No, no, the cake isn't orange in colour, we promise. Rather, it is a deliciously moist and sticky confection scented with orange, which makes it a glorious centrepiece for a winter birthday celebration. There's nothing to stop this from being made at any other time of year, except that oranges are a winter fruit, and there is something about the smell and the flavour that just sings of that season.
This started out life as a basic citrus-scented syrup loaf cake, meaning that it is rather forgiving for nervous cooks, relentless fiddling, and waiting around before it is eaten, all of which are essential birthday cake qualities. Making a cake to celebrate a birthday is something that even inexperienced bakers will have a go at, whilst more confident ones see it as an opportunity to experiment. As for the hanging around bit, although we might well want to demolish the cake as soon as we arrive at the party, it's not generally the done thing. It also has a relatively low fat content — in terms of cake-baking, that is — so having to substitute margarine for butter if it needs to be made dairy-free doesn't have such a big impact on the overall result. Whatever, we doubt you'll be disappointed by this one.
- 8oz (250g) butter (or margarine for dairy-freeness)
- 12oz (350g) caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- zest of one orange
- 12oz (350g) self-raising flour
- pinch of salt
- 8tbsp orange juice
Lining cake tins is our least favourite cake-baking activity. We will go to all sorts of lengths to avoid it, but recognise that in this instance, it is crucial. So take your 8 inch (21cm) loose-bottom cake tins — or better yet, two 9 inch (23cm) springform pans if you have them — and line with baking parchment or greaseproof paper. When you've finished your origami session, preheat your oven to 180° Celsius.
Using your beating implement of choice, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs and orange zest and mix again.
Fold in the flour and salt and then loosen the mixture with the orange juice. Divide the mixture between the waiting pans, and place in the oven. It'll probably take around 45 minutes for the cakes to cook — insert a skewer and it should come out clean — but do check them after about half an hour.
Whilst the cakes are baking, make the syrup. Dissolve the icing sugar in the orange juice over a gentle flame, and well, that's it.
After you've removed the cakes from the oven stab them all over using a skewer. Whether you opt for Jackson Pollock-randomisation or OCD-perfect concentric circles, it doesn't matter. What is important is that there are plenty of holes and that they reach to the bottom and very edges of the cakes. These holes are how the syrup will permeate the entirety of the soft sponge, ensuring damp stickiness, so they cannot be allowed to concentrate in the centre. This should be done whilst the cakes are still warm, for maximum absorption.
As soon as you have punctured your cakes, distribute the syrup between them equally. It might be a good idea to start at the edges and work inwards, to prevent the syrup from accumulating in the middle. Allow the cakes to cool completely. Yes, completely. Then and only then can you remove them from the tins. Do not defy us on this point or you will regret it. (No, we will not descend upon in the night to remove your spleen with a spoon, your cakes will collapse. This is obviously infinitely worse.)
Prepare the filling whilst the cakes are cooling. Take a small, sharp knife and peel and segment the oranges. Place in a bowl, scatter with brown sugar, pour over the brandy, and allow to macerate.
When it comes to assembling the cake, we suggest that you select the larger of the two halves to sit as the base. On it, arrange the orange segments and pour over the remaining juice, then place the second half on the top. Sprinkle with caster sugar, and stab with candles. Taa-daa!
This cake could withstand all manner of fiddling. Heat it up with some ginger, cool it down with cloves, smear orange curd on the top, or the one that DEB is now desperate to try, replace four ounces (125g) of flour with four ounces of ground almonds. But whether you make this as is, or with alteration, please let us know how it goes.
That almond suggestion? Yeah Baby, yeah!