Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Mum's orange cake

A few weeks ago, my mum died. There's so much to say but I just don't have the words right now so I'll stick to talking about cakes, which seems appropriate here in this space - specifically this cake, which is the first one my mother taught me to make. It's the one that was routinely requested for birthdays in my family, the one most often packed in school lunchboxes. In a time before food processors, she showed me how to cream butter and sugar with the natural warmth of my hand. She taught me how to separate eggs, how to beat yolks in, one at a time so as not to curdle the mixture. How to gently fold in flour, to beat egg whites into stiff peaks and use them to aerate a batter. From her I learned how to grease a tin, to butter comprehensively and dust with flour. She taught me to use a skewer to test whether a cake was ready to come out of the oven, to trust my nose to know when to check. In many ways, I'm a naturally anxious person - I routinely fret about things that need not be fretted about - but the one part of my life that I'm truly confident - where I do not fret - is in baking. And that's because of her

This recipe is one I photocopied and packed when I moved out of home. Mum must have ripped it out of a magazine at my grandparents' place I imagine (it was never her style to buy something so frivolous but she couldn't resist reading one if it was lying around, especially the recipe section). From the date at the bottom of the page I know it's from two months after I was born, so effectively, she's been making it all my life. There are several recipes on the page but Mum has annotated this one with an asterisk and in her amazingly consistent handwriting, which now brings me to tears, she declares it excellent. And so do I.

Mum's orange cake
Adapted from a recipe in Woman's Day, May 20, 1974

If you don't have a ring tin, don't let that stop you - you can certainly make this in any shape you like.

4 oz butter
3/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs
grated rind and juice of one orange
1 cup self-raising flour (or one cup plain with 2 teaspoons baking powder)
pinch of salt

1 oz butter
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 cups sifted icing sugar

Preheat oven to moderate - 180 deg C / 350 deg F. Grease and flour a ring tin. 

Cream butter, gradually add orange rind and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Separate eggs and add yolks one at a time. Beat well. Sift flour and salt, fold into creamed mixture alternately with orange juice. Lastly fold in stiffly beaten egg whites and turn mixture at once into tin and bake 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. 

Turn out on wire rack to cool. 

Ice with orange frosting.

Orange frosting: Cream butter and orange rind well together. Add orange juice and gradually beat in icing sugar til it is smooth and a good spreading consistency.


  1. Start with one cake and take one step .... And then one more .... Your Mum would be proud of you holding up the tradition. Thinking of you heaps.

  2. Warm thoughts and wishes from Lone, Copenhagen

  3. Beautiful Alice, such an old fashioned classic, the orange cake I can almost smell it. Take care and keep baking.

  4. Alice,
    I've read your Orange Cake story with tears in my eyes. It is very touching and I shall make the cake with your memories in mind. You don't know me, but I knew your dear mother at Book Club and always loved the cakes she brought for dessert, as well as her intellect and insights into the books we shared. I miss her. I love the way you write about her, and the way you write generally, and I love your recipes! Thank you for a beautiful blog. Coco the Burlesque Wonder Cake was a winner with my friends last week.

    1. So lovely of you to write Wendy, thanks. It means a lot.