Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Particular Happiness of Orange Cake by Cleo Coyle

When I was a little girl, my pop, who grew up during the Depression, told me the story of how he received an orange one Christmas. His two brothers and sister each received one, too. A single orange. They were thrilled.

After my father told me that story, I never looked at an orange the same way again.

Truly, an orange is a beautiful thing—round and bright and vibrant as the sun. As the holidays recede and winter settles in with its frozen snow and black ice, daylight feels scarce and sunshine precious. In January, in New York City, I think an orange just may be a miracle.

Certainly at this time of year in most grocery store produce aisles, citrus fruits are mounded high. Nothing that plentiful can be a miracle, can it? I know I've taken such bounty for granted, made it an afterthought.

Well, today the abundance of oranges is my primary thought. Like Krista and Terry with their citrus-inspired recipes on Sunday and Monday, I’d like to celebrate the season of citrus with a recipe, too. And so I bring you...

Cleo Coyle, who dearly
misses daylight, is author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries




If you like Creamsicles, you’ll love this deliciously simple orange-vanilla coffee cake. It’s moist and rich like a pound cake, yet bakes up quickly in a single-layer pan. It requires no special skill to bake or glaze, and only dirties one bowl! Huzzah!

Serve it as is or with a dollop of whipped cream, a scoop of ice cream, or orange sherbet. For a sweeter and fancier finish, drizzle it liberally with my simple Orange-Vanilla Glaze.

Finally, should you make and eat this cake, I hope you’ll pause and smile with your first bite, remembering all those children of yesteryear whose eyes went wide with delight at the sight of a single orange.

Cleo's One-Bowl Orange-Vanilla
"Creamsicle" Coffee Cake

To get a free PDF of this recipe that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Makes one 9-inch cake


½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup whole milk
½ cup orange juice (with pulp or not, your call)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon orange zest (grated peel from 1 medium orange)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For dusting pan:
1-2 Tablespoons butter
2-3 Tablespoons “sugar in the raw” (turbinado sugar)

(Optional to finish)
Cleo's Orange-Vanilla "Creamsicle" Glaze - see recipe below

Step 1 – Make batter with one bowl mixing method: First pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stop the mixer. Add in eggs, milk, orange juice, vanilla, salt, and orange zest. Continue mixing until well blended. Now add the flour and baking powder. Continue mixing only enough to blend ingredients. The batter will be somewhat thick (although not as thick as cookie dough). Just be sure not to over mix or you will produce gluten in the flour and your cake will be tough instead of tender.

Step 2 – Prepare pan: Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan. Place 2 tablespoons of raw sugar into the pan and roll it around, dusting bottom and sides. Pour batter into pan and shake to even out. Use the back of a spoon to smooth the top a bit. When I’m not glazing this cake, I sprinkle an additional tablespoon of raw sugar on the uncooked batter.

Step 3 – Bake: In the pre-heated 350 degree F. oven, bake for about 25 to 35 minutes, depending on your oven. To check for doneness, insert a toothpick into the cake’s center. When it comes out clean (with no batter on it), the cake is done. Cool the cake in the pan but on a rack so air can circulate under the bottom of the hot pan. Don’t try to remove until the top of your cake is cool to the touch.

Serving tips: You can certainly serve the cake slices directly from the pan. To remove the cake from the pan for a prettier presentation run a knife around the pan’s edge. Place a flat plate over the top of the pan and carefully flip it. The cake’s bottom may stick a bit to the pan. Gently tap to loosen. (If the cake is still sticking, simply run your knife around the pan’s edge one more time.) When you’ve removed the cake this way, it’s (obviously) upside down. Flip it once more so that it’s upright on your serving plate. Slice and serve.

For a sweeter and fancier finish, drizzle the entire cake with my simple Orange-Vanilla Glaze below.

“Creamsicle” Glaze

Yields: 1 cup of glaze, enough to liberally cover one 9-inch cake

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons whole milk
2 cups confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons orange juice (Be sure to add separately)

Step 1 – Warning: First of all, I must warn you not to dump everything into your saucepan at once. Follow these steps as written or your glaze will curdle when your milk and orange juice meet!

Step 2 – Create sugar paste: Place butter and milk in a saucepan over low heat. When butter has melted, stir in the confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time, until dissolved. The mixture will be thick and pasty. 

Step 3 – Add vanilla and OJ: Remove the pan from heat. Add vanilla and orange juice. Stir well to blend. Return pan to low heat, tilt pan, and whisk until smooth. This may take a minute. (Note: This mixture should never boil or you’ll get a scorched taste in your glaze.) While glaze is still warm, drizzle over cooled cake. I pour the warm glaze into a glass measuring cup and pour a thin stream in a zigzag motion across the cake until it’s completely iced.


Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

To get more of my recipes, win free coffee,
or find out more about my books, visit me
 at my *virtual* coffeehouse:

Click on the book covers above
to learn more about Cleo's culinary mysteries.


  1. This made me start drooling! Oh my, that glaze looks to die for. LOL. Have you seen the TV show THE MIDDLE? The Christmas episode is all about the oranges people used to be happy to receive in their stockings.

  2. I'm going to go pick an orange from our trees and make this next time I bake. Now I have an orange recipe to go with Arizona Sunshine Pie!

