Bright Citrusy Italian Orange Cake (Whole Orange Cake)
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Bright citrusy Italian orange cake is made with seasonal fresh oranges! We’ve got whole oranges inside the batter and deliciously sweet candied oranges on top! The perfect way to celebrate this beautiful citrus fruit!
The orange cake of my dreams!
This Italian orange cake has been on repeat since the beginning of this year. Partially because I wanted to perfect this recipe and partially because I couldn’t stop eating slices full of this cake for every meal of the day!
Warm nutmeg scented vanilla cake with real orange segments and zest running through the batter. It takes me back to when we were in one of the coastal towns of Cinque Terre. We tucked into a little corner bakery off the cobblestone street to get out of the drizzle one morning. And in my broken Italian, I asked the lady to give me a slice of their most popular cake. She told me it was their Sicilian orange cake (the family that ran that bakery was originally from Sicily if I remember correctly.) This is my interpretation of that delicious, whole orange cake, inspired and partially adapted from my olive oil pound cake. Her cake was perfect as is. Tender, fuss-free orange-scented crumb cake without any icing or glaze. The kind of cake you want to eat warm right from the pan, carefree of how it slices.
I topped (or bottomed?) the cake with candied orange slices for those fancy occasions where you want something that has extra eye appeal. To be honest, the Italian orange cake is absolutely perfect without the candied oranges. In fact, I even prefer it that way, especially if I’m planning on serving this with warm mugs of coffee for a laidback brunch. But for those special occasions, fancy brunches, or dinner parties, when you want to really impress your guests, add slices of candied oranges. Your guests won’t believe you made this at home, and you don’t even have to tell them how easy it was to do.
What do you need to make Italian orange cake at home?
- Whole oranges: I start with whole oranges and remove the zest using my favorite zester. Once that’s done, grab a paring knife and remove all of the pith from the oranges. If you use the white pith, your cake will have a bitter flavor in the background. I personally don’t mind a bit of that orangey flavor and usually leave a tiny bit of the pith on.
- Eggs: we’ll fluff the eggs with the sugar in this recipe. The eggs add structure to baked goods.
- Sugar: regular granulated or cane sugar work best for this recipe.
- All-purpose flour: both bleached and unbleached flour will work for this recipe. I usually only keep unbleached flour on hand, so that’s what I used.
- Flavorings: We’ll use a pinch of salt, ground nutmeg, and vanilla extract to boost the other flavors in this orange cake.
- Leavening agent: we’re adding a tablespoon of baking powder to this cake. If it seems like a lot, keep in mind that we’re using fresh pulsed oranges in the cake batter. The cake batter will be a bit dense and requires a bit more leavening than ones that don’t have fresh fruit in them.
- Olive oil: Olive oil adds the perfect flavor to this cake recipe.
- Yogurt: I used regular whole milk yogurt for this recipe.
How do you make candied oranges?
Did you ever have those sugared orange fruit slices as a kid? Homemade candied oranges remind me so much of those – only these pack a more orange flavor punch!
You’ll need equal parts sugar and water to make the simple syrup. Once the sugar and water are boiling, we’ll add thinly sliced oranges to the mixture and let it simmer until the oranges soak up the liquid and the bitter pith of the oranges mellows out. Once the oranges have soaked, remove and line your pan with the slices. Keep the syrup! You can immediately use it to make cocktails, mocktails, or save it to glaze the cakes candied orange slices before serving.
How to make Sicilian whole orange cake:
- While the oven is preheating, start preparing the cake batter. You’ll want to start by zesting the remaining oranges. Then, we’ll use a paring knife to remove the white pith from the oranges. If you don’t want the cake to make a powerful bitter flavor, it’s important to remove all of the pith. If you don’t mind a hint of bitterness, remove all but a little bit. Cut the oranges and remove the seeds. Then, add the zest and chopped orange pieces to a food processor and pulse until it breaks down into applesauce-like consistency.
- Get the eggs and sugar going in your stand mixer. You want to incorporate a lot of air into this batter, so whip them together for a good 5 minutes or until the mixture is airy, light, and fluffy. Then, stream in the olive oil slowly as the mixer is running. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the yogurt. And finally, we’ll flavor it with vanilla and the prepared pulsed orange mixture.
