Blood oranges are one of winter’s most lively and aromatic offerings. The puree gives this cake a bold citrusy flavor.
Winter citrus holds a kind of magic that is the antidote to dismal days. It doesn’t take much, sometimes just a wheel of Meyer lemon floating in my Earl Grey is a fine pick-me-up. Blood oranges are my favorite of all the winter citrus. They tend to be extra-aromatic and their gorgeous ruddy peels hint at a deep crimson interior. Lately I’ve been adding them to my morning smoothie. The flavor seems to give me an extra ounce of zip and I’m sure the vitamin C doesn’t hurt, either.
I’ve never used blood oranges in my baking, and I’m not sure why! Its strong citrus flavor is ideal for an aromatic cake-soaking syrup.
Maybe it’s the temperament of my heart and its need for color and beauty in winter months, but right now roses seem more beautiful than ever. The only thing I know for sure is that I was an embarrassment at the market asking nearby strangers ‘have you seen these roses?’. I couldn’t get over their electric violet edges. They practically glow. I couldn’t resist using the petals as cake decorations. I even dotted a few with honey and added small bits of gold leaf to match the cake.
(I am literally the gilder of lilies roses.)
I understand the word ‘watercolor’ usually calls to mind airy pastels but this cake is bold! I’ve always loved bold watercolor paintings so I wasn’t too shy about trying the effect with frosting.
Have you tried the watercolor cake decorating technique in buttercream? It’s easier to achieve than you might expect. Let me show you how it works!
- First, fill this cake with buttercream and then frost the outside in a thin, even layer (crumb coat). Place the cake on a turntable, or if you don’t have one a lazy-susan will work also.
- After a quick chill in the refrigerator, cover the cake in a second (thicker!) coat of navy blue buttercream.
- Next, randomly apply dollops of fuchsia, white and navy buttercream to the sides and top of the cake.
- Hold a bench scraper upright against the edge of the cake and turn the cake while you scrape away excess icing. The motion will smear and blur the colors together. Smooth the top of the cake with the bench scraper.
- Use an offset-spatula to level the top edges of the cake. Chill the cake until the frosting is set. The icing will darken to a deep vivid color as it stands, so expect this.
I used a tiny bit of gold leaf on the sides of the cake, which you can apply with your fingers. If the gold leaf doesn’t want to stick, use dots of honey before adding the gold leaf.
The cake batter will be slightly pinkish after adding the blood orange to the mix, but I wanted a more vivid interior. I used equal parts fuchsia gel food color and red gel food color. I felt the color should match the intensity of the cake’s flavor – and it does! This cake has many layers of citrus flavor with blood orange zest, puree and blood orange soda in the batter. It also has an orange-infused soaking syrup that makes the finished cake moist and delectable.
This confection requires several steps, but I think the end result is well worth the effort. It’s a nice weekend baking project that has the added benefit of aromatherapy.
Here are a few quick links to the specialty ingredients used:
Blood Orange Winter Watercolor Cake
- 3 cups 360g all-purpose flour
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup 226g unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups 400g granulated sugar
- 6 egg whites
- Zest of one blood orange
- 2 teaspoons orange extract or blood orange oil
- 1 1/4 cups 300ml blood orange puree (about 2 medium oranges)
- 1 cup 240ml blood orange soda, such as San Pellegrino
- 1 teaspoon no-taste red gel food color
- 1 teaspoon fuchsia gel food color
Orange soaking syrup
- 1/2 cup 100g granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup 120ml water
- 3 tablespoons blood orange liqueur or Grand Marnier
- 1 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar sifted, plus extra for dusting
- 3 teaspoons orange extract
- Milk or cream to thin
- Navy blue gel food color
- Fuchsia gel food color
- No-taste red gel food color
- 1 sheet gold leaf optional
- Organic rose petals washed and dry
- Make the cakes: Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease and flour four 6-inch round baking pans (or three 8-inch pans) or use flour-based baking spray.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the unsalted butter and sugar. Add egg whites one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the orange zest, extract and puree. Mix ingredients until well-combined.
- Beat the flour mixture and soda alternately in three additions, beginning and ending with flour. The batter may look curdled, this is normal. Add food color; mix. Scrape down bowl edges with a rubber spatula and mix again briefly. Add additional color if needed for a vibrant hue. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Let cakes cool for a few minutes before turning them out and placing them on a wire rack. Let cool slightly. Level the tops of the cakes with a serrated knife or cake leveler.
- Make the syrup: Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan until the sugar is melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the syrup from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the liqueur. Stir well. Brush the tops of the cakes with the syrup using a pastry brush. Keep basting the cakes until all of the syrup is used. Let stand for 1 hour, or until the cakes are completely cooled.
- Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream butter and powdered sugar together. Once the ingredients are incorporated, add the extract. Add milk or cream one tablespoon at a time until the frosting is thinned and spreadable. Whip until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Assembly: Fill the cakes with 1/2 cup frosting each and cover the outside of the cake in a thin layer using an off-set spatula. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, divide the frosting and tint it. Place 1/2 cup frosting in a small bowl and add equal portions of fuchsia food color and red food color (about 1/2 teaspoon each); stir well until a consistent color is achieved. Add more color as desired. Cover the bowl of frosting with a damp paper towel so it doesn’t dry out. Remove 1/2 cup of white frosting to a separate bowl; cover with a damp paper towel. Tint the remaining frosting with the navy blue food color. 1 used approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons. Keep in mind the color will darken after the cake is frosted and has time to set.
- Place the cake on a turntable. Cover the cake with a thick layer of navy food color using an offset spatula. Add daubs of the red/fuchsia frosting and the white frosting. Hold a bench scraper upright against the cake and turn the cake so the colors smear together. Level the top of the cake with an offset spatula. Refrigerate the cake until firm, about 30 minutes. (See blog post tutorial for visuals.)
- Add gold leaf to the sides of the cake using your fingers if desired. Scatter top of cake with organic rose petals just before serving.