Make Ahead

Torta all'Arancia (Orange Cake Inspired by Ada Boni and Marcella Hazan)

November 13, 2015
2 Ratings
Photo by Emiko
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

This recipe is inspired by a cake Marcella Hazan calls torta di arance all'anconetana. It sounds in nearly every single way like Ada Boni's orange cake from The Talisman, calling for identical amounts of eggs, butter, sugar, and flour (though Ada's asked for half all-purpose flour, half potato starch). Ada's cake includes rum, while Marcella's calls for uozo (or sambuca, the more traditional liqueur from this region), but the main difference is that Marcella's cake includes baking powder and the freshly grated zest of three oranges. But what got me was the final touch: 2 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice, slightly sweetened, poured over the entire cake while it's still hot out of the oven. As the cake is left to absorb the juice, it becomes super moist, soft, and fluffy—but not sticky or dense. And delightfully, perfectly citrusy.

Not all oranges are created equal; different varieties have different levels of sweetness and juice, so taste them before using them in this cake:
- I used slightly bitter oranges with a very thin peel, which resulted in a cake on the right side of being not too sweet, with a good level of acidity.
- I also added an extra spoonful of sugar in the juice for this reason. But if you're using very sweet Navel oranges, for example, you may want to try using less sugar or even substituting a lemon for one of the oranges for a balance of acidity.
- You also want to choose oranges that have an edible peel—and a flavorful, fragrant one at that. Many commercial oranges are covered in a mixture of fungicides and wax, which you probably don't want to grate into your cake. Helena Attlee calls these the most processed of unprocessed foods. Go for organic or unwaxed oranges for the best zest.
- Also try a microplane for zesting; you won't get any of the unwanted, bitter with pith in there with one of these.

I added a couple spoonfuls of sugar and served the cake with a dusting of confectioners' sugar and some slices of mandarin (cooked for 10 minutes or until tender in a splash of water). If you don't have rum on hand, you can substitute sambuca or brandy; if you don't want to use any alcohol, leave it out but you may need to add a splash of milk or orange juice to loosen the cake batter a little. —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • zest of 3 large organic oranges
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • a splash of rum
  • 2 cups (250 grams) flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • freshly squeezed juice of about 4 to 5 oranges
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or according to taste)
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Prepare a 22-centimeter (8 1/2-inch) springform cake pan by greasing and lining with baking paper. Place the cup of sugar and grated orange zest in a large bowl and rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers until well-combined (you can also pulse them together in a food processor, but I like to use my hands!). The essential oils in the orange zest infuse the sugar in a wonderful way.
  2. Mix in the butter, then the eggs, one by one, beating well after each until you have a very creamy mixture.
  3. Add a splash of rum, then fold in the flour and baking powder. If it is a little stiff, add a couple tablespoons of milk or fresh orange juice until it is creamy.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden on top and springy to the touch. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.
  5. Meanwhile, squeeze the oranges for juice (I used about 1 1/4 cup/300 millimeters but Marcella Hazan's cake calls for 2 cups) and add a couple tablespoons of sugar (depending on the natural sweetness of the fruit, you may want to use less or a bit more).
  6. Remove the cake from the oven and, without moving the baking paper, poke many holes all over the entire top of the cake with a toothpick or a skewer. While the cake is still hot, pour over the sweetened orange juice. Let sit until cooled so that the cake can absorb the liquid fully (you can also do this the night before to serve the next day). Serve in thick slices, perhaps with some confectioners' sugar over the top or some poached slices of citrus fruit to decorate (see headnote). The cake keeps well in the fridge, covered (for a up to a week supposedly, according to Marcella's recipe) but it is undoubtedly at its best on the second day when it has soaked the juice perfectly and evenly but has not yet become soggy, as it can tend to do after a few days.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • nancy essig
    nancy essig
  • sissy
  • Holly Daws | Feast or Fallow
    Holly Daws | Feast or Fallow
  • Emiko

12 Reviews

lzbthdnl July 22, 2019
Hi Emiko, I made this cake a couple days ago and the taste and inside texture are great, but the top crust is soggy from pouring the juice over it. I'm wondering if this an unavoidable symptom of pouring liquid onto a cake, or if there's a better way to do it that I'm not aware of? The top crust looks so good; I'd love to preserve some of that "chewiness" :)
nancy E. February 7, 2018
Hi Emiko, am making this for a dinner party but the instructions are a tad vaque. Do you cream the butter with the sugar and zest or just toss it in there?
Emiko February 8, 2018
As described, I mix it in with the zesty sugar but I haven't described creaming it for a long time because by the time you have creamed each of the three eggs well, one by one, the soft butter is also well creamed -- but feel free to do what you normally would want to do with it!
sissy April 7, 2016
We loved this cake. Made it for Easter and even the non-dessert eaters loved it. Making it again and serving with whipped cream. So good, not too sweet.
Curtis J. March 14, 2016
Driest cake I've ever made, sorry to say I won't be doing this one again.
Emiko March 14, 2016
Oh dear, you find it dry even after pouring the juice of 4-5 oranges over the top of the cake?! I find this really surprising considering that a juice-soaked cake is the very opposite of dry, it should be ridiculously moist and fluffy, so much so that I tend to use even less juice as it can too easily get soggy. I also find it surprising that two of the most famous Italian cookbook queens, Marcella Hazan and Ada Boni, could be wrong.
Curtis J. March 15, 2016
I don't think anybody is wrong. It happens, some are home runs other not so, food is a personal taste. The fun part of baking is trying new things. I'll check out the cook books, maybe they have a super Torta della Nona.
nancy E. February 7, 2018
did you pour the orange juice over it while hot Curtis? I'm curious
Curtis J. February 10, 2018
Sorry Nancy, it was two years ago and I've not make this particular cake again. That said, the recipe directions were to pour the sweetened orange juice over the cake while it is still hot so I'm pretty sure that's what I did. I've since picked up a Marcella Hazan book and love it.
Greg April 14, 2018
Thankfully I checked on it very early since I had never made it before. Mine baked in 30 minutes, not the stated 45. (golden, edges pulled away from the sides, clean toothpick...)
Holly D. December 5, 2015
Do you think this would work doubled as a layer cake, or too spoungey/tender?
Emiko December 6, 2015
Absolutely but without the orange juice syrup over the top! The cake in general would be ideal as a layer cake as it's quite compact and sturdy but once the juice goes over the top it and it soaks it all up it's much more difficult to handle and will be more delicate. You could try it without the syrup, then when you slice it in half to layer it, brush a little of the orange syrup over the cut side before putting your filling on, and brush the top of the cake again with it too -- almost like a glaze to gently moisten and flavour the cake rather than soak it.