Did you ever read the Mitford series by Jan Karon? The first book in the series was published in 1984 and I devoured the whole series just as I think you'll devour this cake. The series is full of down-home goodness, delicious food, and a story that I can easily see as a real-life scenario in a small town in North Carolina. The main character is Father Tim and he's an Episcopalian priest with a sweet tooth. He is diagnosed with diabetes and one of his southern parishioners, Esther Bolick, just doesn't know how to stop bringing him her special Orange Marmalade Cake. Because that's how Southerners show love and affection.
As I read the series, I wanted to replicate the cake that kept making appearances. Crazily enough, Victoria Magazine, one that I love and subscribed to for many years, published an interview with Jan Karon, their Writer in Residence at the time. She claimed that the famous cake was completely fictional! However, we readers drooled over the prospect of actually tasting that literary tease so Jan's editor at the magazine arranged for cookbook author Edna Lewis and Chef Scott Peacock to create one. I promptly adopted it and have made it for many years. Consequently, there is currently a recipe on the Victoria Magazine's website for Mini Orange Marmalade Cakes, but it is slightly different than this one.
How to make the cake
Although Miss Edna and Chef Scott didn't recommend it, I start by rubbing orange zest into the sugar. I learned this technique from Dorie Greenspan and I love how much more fragrance the batter gains from it.
Then it's simply a creaming of the butter and sugar, then adding the eggs and vanilla.
Mix the dry ingredients and add them to the batter alternately with buttermilk.
While it bakes, mix a bit of orange juice with a little sugar to make a syrup and when the cake is baked, poke holes in it and pour the orange syrup over it.
Assemble the cake
Heat some orange marmalade in a small pot and use it as a layer between the two cakes.
Simple whipped cream and sour cream frosting
The frosting is wonderfully light and complements the orange flavor very well. Whip the cream with the sugar until almost stiff, and add the sour cream a little at a time until it reaches spreading consistency.
How to serve
Very generously, of course. I like to decorate it with real oranges, cut in half and placed around the edge. If I can find edible flowers, they really add beauty to the presentation, too.
Orange Marmalade Cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs room temperature and beaten lightly
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest grated
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla
- 1 cup buttermilk room temperature
FOR THE ORANGE SYRUP
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
FOR THE FILLING
- 1 cup orange marmalade
FOR THE FROSTING
- ¾ cup well-chilled heavy cream
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- ¾ cup well-chilled sour cream
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, and butter and flour the paper, shaking out the excess.
- In a bowl, sift or whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl and hand-held mixer), beat the butter until it is well combined. Add the sugar a little at a time and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, orange zest, and vanilla.
- Beat one-third of the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture, then mix half of the buttermilk until combined well. Mix half of the remaining dry ingredients till combined, then add the remaining buttermilk and beat until combined. Finally, beat in the remaining dry ingredients until mixture is smooth.
- Evenly divide the batter between the pans, smooth the surface, rap each pan on the counter to expel any air pockets or bubbles, then transfer to the oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to racks and cool in the pans for 20 minutes.
TO MAKE THE ORANGE SYRUP
- While the cake bakes, make the syrup by stirring together the orange juice and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.With a toothpick or wooden skewer, poke holes at ½-inch intervals in the cake layers and spoon the syrup over each layer, allowing the syrup to be completely absorbed before adding the remaining. Let the layers cool completely.
TO MAKE THE FILLING
- Ina small saucepan set over moderate heat, heat the marmalade until just melted. Let cool 5 minutes.
TO MAKE THE FROSTING
- Ina bowl, whisk the heavy cream with the sugar until it forms firm peaks. Add the sour cream, a little at a time, and whisk until it is of of spreading consistency. Instead of whisking, you can also use a mixer.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
- Arrange one of the layers on a cake plate, carefully peel off the waxed paper, then spread ⅔ of the marmalade over the top, smoothing it into an even layer. Invert the remaining layer onto the top of the first layer, peel off the waxed paper and spoon the remaining marmalade onto the center of it, leaving a 11/4-inch border around the edge. Frost the sides and top of the border with the frosting, leaving the marmalade on top of the cake exposed. Or if you prefer, frost the entire cake, adding the marmalade as a garnish on top. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.If desired, decorate with slices of fresh oranges and edible flowers.