love with the foods of France, then Italy, and then wrote about them. It’s not like she’s a Hubert Keller or Eric Ripert, but boy has she published a lot of cookbooks. And I have to say, all of the ones I own are pretty fabulous.

I heard her speak at a demonstration at an Aspen Food and Wine festival many moons ago. She seemed really snobby. I think she’s been living in France too long, with homes in both Paris and Provence.

One of Ms. Wells’ cookbooks that I own is about her home in Provence. I really didn’t want to like this book, because it showed off her beautiful 18th century stone farmhouse, and to-die-for kitchen. With a wood-fired oven. It will make you so jealous that you don’t have a farmhouse in Provence. Unless you do.

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And then there’s this book she wrote featuring Joel Rebouchon and his recipes. It’s another beautiful cookbook that I refer to often.

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Then there’s her Bistro book, which is essentially the French version of the Trattoria cookbook, focusing on regional food prepared at neighborhood restaurants throughout France.

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But I love her Trattoria cookbook because it’s about simple Italian fare; the recipes aren’t pretentious. It’s all about “healthy, simple, robust fare inspired by the small family restaurants of Italy.” Thus, the title.

Speaking of trattorias, if you ever go to Italy, be prepared that there are many different kinds of eating and dining establishments there. And each one has limited menus are are only open at specific times. Make sure to look into this before you go, or you will end up at at what you thought was a restaurant, where no food is available, or at a bar with no drinks. Or, the establishment will be closed.

Some of the recipes in Trattoria might not be terribly inspiring to those expertly familiar with Italian cuisine, but the book certainly has its place, especially to home cooks like myself. There are many recipes in it to which I still use, like this cake, which is Tuscan in origin, according to Ms. Wells.

Here’s her website, in case you want to check her out. She’s really quite accomplished. I’m just a little jealous of her life!

Fragrant Orange and Lemon Cake
Torta di Arancio e Limone

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup whole milk
16 tablespoons, or 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Evenly coat the interior of a 9″ springform pan with butter. Dust lightly with flour, shaking out the excess flour. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl.
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Measure out the milk and place it in a small bowl. Add the orange juice and zest as well as the lemon juice and zest. Give it a little stir and set aside to “sour.”
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Place the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl.
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Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes.
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Crack each egg individually and place in a small bowl to avoid shells. Add the vanilla extract to the eggs.
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While beating, add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition.
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Continue until the eggs are all gone.
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Then beat in about 1/3 of curdled milk mixture and then 1/3 of the sifted dry ingredients, alternating and just beating until smooth.
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The batter will be nice and smooth at this point.
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Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan.
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Bake for approximately 50 minutes; a cake tester should come out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake.
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Remove the side of the pan, and let the cake cool for about 30 minutes. Then remove the bottom of the springform pan using a long knife held parallel to the bottom.
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Slice the cake in wedges when still warm, or at room temperature.
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I served mine with raspberries and slightly sweetened whipped cream.
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I also served this cake with Quady Red Electra, which is a red Moscato. It’s wonderful with desserts, but also perfect to sweeten sangria.
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But an Auslese, a port, sherry, or some Tuscan Vin Santo would pair nicely as well.

This cake is just as delicious as I remember it from the last time I made it about ten years ago. It’s not a dry cake, presuming it’s not overcooked. It’s dense, in fact, and has an interesting crumb to it. I could have sprinkled the cake with some confectioner’s sugar as well, but I like the fact that this cake has no icing, and doesn’t need any. It would also be fabulous for breakfast or brunch.

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note: There are two major differences between this recipe and the original one from the cookbook. First of all, Ms. Wells uses a 10″ Bundt pan for this recipe, cooking it at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes. Also, she uses vanilla sugar instead of white sugar – sugar in which a vanilla bean pod has been added. I simply added vanilla extract to the recipe.

Buttermilk could probably be substituted for the milk in this recipe, given the additions of lemon and orange juices, but I really like the idea of the milk mixing with the juices and zest for a time before being used in the recipe.

61 thoughts on “Italian Orange Cake

  1. Beautiful cake! I am so jealous of your assortment of cookbooks. Could you fill up a library case? I love love love looking over cookbooks and learning about different cuisines. I have many favorite cook books that are worn and these are always of experts in one specific cuisine.

