A Cake for All Seasons

This cake. I love making it. I love decorating it. I love serving it. And I especially love, eating it. It is delicious.

The batter is beautifully flavored with rosemary, the zest of three oranges and one lemon, and cranberries. Once the winter holidays are over and the season for fresh cranberries has passed, reinvent it as a Blueberry, Orange, and Thyme Cake. In May, when the strawberries come in, make it a Strawberry, Orange, and Mint cake. This is a cake for all seasons.

You could also glam up the blueberry cake.

I never thought there would come a day when I would put the zest of four citrus fruits AND savory herbs in a single cake. Nor did I think I would take time to make sugared fruit. That all changed when I saw the food photos on Lauren’s @mustloveherbs’ Instagram feed. Lauren is an Appalachian Food and Living blogger in Kentucky. Her outrageously good Cranberry, Orange, and Rosemary Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting single-handedly inspired me to expand my culinary horizons. The cake is as pretty as it is delicious. She has motivated me to consider more herb and fruit combinations, to play with foods when food styling, and to try new angles when photographing food. I am grateful to her for giving me permission to feature her recipe for this post.

I first became aware of Lauren’s IG account when one of her photos was featured on @Food52, a hugely popular Instagram account.

Who knew potatoes could be this beautiful?

And look at this cake. Her pine cones are made by poking sliced almonds into soft chocolate balls. Lauren is a gifted food artist and I am a fan.

Here’s the recipe, but first a few cake-baking tips.

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before starting. I have been known, in a pinch, to heat butter and milk in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to get the chill out.

The primary method I use to measure flour is to weigh it. Otherwise, I lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup and level it with a knife.

The time to get air into a cake batter is in the beginning. That’s why we start most cake recipes by beating sugar and fat together for a good three minutes. Then we add the eggs, one at a time, beating in more air after each addition. Once the eggs are all in, be sure to turn the mixer off and clean the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and mix for one more minute.

Look how fluffy this batter looks even before the wet and dry ingredients have been added.

When cake directions say to alternately add dry and wet ingredients, try it this way, dry-wet-dry-wet-dry. Mix minimally with each addition. As soon as the batter is smooth, stop mixing. See how the batter has cloud-like puffs? That’s the goal for this cake.

When adding fruit, turn the mixer off and gently fold the fruit in with a spatula. Try to disperse the fruit evenly so there will be fruit in every slice.

On average, 1 large lemon gives two tablespoons of juice and one tablespoon of zest. 1 medium orange gives 4 tablespoons of juice and 2 tablespoons of zest. I use a Microplane to zest the peel.

I use a handheld orange squeezer to extract juice from citrus. Cut the fruit in half. Put cut side facing down. Bring the handles together and squeeze.  Flip the fruit over a couple of times to extract more juice. I slice the tip off the domed edge.

Use fresh herbs in beautiful condition. I mince the lower leaves of the stem and save the tips for decorating the cake.

Cake Ingredients

3 cups (13.0 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons (½-ounce package) freshly minced rosemary
zest of 3 medium oranges
juice of 1 medium orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup whole fat buttermilk
2 cups (1 pint) fresh whole cranberries
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour for dusting fruit
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar

Prep for the Mise en Place

Measure flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and add to a medium bowl. Add minced rosemary. Use a whisk to mix ingredients and get rid of lumps. Set bowl aside.

Zest 3 oranges and 1 lemon. Juice 1 orange and 1 lemon. Measure buttermilk in a liquid measuring cup and add zest and juice. Stir. Set aside.

In another small bowl, mix whole cranberries and a tablespoon of flour. Stir until the berries are completely dusted with flour. Set aside.

Crack each egg into a container. Don’t mix. Add vanilla. Set aside.

Add butter and sugar directly into a large mixing bowl.

The easy part — putting it all together.

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Make sure all crevices of pan are greased.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium speed for three minutes. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through mixing.

Pour in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Periodically, turn mixer off and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Beat another minute on medium speed.