  3. Reply to -

    Margaret - Thank you for dropping by the Kitchen! I'm not familiar with The Middle (?), but I'm not surprised at a TV writer highlighting what was a fairly common experience during the Depression. My father was not unique in getting the gift of an orange at Christmas, but it is indeed a story that struck me (at a young age) as almost incomprehensible. Now, as an adult (most of the time!), I find myself considering so many areas of the world that are even poorer than the USA during the Depression. It gives me even greater reason to see abundance as a blessing and a miracle.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. Reply to -

    CindyD - Very glad I could balance Jenn's lemon pie with an orange cake! Dang, I wish I could pick an orange, too. At the moment, I'm watching snow fall on my dark and desolate Queens street, lol. Send a little sunshine up here, okay? Cheers!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. Another winner, Cleo! We are on an orange kick around our house--I made Creamsicle cocktails last weekend. Maybe this weekend I'll bake your cake! It looks wonderful. <3!

  6. What a great story, one to think about indeed. And I think I just found my birthday cake! Thanks!

  7. Those were simpler times back then, weren't they? Sometimes I'd like to go back to those times!

    Love the ease of this orange cake! I have a whole bag of oranges right now that are gorgeous. That glaze looks absolutely amazing, too!

  8. Oh this is terrific. I love the orange story! My husband tells a similar tale and is still very appreciative of every orange he sees. He will love the cake too.

  9. Cleo-I absolutely adore creamsicles! Can't wait to make this cake. Oh, yum. Editing will be so much more delicious this week!! ~Avery

  10. My mom and dad were depression babies too - my mom's family a whole lot poorer than my dad's (his family was comfortable, but certainly not well-off). She used to tell us stories about how on their birthday, they were allowed to spend a nickel to buy a quart of pop to share with the family. And that was it. Christmas always included an orange - which to them was pure bliss. My brother and I grew up getting oranges in our stockings. Huge, huge ones. I think we loved our oranges as much as we did our gifts because we knew what they represented. And now my kids get them every year as well. And appreciate them. It's not Christmas without a giant navel orange.

  11. Oh - and PS: GREAT recipe! Stunning pictures, as always. My husband loves orange cake and I can't wait to try this one!

  12. Margaret, I thought of The Middle right away, too!

    Lovely cake, Cleo. Makes me want to bake!

    ~ Krista

  13. I so remember getting oranges (usually 2) in a bag with walnuts and a few peppermint sticks from Santa at the Knights of Columbus Christmas party every year. It was a real treat back then.

    I still love oranges now and can't wait to try this one. The glaze looks good enough to eat tight out of the bowl!

  14. Replies to...

    @Wendy – Oooh, a Creamsicle cocktail. Those look good. I’ll bet they were delicious. TY for your nice words from the <3.

    @Leslie – This would indeed make a delicious birthday cake. A nice change-up from the usual chocolate/vanilla. Cheers to you! Have a happy birthday!

    @Elizabeth – I know what you mean about the simplicity. There’s something to be said for stripping away, slowing down (when possible! :), and appreciating the joy of small things. (And, yes, on the cake, I can testify - the glaze is to die for!)

    More replies to come...

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  15. @MJ – Thanks so much for the nice words. I’m so glad to hear the orange story resonated. I hope your hub likes the cake as much as mine does. It’s a moist cake and tastes just as delicious two and three days after baking. (We wrap ours loosely in wax paper and foil and store in a cool area of the kitchen.)

    @Avery – A cake to edit by. Love it! Wishing you the best with your ongoing work on the third Cheese Shop mystery.

    @Julie – A nickel to buy a quart of pop and that’s it, lol. Don’t you wish you had a time machine and could go back and help your grandparents? Hand them a stack of cash or buy them something special and leave it like a fairy on their doorstep? Glad to know the orange memories resonated with you, too. I hope your hub enjoys the cake!

    @Krista – TY for the nice words. My cold row house is what inspired me to bake—anything to keep the oven on! :)

    @Liz – OMG, that K of C story reminded me of the annual Christmas giveaways at our local volunteer fire department in Western PA. One of the firemen always dressed in a Santa suit (complete with pillow-belly) and handed out little bags of candy to the kids in the neighborhood. The bags were so humble, just a few chocolates and peppermints, but I was so excited to get mine. I think I’m beginning to understand why my pop was so impressed with that orange. (And, yes, I can testify that glaze IS good eaten right out of the bowl. I know because I’ve done it! :))

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  16. I couldn't resist, and I couldn't wait. The cake is in the oven right now! As I grated the orange zest, I remembered the orange my mother carefully put into the toe of my stocking every Christmas. I remembered, too, the way her eyes shone as she told me - every year - of her joy at finding her own orange in the toe of her "sock" every Christmas morning. And I whispered a little "thanks, Mom," for not only wanting me to have the joy she knew as a child, but for making sure I had oranges all year round. Then, I took them for granted. Now, I appreciate it. I hope she knows.

    This cake smells luscious!

  17. This looks delicious! I can't wait to make it. My mom grew up in the Depression as well and had the same story. That was THE gift in the Christmas stocking, the only time of year they got an orange (unless they were sick; Christmas was the better scenario!)

  18. Replies to...

    @Laine of Laineshots - I'm thrilled that you're already baking this cake! You're right about the aroma, too. It makes the entire kitchen smell delightfully orangey. If sunshine had a smell, this would be it! I also love your special "orange" memory. So touching. Thank you for sharing the connection with your mom. Food and love and memory are intensely connected for me, too. Cheers and happy eating!

    @Marilyn S. - I'm so happy to hear the orange story is one that resonated with you, too. Interesting that your mom would also get one when she was sick. Smart. Vitamin C is good medicine, then and now! Thanks so much for dropping by the Kitchen today!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  19. It looks and sounds absolutely delicious! Love it!!