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  2. Mimi – I think I can smell your cake, aaaaaaah :) … and the Vino. I also agree with you, collecting cookbooks is a sort of ‘disease’ – hard to find the ‘cure’. Btw, my P.W. is a lady called Valentina Harris (an Italian living and teaching in London) – I just love her. Carina

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    • There is no cure, sadly. And once I started blogging, I discovered a whole new world of bloggers’ cookbooks, which are so unique. I’ll look into Valentina Harris. I go to London often because one of my daughters lives there!!! Thanks!

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      • Mimi, V.H. has a wonderful cooking school in Italy where she spends a lot of her time. In fact, I have to find out where she is right now, since I need to talk with her. She is such a nice easy cook – I just love her recipe.

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      • I am feeling tired and nauseous, alternating with tired and hungry, and maybe a touch grouchy! :-) I always laugh when television and magazines makes pregnancy seem so amazing and fun. Anyway, now you’ve got me craving a moist, Italian orange cake…

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      • oh, sorry. my daughter is just a little pregnant for the first time and not doing great. I wasn’t sick for one second with either of mine, but I also gained 70 pounds with both of them. All healthy food, but I couldn’t stop eating! I remember wishing for some nausea. But no, I was lucky. Hope it’s over soon for you.

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      • It’s funny how every pregnancy is different – and every pregnant women has a completely different experience. My thoughts are with your daughter; I know that when it’s hard, it’s hard. She will have a beautiful child (and you a grandchild!) before she knows it.

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  3. I was going to ask about buttermilk, and you read my mind (didn’t you?) and answered that already!

    I love this type of cake, so I’m pinning – to me, icing is overkill, which is a major difference between me and hubby. A cake without icing is not a cake for him. Oh, well. Vive la difference!

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  4. I love a citrus flavored cake and when I saw this was an Italian one I must say I was surprised to see it doesn’t have olive oil! I love that this has both lemon and orange zest and juice and I’m going to give it a try, and then I think you’ve inspired me to put my Orange Olive Oil cake on my blog….so thanks!

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  5. Delicious cake, anything citrusy appeals. I have Patricia Wells Bistro book, but have never cooked from it. I should have another look……. Congrats on coming grandmotherhood, much more fun than being a parent!!!!!

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  6. Don’t we all have Patricia Welles envy? Just looking at the photos of her cookbooks brought back so many memories of cooking fashions, of the evolution of American diner knowledge, and of things that were once new and are now either old friends or borderline cliches, depending on your perspective. I like most of her stuff, but you’re right about Trattoria–simple, good food. Great recipe. My kind of cake. Ken

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    • I’m glad I didn’t get a lot of grief from people who love her. I’m seriously not jealous of her, but definitely envious. And she’s so prolific. The only book I didn’t like was Vegetable Harvest. Thanks for your nice comment.

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  7. You did me proud Mimi! This looks delicious. These kinds of cakes dont get enough good rep since they are a bit ‘bland’ but the idea is scoop on some cream and sip a (strong) coffee with it. looks delicious.

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  8. It is as though you read my mind. I have been looking for an orange cake recipe and I love lemon so this is perfect. Congratulations to your daughter. Sorry she is so sick but it will all be worth it in the end. I would love to spend some time with your collection of cookbooks. Emma xx

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      • It wasn’t a criticism, just a curiousity as I’ve always found it intriguing that American recipes use a mix a baking powder and baking soda, whereas European recipes only use baking powder or in many cases selfraising flour (which is flour with baking powder premixed). I’ve never been able to figure out how much baking soda versus baking powder to use, as the amounts seem to vary. I wonder if one could notice the difference in either taste or texture.

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  9. It was funny reading this post, as I also refused to buy Patricia Wells’ book about her life in France.. But it sounds like the Italian trattoria book is worth considering. The cake looks beautiful, just the kind of simple but flavoursome cake I like to make, and share at work. Thank you sharing the recipe.

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  10. I have that love/hate relationship with a few authors and bloggers. ). We love citrus so I must make this cake as soon as berry season is here (for the beautiful garnish).

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  11. That orange cake looks so divine. Moist and delicious! Love the idea of collecting cookbooks through each stage of life. I live in a tiny apartment so I try to refrain from purchasing more cookbooks, however… argh, they are so appealing!! Beautiful post Mimi x

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  12. Great post! So interesting to hear your thoughts on the cookbooks. I too, often hold onto cookbooks for that one perfect recipe! I’m going to check my local library to see if I can find these books, and take a look! Thanks.

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