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A Cake for Rancho Park

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Pioneer Style Orange Cake

- Jenny

Sometimes even during the week, you want your food to be widely shared. Pioneer-Style Orange Cake took a walk around my west Los Angeles neighborhood, and left a wake of bliss along the street.

It all started because my friend Christine was visiting from New York, and I wanted to whip up a dessert that would both impress her with its beauty and yet fool her with its ease.

So there we stood in the fading afternoon light of my kitchen, talking about all the people at work whose management style we deeply admire as I dropped my super-soft-from-sitting-on-the-counter-all-week Plugra butter and sugar casually into my mixer. (The point of this cake is to mix it by hand, as Giulia Melucci makes clear. You can do that if you wish or must, but not much will tear me away from my KitchenAid.)

Then, I realized I had no eggs. So I sent the incipient vegetarian next door to borrow two as I zested my oranges into the batter. She returned, and I moved on to the rest of the ingredients. I greased up my pan and tossed it all together and moved it into the oven, where it was promptly forgotten for a half hour.

As it cooled, I mixed up the frosting, a cheerful blend of both cream cheese and sour cream and powdered sugar, a first for me as a blend for frosting.

The joy of this cake, beyond its ease, is that it is intensely orange-y, right down to its color, and incredibly moist. Something about cakes with sour cream always seem to come out of the oven more perfectly than those that rely on butter, as Giulia no doubt knows.

So first Christine and I dug in. Ummm. So much fresh orange.

She wanted a second piece. I am momentarily stymied, having lived in Los Angeles for four years where eating dessert is often viewed as a failure of courage. I regrouped, and sliced us both another wedge. Then, I gave half to the neighbor to the east, because I am always leaving my younger child at her house and forgetting her for a few hours. I walked across the street, carrying the remaining cake, to ask the neighbor to the south a question, and her youngest child, face still covered in cookie crumbs from her own dessert, begged for a slice.

The remaining hunk – two large pieces worth -- went to the neighbor to the west, who gave me the eggs. An email arrived ten minutes later: “I ate the whole thing. Could not stop.”

I would love to tell you how this cakes tastes on day two. Sadly, there is not a crumb left.

Pioneer-Style Orange Cake

By Giulia Melucci

Serves 8

Orange Cake:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch baking pan.
  2. Beat the butter, sugar, and orange zest in a large bowl until creamy. Use an electric mixer if you have one.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, then the sour cream and orange juice followed by the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  4. Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  5. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto serving plate.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer if you're lucky enough to have one. If you're not, have courage, the job can still be done.
  2. Add the sugar, the orange juice, and vanilla, then the sour cream. Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to spread on cake. About 10 minutes.

By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, is the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.

Jennifer Steinhauer

Tags: everyday cooking

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