Friday, December 31, 2010

The Orange Blossom Special

It's New Year's Eve. Having had my fill of both 2010 and drunken New Year's celebrations, I am staying home tonight. A dear old friend is in town and will be stopping over for a visit with his new wife and I am looking forward to a calm and relaxing evening!

When Grant first mentioned that he was coming to town, I (half-jokingly at the time) said "Since I know that you're coming I can bake a cake!" As he and Nicole are newlyweds, a cake seems appropriate for their visit. As fate would have it, there just happens to be a cake I've been just dying to make ever since the first time I experimented with the recipe. It's a very simple Mandarin orange cake. The thing that makes it special is the orange blossom frosting!

The first time I made this cake, I was in someone else's kitchen. One ingredient they happened to have on hand was Orange Blossom Water, an item usually found in Middle Eastern Halal markets. It's got a very strong and wonderful flavor and just a little goes a long way. I added a teaspoon or so to the cream cheese frosting I was making and discovered one of the most amazing flavored things I'd ever tasted! It wasn't exactly orange tasting though it had that quality. It was kind of flowery and was just different enough to make your taste buds really sit up and take notice!

I also recommend using a real vanilla bean, if you can. I actually got mine on the internet. There are several places to get them and remember, they're cheaper if you have friends to split the order with!

Note: the following recipes are the high-fat, high-calorie versions of the recipe. If you would like the low-fat version, go look on another blog. That ain't how I roll.

Mandarin Orange Cake
Preheat your oven to 350°. Grease and lightly flour a 9"x13" pan and set it aside. Take out two large mixing bowls. In one, combine:
2-1/2 c all purpose flour
1-1/2 t baking soda
1-1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
Whisk everything together and set aside. In the second bowl, mix:
1-3/4 c sugar
1/2 c softened butter
1/2 c vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
Beat together on medium speed until combined. Add:
1 15 oz. can Mandarin oranges, drained, liquid reserved
1/2 c reserved orange liquid
Mix on medium to combine and, in 2 or 3 increments, add the flour mixture. Beat at medium speed until well combined. Pour into pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. I find it is always best to spin the pan 180° about halfway through the cooking process to insure even baking. The cake will be done when it is golden brown and spongy, and pulls away from the sides of the pan. You may also test it by inserting a clean toothpick into the middle. If it comes out clean, it's done! Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely before frosting.

So far, so good. Make sure you don't throw out the reserved orange liquid yet - you're going to need it for the frosting! Usually, about the time you put the cake into the oven it's a good idea to set out the cream sheese and butter for the frosting, giving them ample time to soften. The last thing you want to deal with is cold butter and cheese! Once the cake has completely cooled, you're ready for the next step.

Orange Blossom Frosting
In a large mixing bowl, combine:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
6 T butter, softened
Beat at high speed until light and fluffy. Add in:
3 c powdered sugar (one cup at a time)
2 T reserved liquid from oranges
Beat until the desired consistency is obtained, adding a little more orange liquid if needed. Add:
1 t orange blossom water
the seed paste from 1 vanilla bean (or 1 t vanilla extract)
a dash of salt
Mix well. Spread on the cake and merrily consume!

Remember, when dealing with orange blossom water - it is very strong stuff! Don't use too much or it will overpower the other flavors! You may of course substitute vanilla extract for a bean if you can't get one but if you can, it's well worth the effort. In addition to a cleaner vanilla taste, the visual effect of the specks of vanilla throughout the frosting is very appealing!

Happy New Year everyone!

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