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
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.
Mix in the butter, then the eggs, one by one, beating well after each until you have a very creamy mixture.
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.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden on top and springy to the touch. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.
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).
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.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.