With the mixer on “stir” or slow, add ⅓ dry ingredients, ½ wet, ⅓ dry, ½ wet, end with ⅓ dry. Mix briefly after each addition.

Remove bowl from stand and using a rubber spatula, add berries. Be sure to sweep bottom and sides of bowl to disperse berries evenly in batter.

Pour batter into a prepared Bundt pan. I can’t get over how gorgeous this batter looks! Just sayin’.

Bake on center shelf of a preheated oven for 45-55 minutes until a knife inserted in the middle of the ring comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 30 minutes. This is a necessary step to ensure the cake slides out easily from the pan. Flip cake carefully onto a wire rack and allow to cool for at least an hour before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients

2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted through a sieve
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
½-ounce package of rosemary for decorating
fresh fruit for decorating

In a mixing bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and orange juice. Mix on medium speed until icing is smooth and creamy. The consistency should be somewhere between a frosting and a glaze.

Dust off crumbs from cooled cake. Spoon icing over cake to achieve a drapey look.

Decorate with rosemary and sugared fruit.

Sugared Fruit

Sugaring fruit is much easier than I imagined. It starts with making a simple syrup and then adding fruit until it is covered in syrup. For cranberries, which have a hard shell, bring the syrup almost to a boil, add the cranberries, and let soften so they are edible. For thin-skinned fruits like blueberries, coat briefly and remove from hot pan so they don’t soften further.

Sugared Fruit Ingredients

½ cup water
½ cup sugar
2 cups whole, firm, fresh cranberries, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar for dusting

Instructions

Heat water and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and syrup just starts to boil. Remove pan from heat.

Add whole cranberries that are at room temperature. Allow to stay in hot water for 10 minutes. Do not boil cranberries or they will pop. Remove cranberries with a slotted spoon.

Place fruit on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Cranberries will be tacky and want to clump together. Separate them with the tip of a knife and not your fingertips. Doing so will keep the cranberries tacky and better able to hold the sugar crystals.  Allow to dry for one hour.

Spoon tacky berries into a bowl of sugar. Place on a clean sheet of parchment paper and dry for 30 minutes. Note the places on the cranberries that did not take up the sugar. I’m guessing they are the places where I used my fingers touched the tacky berries. Next time, I used a knife to separate the berries.

Christmas Eve or Valentine’s Day Cake

By Christmas Eve, we had already had this cake twice so we opted for Lily’s Red Velvet Cake, a family favorite, made by my DIL. Red Velvet Cake is basically chocolate cake with red food coloring. In my recipe, I boost the cocoa by adding expresso coffee. It is delicious. Inspired by Lauren’s food styling and not wanting to take the time to sugar more cranberries, we used what we had in the fridge to decorate the cake — pomegranate seeds and rosemary.

Readers, I would love your help. I am teaching a cooking class for The Herb Society of Nashville. I’m wondering if you could share some herb and fruit combinations you have found that are complementary. Please leave a comment with your favorites.

Some Other Favorite Cakes
Chocolate Birthday or Valentine’s Day Cake
Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Lily’s Red Velvet Cake

I enjoy making special cakes for loved ones on their birthdays and was only too happy to make a Red Velvet Cake for my son’s girlfriend when she turned 21. I browsed through several cookbooks looking for good recipes. My first three attempts were unappealing, but after working on creating a good recipe, I came up with this version that is both delicious and gorgeous. Now, I look for occasions to make this cake as it has become my new favorite.


While doing research on the red velvet cake, I learned The Adams Extract Company, makers of food coloring and flavor extracts, is credited with making this cake popular during the Great Depression. As a marketing strategy, the company placed point-of-sale tear-off recipe cards of their food coloring products in stores. The idea to make a red cake took off from there. Red Velvet Cake is basically Devil’s Food Cake with food coloring.

Cake Ingredients:
DSC_0084
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature (not low-fat)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
½ cup freshly brewed, plain, warm coffee
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Mise en Place:
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Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Center a cooking rack in the oven.

