Orange Cardamom Cake with Chocolate Ganache

You know, I love ostentatious, glamorous cakes. I also find elaborate buttercream cakes lovely to look at, especially for kids’ occasions. So when a good friend asked me if I’d like to bake for her husband’s birthday party attended by adults sans kids at her home, I said yes.

I was in a bind, though, to be honest. It was a home party so by definition not too fancy, but adults only so at least some refinement was expected. Initially my idea was to bake an upside down cake. Lots of Youtube research revealed that although upside downs can be A1 tastewise, they have a high chance of not turning out so pretty. Especially when it isn’t berry season, a fruit group that promises colour upon baking.

Back to the drawing board it was. Over the week it became clear that I was going to be using in-season oranges. I often use cardamom in my tea and enjoy the fruity, fragrant flavour it lends. It would make a complementary scent to the citrus, I imagined. Ganache looked like the easiest and most elegant way to ice the cake without going the too-much frosting route. Et voila! My orange cardamom cake with a chocolate glaze.

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These are two vanilla cakes stacked and sandwiched with candied orange slices — my original masterstroke that worked so well that it actually became the USP of this cake. It was a last-minute idea to candy those orange slices and what a fantastic brainwave THAT was. It lent the cake a whole different dimension in terms of depth of flavour and interesting texture. If you make this cake, DO NOT skip this. It’s the cake’s soul, I tell you, the soul.

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Candying the oranges is a slightly long process. Easy but time consuming, so prep ahead if you can manage it. I candied them the night before and lay single-layer on a parchment sheet overnight. The process is simple: dissolve 1/2cup white sugar in 1.5 cups water over medium heat. Once dissolved, lay orange slices (peeled and thinly sliced) in a single layer in the syrup and simmer over low heat for about 45 mins, until they’re coated and soft and the sugar syrup has thickened. You can also carefully flip them midway to cook both sides.

Notice that I used blood oranges because I wanted a bright red colour but they pretty much leached out into a regular orange shade. Oh well.

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Note: you can use the orange peel as decoration like I did. For that, try to peel in one continuous motion so you end up with long segments of the rind that you can then fold into flowers or other shapes.

Once caramelized, the orange slices will look shiny and sweet and delicious. Handle carefully when transferring onto parchment because a) they’re hot and b) they’re fragile. But, look, how BEAUtiful!

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Inspiration for the cake itself came from a few different sources — here, here and here. My recipe is an amalgamation of these plus my own additions.

You’ll need

190g AP flour
2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
150g granulated white sugar
115g unsalted butter
2 med-large eggs
1tsp vanilla
1/2cup milk (boiled with 1tsp crushed cardamom seeds, sieved and cooled to room temp)
1tbsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 325F or 180C. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla and beat until combined. Sift flour, baking powder and salt and add to the butter mixture alternating with the milk. Mix until just combined. Add orange zest and pour batter into a greased, parchment-lined 9inch tin. Bake until toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 35-40 mins.

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For the ganache, use a good quality chocolate that you don’t mind eating as is. Even if you’re using a grocery-store brand, buy the best of those you can find. I used a mix of dark and milk chocolates shredded fine.

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The rule of ganache apparently is equal quantity chocolate to heavy cream for the basic, adding more chocolate or less cream depending on consistency required. A 1:1 ratio will yield a pourable ganache that hardens quickly into a spreadable mixture. I bought two 100g chocolate packs so I used 175ml heavy cream mixed with 1tbsp unsalted butter (for a shiny ganache) because I wanted soft but not runny. Adjust according to your needs.

Pour heated cream+butter over your chocolate splinters and let sit for 2 mins before stirring gently to form a scrumptious ganache. Pour over assembled cake immediately and let it run down the sides. Decorate the top of your cake with a couple of the caramelized orange slices, gold mist (optional) and your lovely peel decorations (that can be removed before eating). They just look so purdy. 🙂

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When I brought the cake to my friend’s, their expression was worth all the effort, yay! The cake looked so elegant and tasted good too. I’m not just saying it; some guests took it home with them at the end! What great compliment?! I really do think this one is a winner. Give it a try — you won’t be disappointed.

Pecan and Date Loaf

February is a bleak month no doubt about it. There’s not much going on outdoors (unless one skis, which one doesn’t) and it. is. cold. Baking is one of those things whose idea itself is warm and cozy. And what better to bake than a loaf cake that will go excellently with those endless cuppas that make winter worthwhile.

