Joy To the World by Jewel
I love how Jewel opens this song with such gusto and glee. It truly matches the spirit of how I felt when I finally finished today's recipe. I've been playing around with the idea for this cake in my head for almost a month now, making tweaks here and there as I went. When I put the finishing touches on it and helped myself to a slice I was all smiles and joy! Yes - there was kitchen dancing today! It "ate" just how I wanted it to! A breath of orange as you opened your mouth to take the first bite, teeth sinking through pillows of moist cake and fluffy frosting, and bits of crunch as you encounter little pieces of crushed candy cane, bringing the fresh flavor of peppermint to the party. It's a happy cake! One fit to celebrate a special occasion - such as the birth of a King!
The idea for this cake came from a childhood memory. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the Warren, Pennsylvania area - except for this one year when my family moved to Mesa, Arizona. I attended the fourth grade at Whittier Elementary. It was a wonderful year for me, experiencing a culture and climate so foreign to what I had known up to that point. My classmates taught me to play jacks, tetherball, and this fascinating way to eat an orange!
What you do is wash your orange and give it a good roll on the counter to get the juices flowing. Break the ends off of your candy cane and stick one end right through the peel and in to the orange. Then start sucking! Within about ten sucks the juice starts shooting up through the little tubes within the candy cane. The candy cane is now a straw!
The flavors together are wonderful - peppermint and orange - and I think the colors involved here are as much a pleasure to the eye as the flavors are to the mouth! For some real fun involving sucking the juice out of an orange, please take a minute and watch this short clip from a show I love called Cranford. It's a beautiful mini-series based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskill and this scene always makes me smile! Perhaps if Miss Deborah had had a candy cane . . . !
As I thought about how to capture the memory of oranges and candy canes in the form of a dessert, I was surprised to find that I really wanted to make it into a cake. You see, I'm not a cake person. I'm always being disappointed by cakes. Too dry, too heavy, too much not like a pie! But the more I thought, the more I knew it had to be a cake and I was excited for it to be a cake!
Flavor-wise, I had the peppermint and orange combo already set. I really wanted to have something else, though, that would kind of come in on the lower notes and act as a beautiful background for that pair to really stand out. Chocolate, my dark and beautiful friend - as always - first came to mind but I had to dismiss it because it would overpower the other flavors. The chocolate went over to the corner of my mind and sat there and sulked a good while - refusing to leave completely. And, then, I started paying attention to what it was mumbling as it sat there, all dejected. It said, "You know, I wasn't saying it had to be big, ole, dark and bold me! It could be white chocolate, you know!" Hmmm. A white chocolate buttercream really would play well with the orange and peppermint. And to prove myself right, I went right over and popped a Candy Cane Hershey Kiss in my mouth followed by an orange juice chaser!
This cake was getting more and more interesting all the time! I now had three things I didn't really like in the mix - the fact that it was a cake, first of all - and secondly, I don't usually eat candy canes - and lastly, white chocolate? No way! Somehow, though, I knew they all had to be here in this cake. And I set out to prove it! And here's what I came up with!
Peppermint-Orange Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1 box white cake mix - (until I find a good white cake recipe to share, we are all taking some help this holiday season and using a mix!
Ingredients from cake mix directions
10 candy canes, wrappers removed, and crushed
12 Candy Cane Hershey Kisses, unwrapped
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Empty the cake mix into a mixing bowl. Using a microplane, remove the zest from both oranges and place in the bowl with the cake mix. Take some of the cake mix and rub it down the microplane to help remove all the essential oils left behind from the orange peel.
Mix according to package directions, pour into two 8" round pans that have been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when placed in the center. Let cool in the pans for about five minutes. Then remove from pans and let completely cool on a rack. While it's cooling, make the simple syrup and the frosting.
White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
from Comfortably Domestic
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar
pinch of salt
6 oz. good quality white chocolate, i.e. Lindt or Guittard, chopped
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 t. vanilla extract
Place chopped white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat, stirring often, until melted. (Don't even think about using white chocolate chips here. There is something added to them that messes with the consistency of the final product.) Set aside and let cool.
Cream the softened butter and sugar and pinch of salt together until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Mix the cream and vanilla together and gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture while the mixer is running on low speed. When the cream and vanilla are incorporated, add the melted and cooled white chocolate and fold. When all has come together, increase the speed to medium high and beat for about three minutes. This will leave you with a most wonderfully fluffy frosting - like angel wings!
Orange Simple Syrup:
1 1/4 c. sugar
water and orange juice to measure 1 1/4 c.
Place the sugar in a small saucepan. Squeeze the juice from the two oranges used for zest in the cake. Add enough water to measure 1 1/4 c. Add to the pan with the sugar. Heat over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool.
Using a long serrated knife, carefully slice off the "hump" on the top of the cake. Aha! The baker's secret to level cakes! If you have little ones around, they will happily help eat the "hump."
Then, also using a long serrated knife, slice each cake in half horizontally, like this:
Prepare your cake serving platter and place a cake bottom in the center. To help keep my mess from getting everywhere, I place strips of wax paper or parchment paper just under the edges of the cake all around. They will easily pull out when I'm finished, leaving a clean display.
Using a pastry brush, sweep some orange simple syrup across the top of the cake, being careful to not soak too heavily.
Next, spread some of the buttercream frosting on top and then sprinkle with some of the crushed candy canes.
Repeat this for each layer. When you get to the top, spread the frosting across the top and down over the sides. I really like a "speckled" look on the sides. To do this, simply take your spatula and lightly press against the frosting and lift directly off. Little peaks will form! Sprinkle more of the crushed candy canes across the top of the cake and place the Kisses around the outside edge of the top.
Take a fork and slightly breath in as you bite. The orange will waft in and say, "Well, hello! Welcome to our party!" Joy to the world!