Prepare Cake Pans with Liners:
Grease two 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray or butter. Dust insides of pans with flour. Tap pans upside down over a trash can to remove excess flour.
DSC_0043 Red Velvet cake

The pans need to be lined with parchment paper (waxed paper will work) as extra insurance the cake will not stick to the bottom of the pan. Even when I grease the living daylights out of cake pans, some cakes still want to stick to the bottom. This is one of them. Liners guarantee they will drop out easily.

How to Make Liners for Cake Pans:
Draw an outline of the cake pan on two sheets of parchment paper. Use scissors to cut out the paper disks. If you trim to just inside the line, your disks should fit nicely inside the pans. Place a liner in each pan. No need to grease the liners.
 Red Velvet cake

Make the Cake Batter:
Beat together the oil, sugar, and eggs for three minutes on medium speed.
DSC_0090

Add the rest of the wet ingredients to the mixing bowl: buttermilk, vanilla, food coloring, vinegar, and coffee. Mix on medium-low speed for one minute. The batter should appear smooth. Beware, any speed higher than medium-low will splatter red batter all over you and your kitchen!

Red Velvet cake

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: the flour, chocolate, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Spoon in 1/3 of this at a time into the mixing bowl and mix just until flour disappears on low-speed. You do not want to awaken the gluten in the flour by over mixing the batter. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as you mix. Repeat two more times, using 1/3 of the dry ingredients each time. Mix until dry ingredients are fully incorporated into the batter.

If you would like to make cupcakes instead of a cake, I would add ½ cup of chocolate chips to the batter at this point. Yum!

red velvet cake  Red Velvet cake

Pour batter evenly into the two prepared pans.
Red Velvet cake

Place cake pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Use a knife to check the center of cakes for doneness. If the knife comes out clean, the cake is done. If not, set the timer for five more minutes and recheck. Be sure to test each cake pan. When done, remove pans from oven and cool for 5 minutes.
Red Velvet cake

Run a knife around the edges of the pans to release the cakes from the sides. Turn pans upside down on a wire cooling rack and peel off parchment paper. Invert cakes and cool to room temperature. At this time, you could store them in plastic bags until ready to use, or go ahead and frost them.
Red Velvet cake Red Velvet cake

Butter and Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:
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1  8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
½ cup  (1 stick) butter, softened
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3¾ cups (1 pound box) confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Instructions:
Beat butter and cream cheese together in a mixing bowl on medium-high speed until smooth.
frosting Red velvet cake

Add sugar and beat until fluffy.
frosting Red velvet cake

Add vanilla and beat 30 seconds more. Add milk, one tablespoonful at a time, to thin frosting to desired spreading consistency.

frosting Red velvet cake
How to Frost a Cake
IMG_5417
Line the edges of a cake plate with parchment paper, or plastic wrap, to protect the plate from drops of frosting.
Red velvet cake
Place first cake layer down. Scoop up about 25% of the frosting and spackle it across the top with a long metal icing spatula.
Red velvet cake Red velvet cake
Place the top cake layer, smooth side up, over the frosted layer. Place half of the remaining frosting on top and use it to frost the sides of the cake.
Red velvet cake Red velvet cake
Next, spoon the rest of the frosting on the cake and frost the top layer of the cake.
Red velvet cake Red velvet cake
Remove parchment paper liner from cake plate while frosting is still soft. Let frosted cake sit for an hour or two so the flavors can blend. I like to chill all cakes with cream cheese frosting before serving, but that is a personal preference.

Recently, I needed an elegant cake that would serve 20 people. I decided to make a taller version of my red velvet cake by preparing one and a half cake recipes. This gave me three 9-inch layers. I increased the frosting recipe by half. The cake looked beautiful and regal on the dessert buffet.

Triple Decker Cake Ingredients List
(I’ve done the math for you, and for me)

3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
4½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups sugar
1½ cup canola oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
1½ cup buttermilk, room temperature (not low-fat)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ ounce red food coloring
1½ teaspoon white distilled vinegar
¾ cup freshly brewed, plain, warm coffee

IMG_5377

I LOVE this cake!

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Related Posts:
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
Ellen’s Most Moist Zucchini Bread
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

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© 2014 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.