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 several bowls.
My signature cake is for sure not such a cake. But, dare I say, it is equally elegant. While understated, it’s rich and flavorful and doesn’t even require an electric mixer or food processor. All you need is one bowl, so cleanup is a cinch.
The secret to the taste and texture is hazelnut oil (melted butter also works well). The recipe does not require the eggs, oil, and sugar to be skimmed. The oil here makes a crumb with a light texture and keeps the cake moister and slightly longer lasting than if the recipe was made with butter. The oil also adds a nuanced nuttyness, while the orange juice and zest add a sun-kissed flavor and golden hue.
Because the cake is not overly sweet, it is delicious with morning coffee and afternoon tea; try it with an evening glass of chilled rosé, or for dessert loaded with whipped cream and berries and drizzled with Grand Marnier. The cake freezes beautifully, so I often divide the bread in half to wrap and freeze for another day. (It also travels well to a cabin weekend or beach picnic.)
The success of this cake reflects the quality of the 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 warm or let it cool for a while. But I’m never impatient.
Hazelnut orange pie
Note: The taste and texture of this cake depend on a great tasting oil. The recipe here calls for American hazelnut oil, found at select co-ops and at americanhazelnutcompany.com† But you can also use a good olive, almond or coconut oil, and melted butter will work just fine too. I often cut the cake in half to freeze, and cut the remaining half into thick slices.
For the cake:
• 3/4 c. sugar
• 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 tbsp. freshly grated orange peel
• 3/4 c. hazelnut oil (see note)
• 1/2 c. buttermilk
• 1 large egg
• 1 1/4 c. unbleached cake flour (see below)
For the glaze:
• 1/8 c. fresh orange juice
• 1/4 c. sugar
• Thinly sliced orange and chopped hazelnuts for garnish, optional
To prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-3-inch baking pan with parchment and grease lightly with cooking spray or a little oil.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, baking soda, baking soda, and salt. Add the orange zest, oil, buttermilk and egg and beat vigorously to form an emulsion. Sift in the flour and beat until well blended.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is firm – pressing it with your finger leaves an impression – about 30 to 35 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few crumbs attached.
To prepare the glaze: Place the orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan and place over low heat. Simmer until sugar has dissolved and liquid has thickened slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Let the cake cool in the tin for about 5 to 10 minutes, then run a butter knife around the edges to loosen it. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, remove the parchment and place right side up on a serving platter, drizzle with icing and top with orange slices and chopped hazelnuts, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Homemade cake flour: You can substitute all-purpose flour for the cake flour, but the texture will be a bit 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.