I Baked a Vintage Orange Cake—Here’s What I Thought

Attention all orange lovers: This old-school orange layer cake is a celebration of citrus—complete with orange cake, orange icing and oranges on top.

There’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned cake. Sure, it’s easy to buy a prepared mix—these cake mixes taste homemade—but there’s a beauty in leafing through tattered cookbooks and finding recipes riddled with near-forgotten ingredients and techniques.

I went digging for a recipe that was truly vintage. An orange layer cake recipe, originally published in The Cook’s Book: KC Baking Powder back in 1933, fit the bill. Classic traits like adding egg yolk and white separately, plus plenty of zesty orange flavor give it that old-school flair you’d only find in Grandma’s recipes.

Vintage Orange Cake Recipe

Maggie Naglich / Taste of Home

For the Cake:

  • 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • ½ cup orange juice (the juice of about 1 orange) (Here’s how to juice fruit the easy way!)
  • Grated rind of one orange
  • ½ cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup milk, at room temperature

For the Filling:

  • 1 cup of orange juice (about 2 oranges)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about ½ a lemon)
  • ⅔ cup of sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Garnish

  • Peeled orange slices

Initial Thoughts

The ingredients listed differ slightly from the original recipe. The 1930s version calls for pastry flour. Pastry flour is not commonly used today; it has a protein content between all-purpose (high protein content) and cake flour (low protein content). Blending these two more common, and much less expensive, flours in a 2:1 ratio replicates the effect of using pastry flour. Are you using the right flour for your recipe? Find out.

Step 1: Cream the Butter and Sugar

First, the recipe calls to cream the butter and sugar—which simply means to combine them together really really well. While I was doing this with my hand mixer, all I could think about is women in the 1930s beating by HAND. Talk about a workout before your dessert.

Next, I added the grated orange rind and juice.

Pro tip: Be sure that your OJ is at room temperature before combining with other ingredients. If it’s too cold it could cause the butter added in the next step to seize.

Step 2: Add the Milk, Flour and Eggs

I then added the lightly beaten egg yolks and beat the mixture until just combined. After that came the milk and well-sifted flour (we love this sifter!) in an alternating fashion, beating in between. The recipe specified to save the beaten egg whites for last. I combined all of the ingredients until they were evenly distributed.

Pro tip: The acidity of the orange juice and orange rind may cause the batter to curdle. Don’t worry! If you keep whipping, everything will come back together in a luxurious thick batter.

Step 3: Bake

The recipe suggests baking in three layer cake pans. I found that my 6-inch set worked great for a super-tall display. Like most vintage recipes, there was no mention of baking time or temperature, so I placed it in the oven at 350° for about 20 minutes—waiting until a toothpick inserted in the center came out clean. When the cakes were finished, I let them cool down on a wire rack while I started the filling.

Pro tip: If you wanted to do three standard 9- or 10-inch layers I would make a one-and-a-half-times recipe.

Step 4: Make the Orange Filling

To make the sweet, citrusy filling that really makes this orange cake shine, I started by heating the orange juice and lemon with half of the sugar on direct heat. (The original recipe called for a double boiler, but I found that to be too fickle.) Once hot, I added the cornstarch and a little water and cooked for 10 minutes longer.

Next came the egg mixed with the remaining sugar. I stirred this until the mixture started to thicken. Finally, I added the butter and salt. I let the delicious orange filling cool out a bit in a covered bowl in the fridge.

Maggie Naglich / Taste of Home

Step 5: Stack ‘Em Up

Once the cake and filling were cold, it was time for the fun part; Assembly! I was excited to see the layers of this cake come together. However, to keep your own bake from toppling over, don’t forget to level each layer before you stack your showstopper. Here’s the best method to keep your cakes standing straight and tall.

After leveling, I spread the filling between each layer and on the top of the cake. Then I topped it off with the bright oranges I had segmented earlier.

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The Outcome

One of my favorite things about vintage recipes is that they go heavy on the eggs. This cake not only picks up a rich yellow color from four whole egg yolks but it also has a dense crumb and velvety texture. The cake keeps from being too heavy because of those whipped egg whites which make it tender—and the zippy tang of the orange filling really lightens things up.

After such a success with this cake, I can’t wait to go digging through more recipes from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Here are more than 50 recipes from the ’50s to get you started on your own historical baking adventure.

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Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.