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My family loves its nuts. (I live with 3 male members..what can I say.) We always have peanuts, cashews, almonds and pecans in our house although I very rarely cook with them. A nut loaf brimming with nutty goodness, low in fat, enhanced with caramely date chewiness seemed like just the ticket for a baking morning. This loaf is not too sweet (I always cut down on sugar in professional recipes), although it can do with even less. I made a few other modifications — used pecans instead of the more common walnuts, added unsweetened applesauce for part of the liquid (OJ in this case) and pureed the dates. Result: a perfectly light loaf that’s just as good toasted and buttered or as is.

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You’ll need:

30g unsalted butter
115g icing sugar
35g brown sugar
1 medium egg
100ml freshly squeezed orange juice
2tbsp unsweetened applesauce
125g pitted dates
80ml boiling water
1tsp vanilla
225g AP flour
1/2 tsp each baking soda and baking powder
50g walnuts or pecans

  • Soak the dates in boiling water while you prep other steps.
  • Preheat oven to 180C or 350F and lightly grease or parchment line a loaf pan.
  • Cream butter, sugar and egg until smooth. Then add vanilla, OJ and applesauce. Mix to combine well.
  • Blend the softened dates (with the water) into a puree (coarse or smooth as per your preference. Mine had tiny date pieces left and that was fine). Add date mixture to the wet ingredient mix.
  • Mix flour, baking soda and baking powder in a bowl, then slowly add to the wet mix.
  • Pour into lined tin and bake for about 40 mins or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. (If you have to rush out to, say, pick up the kids, ahem,  before the toothpick comes out quite clean, leave the slightly underdone loaf inside the turned-off oven until you get back. It’ll be fine, I promise.)

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Enjoy its yummy scrumptiousness with a guilt-free slice at tea time knowing that you did all you could towards healthy dessert eating. If you’re lucky, your kids might even deign to consider this a legit after-school snack — win win.

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No-fail Chocolate Cake with Ombre Buttercream Frosting

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I bake cookies for a home biz, I consider myself a fairly intuitive cook and an overall can-do individual. Until now the one thing that I could NEVER do was bake a cake I liked. It just. wouldn’t. happen. Too eggy, not spongy enough, too dry, meh, underbaked, overdone — I’ve done it all. I gave up on cakes a long time ago.

And then a friend pointed me to Laura Vitale, an Italian chef whose recipes she swears by. I was skeptic but I gave it a try. And boy, was my friend not kidding! I adapted the recipe a bit and made the best dozen chocolate cupcakes of my life. The structure transfers well to cake as well. Soft, spongy and intensely chocolatey.

One of the oddities of the UK is that buttercream isn’t popular here as a frosting, fondant is. And I can.not stand that thing. It’s too rubbery and just…bleh. V wanted a buttercream cake, and it’s almost impossible to find a bakery that will make one here. So I decided (again) to give it a go.

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The cake rose beautifully the first time and I fell in love with those luscious cracks. The taste is slightly fudgey (although the cake itself ins’t dense at all) and caramely because of the brown sugar. Once cooled, the cake holds its shape without being dry, perfect for layering or tiering.

For the birthday cake, I baked two of these babies and sliced each in half horizontally. Piped a buttercream dam and filled with chocolate ganache before piling up the layers. Crumb coated with buttercream, then divided the remaining into 4 colours : moss green, teal, nursery green and white. Check out the various ombre cake tutorials on YouTube for the actual technique. It’s super simple, highly forgiving of beginners and offers dramatic results.

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Notice that my cake is slightly lopsided and unfinished at the bottom, mistakes to rectify for the next time. (Also, I ran out of buttercream.) But it was so well received by a bunch of 11yos, and most importantly my highly picky son, that I was mighty pleased! Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

You’ll need:
Makes one 8″ round cake

120gm butter
3/4c granulated sugar
1/4c brown sugar
2 med eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1c AP flour
1/2c cocoa
1/2c buttermilk (make your own by adding 1tsp white vinegar for every 1/2c of milk)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coffee powder, optional

  1. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda together in a separate bowl, set aside.
  2. Cream butter and sugars until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, scraping down the bowl a couple of times.
  3. Add eggs one at a time beating between each addition, followed by vanilla and beat until well combined.
  4. Add flour-cocoa mix alternating with buttermilk in 3 total additions (so, starting with flour, milk, flour, milk, flour). Only mix until combined…DO NOT over-beat.
  5. Bake in a 350 oven until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool before lifting cake from pan.

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