Beautiful cakes have their place at weddings, birthday parties, and anniversaries, but they demand a lot from a home cook — exact measurement, precise timing, dexterity with decorating tools, plus the mess of multiple bowls.
My signature cake is definitely do not such a cake. But, dare I say, it’s just as elegant. Although understated, it’s rich and flavorful and doesn’t even require an electric mixer or food processor. All you need is a bowl, so cleanup is a snap.
The secret to its flavor and texture is hazelnut oil (melted butter also works great). The recipe does not call for creaming the eggs, oil and sugar. The oil here gives a light-textured crumb while keeping the cake moister and a bit longer lasting than when the recipe is made with butter. The oil also adds a nuanced nuttiness, while the orange juice and zest add a sunny flavor and golden hue.
Because the cake is not too sweet, it is excellent with morning coffee and afternoon tea; try it with a chilled glass of rosé in the evening, or for a dessert loaded with whipped cream and berries and drizzled with Grand Marnier. The cake freezes beautifully, so I often split the loaf in half to wrap and freeze for another day. (It also travels well for a cabin weekend or a picnic at the beach.)
The success of this cake reflects the quality of its ingredients, so use a good oil — olive, hazelnut, or walnut — with real flavor. This is not the place to skimp on ingredients. You can serve it still hot or give it time to cool. But being impatient, I never do.
Hazelnut Orange Cake
For 8 people.
Note: The flavor and texture of this cake relies on a great tasting oil. The recipe here calls for American hazelnut oil, which can be found in some co-ops and in americanhazelnutcompany.com. But you can also use a good olive, almond or coconut oil, and melted butter will also do the trick. I often cut the cake in half to freeze it, then cut the remaining half into thick slices.
For the cake:
• 3/4 tsp. sugar
• 1/2 tsp. baking soda
• 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 tbsp. freshly grated orange zest
• 3/4 tsp. hazelnut oil (see note)
• 1/2 tsp. Buttermilk
• 1 large egg
• 1 1/4 tsp. unbleached cake flour (see below)
For the icing:
• 1/8 tsp. fresh orange juice
• 1/4 tsp. sugar
• Thinly sliced orange and chopped hazelnuts for garnish, optional
To prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 3 inch pan with parchment paper and lightly grease with cooking spray or a little oil.
In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the orange zest, oil, buttermilk and egg, and whisk briskly until emulsified. Sift flour and whisk until well blended.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until cake is firm – pressing down with your finger will leave an indentation – about 30-35 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few crumbs attached.
To prepare the icing: Put the orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over low heat. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 5-10 minutes, then run a butter knife around the edges to loosen it. Invert cake onto wire rack, peel off parchment paper and place right side up on serving platter, drizzle with icing and garnish with orange slices and chopped hazelnuts, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.
DIY cake flour: You can substitute all-purpose flour for the cake flour, but the texture will be a little drier with a coarser crumb. To make your own cake flour, for each cup of cake flour, replace 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.