For at least a decade, Americans have been rediscovering the traditional English (and Southern) product lemon curd. It combines lemon peel with the juice, making it forcefully aromatic and tangy, and the presence of eggs and butter makes it about as luscious as you could want. It’s versatile — you can top or fill pastries with it, you can put it on ice cream, you can just spread it on bread.
Lemons have a lovely bright flavor, but come on, they’re not the only fruit around. You can make a similar curd from other citrus fruits, even from berries. Caveat: A curd needs a substantial level of acidity, so berries on the tart side, such as raspberry, work best. (Of course, you could make up for low acidity by adding a judicious amount of citric acid, also called lemon salt, which is available in some Middle Eastern markets.)
Orange curd is a particularly charming cousin. Like lemon curd it has a cheerful color, and it has that eternally attractive orange flavor. And here we are in orange season. (If you’re lucky enough to have an orange tree, you really don’t need to be told.)
I grew up in orange-growing country, and I love oranges. So I had the idea of creating a sort of super orange cake, using every part of the orange. Orange juice by itself has a nice berry-like flavor – the distinctive orange flavor largely comes from the oil in the peel, which you can conveniently buy in supermarkets as orange extract.
Aha, but there’s also the proverbially aromatic orange blossom. For that, you want orange blossom water, which is available in every Middle Eastern market. Put them all together and you have a sort of critical mass of orange flavor.
This cake combines an orange peel-orange blossom frosting with a rich spread of orange curd. The cake layers will remove from the pans much more neatly if you line the bottom of each pan with a 9-inch round of parchment paper or wax paper and then grease and flour the paper.
For the orange curd:
For the orange blossom frosting:
1 stick butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon orange blossom water
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 teaspoons orange zest (requires 1½ oranges)
Directions for the cake
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Generously butter two 9-inch cake pans. Sprinkle the flour in the pans and shake around to dust the entire interior.
Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.
Measure the milk and stir the vanilla into it.
In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and lemon-colored. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat 20 seconds after each addition.
Add 1 cup flour and mix just until the flour is incorporated. Add half the milk and mix, then the remainder of the flour and milk alternately.
Immediately transfer the batter to the pans, smooth the tops with a scraper and bake until the tops are golden and spring back when lightly touched and the edges have just started to pull away from the sides, 25-35 minutes.
Set the pans on racks to cool for 10 minutes. Overturn each onto another rack and remove the pan (and paper). Immediately overturn so that the layer is right side up. Cool to room temperature.
Directions for the orange curd
- Put the eggs, sugar, orange juice and zest in the top of a double boiler and beat until incorporated.
- Place over boiling water and cook, stirring often, until it thickens, 5-6 minute
- Remove from the heat and beat in the butter. Allow to cool.
Keeps for two weeks refrigerated.
Directions for the frosting
- Place the butter in a mixer and beat until pale and creamy.
- Add the sugar and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute, then add the milk, orange blossom water, orange extract and orange peel.
- Check for flavor and spreadable consistency and add a little more milk or orange blossom water if needed.
- To frost, place one layer upside down on your serving plate and smear the top surface with orange curd. Turn the other layer upside down also, smear it with a little orange blossom frosting and set it over the first layer, so that the two frostings mingle. Frost the sides with orange blossom frosting and the outer rim of the top (about 1 inch from the edge). Spread the rest of the orange curd over the uncovered part of the top.
Note: If a cake layer develops a crack, most frostings will forgivingly cover it up. Unfortunately, lemon curd will just make it more obvious. The cake will still have an impressive flavor, but comparisons to the Grand Canyon may come to mind.
Also, the orange curd is not entirely firm, so it would be a little risky to take this cake to somebody else’s place, unless it’s right next door.
Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.
Photos: Oranges by T. Schon. Super-orange cake by Charles Perry.