I get really annoyed when I start on a book which sounds eminently interesting, only to find it is a sequel. It is like going to a party the morning after for brunch. Sure, brunch is good, but I wanted in on all the excitement of the evening before and not pretend to be mildly amused at all the little inside jokes – “you had to be there” and “you should have seen…!”
In short, I feel left out.
Therefore, before you read further, please read this.
So the next day, a cheery if a little warm Sunday, I set out to buy all the ingredients for the layered hummingbird cake. My favorite store yielded everything I needed – the nuts, the can of pineapple, even the bananas at the right level of ripeness for baking – except the cream cheese. They never stock it anyway so there was no reason to lose heart. There was another store down the road which almost always has it. Except, of course, you guessed it, they did not. So onward to another store, a bit further off, the personnel of which seemed rather miffed to be disturbed out of their Sunday somnolence. By this point, the day had stopped being cheery and was merely warm. So I ditched all the hummingandsingingbird plans and bought oranges instead. Triumphant, I returned, only to realize an hour later that, of course, I did not have enough chocolate to go both inside and on top of the cake. A few distinctly unladylike swear words later – because I am still unsure of my ganache making skills and besides who wants to spend the entire week eating fruit salad – it was decided we shall go with orange cake with chocolate chunks but without chocolate ganache.
Now I may never know how this tastes with ganache, but I will attest to the fact that this cake, the way I made it, is stop-in-your-tracks-holy-moly-guacamole-are-you-kidding-me good. The crisp crust, the moistness and the fresh orange tang, the little bits of chocolate, only a few of the reasons you should go get oranges now. For me, there were three additional bonuses:
1) I used the zester. If you don’t find zesting heaps of fun, honestly go see a shrink
2) The first time I experimented with buttermilk. And not the last time. We live and learn
3) The bundt pan was inaugurated. The beautiful little thud with which the cake says goodbye to the pan – highly addictive.
I made the buttermilk at home and grated chocolate all over. Ate a slice and left for the stand-up comedy show. The husband gracefully took me out and lots of drinks, fried potatoes and quite a few laughs later, this tasted even better.
My recipe was a mix of Smitten Kitchen and Barefoot Contessa’s. I went with proportions that felt right and am glad I did. Since my bundt pan is an 8 inch, I halved Deb’s recipe but went with the entire amount of orange juice for the syrup.
To begin, get the buttermilk going by adding a little over a teaspoon of lemon juice to a little under a half cup of whole milk. I microwaved the milk (straight from the fridge) for about 15 seconds before adding the lemon. Ten minutes later, it will look slightly curdled.
Meanwhile zest two large oranges (two and a half normal oranges) for about 1/8 cup of orange zest. Squeeze out 3/8 cup of orange juice, keeping ¼ cup aside for the syrup topping and 1/8 cup for the cake. Complicated? Baking is a crash course in fractions.
Cream together 113 gm of butter with 1 cup of sugar, till light and fluffy (about five minutes). Add three eggs, one at a time, and then the orange zest.
While the mixer is doing its thing, sift 1 and ½ cups of AP flour with ¼ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp baking soda and ½ tsp salt. Chop a little over 200 gm of chocolate to yield 1 cup of chunks, and toss them in a tbsp of flour. In a bowl, mix the orange juice, buttermilk and ½ tsp vanilla.
Add the flour mix and liquids to the mixer, alternating (flour-liquid-flour-liquid-flour). Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl between additions. Add the chocolate.
Pour the batter into a greased-and-floured pan. Mine did not gracefully pour, I had to sort of coax it into the pan. Smooth the top and bake in a pre-heated oven for about 50 minutes at 175 degree. Test it at the 45 minute mark, mine needed another 10 minutes.
Heat the ¼ cup of juice with ¼ cup of icing (confectioner’s) sugar, till the sugar dissolves. Once the cake has cooled down (ten minutes out of the oven), take it out of the pan and spoon the orange syrup over it.
I grated left over chocolate bits over it. If possible, it tasted better the next day. I stored it covered at room temperature. It dried out slightly by the third day which strangely, I liked even more.
Later in the week, I had another ingredients hunt, courtesy my 40-something-chemistry tutor friend, who needed mini burger buns and a particular brand of frozen corn and cheese nuggets for dishing out 30 burgers for her daughter’s class party to be sent off at 6 AM in the morning. I, of course, faithfully checked everywhere for the cream cheese.