Let Them Eat: Orange Kiss-Me Cake


My mom and I gab on the phone at least once a day. Since we're on opposite coasts I often have to patiently wait for it to be at least dawn over there before I can ring her and tell her about the crazy lady talking about cat UTI's at the supermarket. We talk about all sorts of things, with cooking and baking being one of our favorite topics. I bounce cake ideas off her, ask her to remind me for the millionth time what that dessert Grandma made while visiting us in Mexico was, what she thinks "cook it till it's done" means in this recipe.

Lately we've taken to scouring our old family cookbooks and reading ridiculous recipes to each other—especially the ones scribbled down by her own mother, avid cook and recipe patrol officer. Good outcomes have a red Crayola star and "¡Buena!" written in the margin, duds have tips ("PLEASE don't burn the almonds when frying them in butter! They'll taste bitter!"), and some notes hint at family feuds ("Dora's recipe has 2 cups sugar, but Doris makes it with 1 1/2 cups..."). Some of the recipe notes are helpful, others not so much; for instance, when things are written in Spanglish, as they often are, there is no way of knowing whether a capital T stands for "taza" (cup, in Spanish) or tablespoon.

Mom and I laugh till we both need to bolt to the bathroom to avoid peeing in our pants, but then reel it in because we realize that we seem to have inherited some of these less-than-punctilious recipe writing and critiquing habits. Case in point: my fridge is wall-papered in recipes that have greasy Rorschach blots, spaghetti sauce bleeds, and runny ink graffiti and mom's recipes sometimes neglect to inform you that the recipe yields TWO cakes, like the following Orange Kiss-Me Cake (I've scaled it down to one cake).

On that note, Orange Kiss-Me Cake appears in our files as "kugelhopf" though it in no way resembles the Alsatian brioche-cake delicacy. The cake is actually the very same recipe that won Ms. Lily Wuebel of Redwood City, CA the $25,000 grand prize at the second Pillsbury Bake-Off contest in 1950.

Orange Kiss-Me Cake featured, naturally, Pillsbury flour and the showstopper: a whole orange, ground to a pulp in a food processor along with walnuts and raisins. The whole citrusy mess was baked in a 13- by 9-inch cake pan and finished with shellack of shiny orange glaze and a sprinkling of cinnamon, sugar, and chopped walnuts.

The cake is nubby and moist, spiked with the acerbic ground-up orange--it's quite nice, like having an afternoon tea cake spread with homemade orange marmalade. It is a little shy in appearance, however, and I couldn't resist adding a little somethin'-somethin' to it. My cake is topped with candied orange peel, some of it glittering with a coating of sugar, the rest partially dipped in bittersweet dark chocolate, like thigh-high stockings on a stage of can-can girls. You'll definitely feel like smooching after this one.