- When the batter is well combined, pour it into your prepared springform pan and bake the cake until it is completely set. Test the cake using a toothpick. You want the toothpick to come out clean. Crumbs on the toothpick are fine; you don’t want any liquidy batter. Allow the cake to cool before attempting to remove it from the pan. You don’t want it to collapse, so just let it rest in the pan.
FAQs about Italian orange cake:
- Do I have to use candied oranges? Absolutely not! You can make this Sicilian whole orange cake as is without the orange slices, and it’s absolutely delicious that way. Just keep in mind that the cake will cook faster without the orange slices. You’ll want to start checking on it around the 35-minute mark. Use a toothpick to check and make sure there isn’t any wet batter in the center of the cake.
- Can I make this in a pan other than the springform? I’ve only tested the recipe in a 9-inch springform pan, so I am unsure if this will work in anything else. My best guess is that you could possibly use a 9×3 round cake pan if you aren’t planning on lining the pan with orange slices. If it’s not a nonstick pan, I suggest buttering the pan very well and also lining the bottom with parchment so that the cake turns out easily.
- Can I use gluten-free flour for this recipe? Unfortunately, I’m not sure. I haven’t tried it with anything but the all-purpose flour, but if you decide to try it out, I’d love to know how it went for you!
- Can I use greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt? Can I use dairy-free yogurt? I’ve only tested the recipe with regular whole milk yogurt, but I think that the greek yogurt can also work here. I haven’t tested the recipe with dairy-free yogurt but would love to know how it goes for you if you decide to try it out.
- How do you suggest storing leftover cake? Leftover cake can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature. If it’s particularly warm or humid where you live, you may want to store the cake in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge at least 45 minutes before serving. I find it tastes best at room temperature.
If you like this cake recipe, you might also like:
- One Bowl Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake
- One Bowl Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
- Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Coffee Cake
- Cinnamon Apple Crumb Cake
- Glazed Lemon Raspberry Bundt Cake
- Homemade Zucchini Bread
- ¾ cup water
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 medium (~10 ounces) oranges, sliced into ⅛- ¼ inch slices
- 2 medium oranges
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 tablespoons plain yogurt, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- CANDIED ORANGES: Combine the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. When boiling, lower the heat to medium-low, gently add in the orange slices, making sure they are mostly covered in the syrup, and simmer for 15 minutes, stir and move the slices around often so that all of them soak evenly. Once cooked, turn off the heat, remove from heat and allow them to cool for several minutes until you can handle the slices with needle-nose tongs or with your fingertips. Prep while the oranges are soaking in syrup.
- PREP: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray on the bottom, up the sides, and line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Zest the remaining two oranges using a zester. Remove all of the white pith from the orange using a paring knife and cut the oranges into small pieces (remove seeds and any additional pith to keep the cake from being too bitter.) Place the cut-up orange segments and zest in a food processor and pulse the oranges until they break down into an applesauce-like consistency. Arrange the soaked orange slices in the springform pan in a scaled overlapping pattern; set aside. Do not discard the syrup.
- MIX: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip together the eggs and granulated sugar until it pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Slowly stream in the olive oil with the mixer running. Add the flour, kosher salt, nutmeg, and baking powder and combine on the ‘stir’ setting. Add the yogurt as the mixer is running and continue to mix until incorporated. Then, add the vanilla, pulsed orange mixture, and stir until the batter is combined.
- BAKE: Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan. Smooth out the top of the cake and bake the cake for 47-57 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes before attempting to remove it. Run a knife along the inner rim of the springform pan to help release the cake. Release the spring and remove the rim. At this point, allow the cake to cool completely before attempting to level it with a serrated knife. Once cooled, place a plate over the cake, gently flip, and peel back the parchment paper. At this point, you can brush any remaining orange syrup on the cake to give it a beautiful sheen. Slice and serve!
- Leftover cake can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature. If it's particularly warm or humid where you live, you might want to store the cake in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge at least 45 minutes before serving. I find it tastes best at room temperature.
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