This cake absolutely explodes with orange flavor. There’s zest and fresh juice in the cake and the buttercream and a layer of white chocolate orange ganache is set in the center. All together this cake is reminiscent of an orange creamsicle.
I blame the glowing reviews for these orange muffins for this cake. I saw how much readers were enjoying those and got the idea to do a cake, a very grand cake (!) that would hopefully be similarly enjoyed by all orange lovers. And truthfully, I’ve always wanted to create a cake that was an ode to my favorite mall drink .
Please note, this cake is not shy about it’s orange-iness. There’s orange in every part of it and in a big way. If you need to break it up, perhaps try a plain vanilla buttercream, a cream cheese buttercream and maybe skip the ganache. But if you’re all in for orange, then you’re in for quite the treat.
Ingredients for Orange Layer Cake
Oranges: Any orange will do! You’ll be using the zest and the juice all over. Blood oranges, cara cara and navel oranges all will do. How many oranges you need will depend on how big and juicy they are. I used 5 blood oranges total for mine, but blood oranges are a little smaller than cara caras and navels.
Cake flour: Cake flour is finely ground, made out of a softer wheat than ap flour and has added cornstarch – all qualities that lead to a fluffier, more tender cake. You may use a low-protein all purpose flour if you absolutely cannot find cake flour.
Butter: Should be soft but not overly so. Take it out of the fridge an hour before you plan to bake the cake layers and/or make the buttercream. If you are using salted, omit the salt in the recipe or just add a pinch.
Eggs: Large. Place them in a bowl of warm water right before you begin baking to bring them to room temperature.
Powdered sugar: This is for the buttercream; I prefer powdered sugar made with tapioca not cornstarch because it tastes better.
Vanilla: This is the kind of cake where you’ll want a good quality vanilla; it’ll really round out the cake flavors.
White chocolate: For the white chocolate orange ganache. Avoid baking chips and look for a white chocolate that lists cocoa butter as an ingredient.
Buttermilk: For a fluffy, tender cake. Please note that vinegar/lemon and milk are not a perfect substitute for buttermilk (the mix is less creamy and is more acidic). Use kefir or thinned out sour cream.
How to Make Orange Layer Cake
We want a really fluffy batter from this cake so the butter, eggs and even the buttermilk are best brought to room temperature before baking.
Like I do in the buttercream below, I’ll beat the orange zest into the butter first, then add the vanilla and salt. Once you add the sugar, give it a good 5 minutes of beating with the paddle attachment. Scrape down as needed until you have a fully creamed sugar and butter mixture.
Eggs go in one at a time, make sure the yolk ‘disappears’ into the batter before adding another. Scrape down to make sure that it’s all getting well-mixed.
Cake flour is often quite lumpy as you can see in the photos and we really do want a super fluffy cake so sifting is a must. So that the flour doesn’t fly out of the mixer when you turn it on, use a rubber spatula to fold it in a bit (third photo) before you put it back under the mix of the paddle attachment.
The buttermilk & orange juice can go in together, just pour it in and turn the mixer on medium low and let it go until the batter is perfectly smooth. You may need to scrape down here.
The cakes bake on a lower temperature so that they don’t dome too much on top. They’re done when you can press the top of the cake with your finger and it springs back. Or use a cake tester.
In the third photo you can see melted white chocolate and orange juice, this is for the ganache. Get to that step when the cakes have cooled and the buttercream is ready for frosting.
I often make my buttercreams before I make the cake; doing so helps the flavor develop more and lets the air bubbles in the beaten buttercream settle.
Zesting the orange right into the butter then beating it in, is another trick to bringing out the orange flavor. I usually add the salt and vanilla in this step too; for the same reason.
Once the sugar goes in beat until combined, it should be thick. Adding fresh OJ will smooth it out. Toward the end of mixing, use a rubber spatula to stir it which will help get out those air bubbles so you can have a wonderfully creamy buttercream. Store it in an airtight container so it doesn’t crust.
In the third photo above you can see a thick border of buttercream piped around the top of first layer of the cake, this is to keep the ganache from spilling out. Once the ganache firms up in the fridge it’s not a concern but it’s quite loose at first.
And once that’s done you’ll be able to finish frosting!
Sam, I notice your cake is a little… green…?
Totally normal. I made my cake with blood oranges which is why my buttercream has a lovely peach hue to it. In the cake, the red juice reacted with the baking soda as it baked and turned it a very light shade of yellowish green.
About those decorations… The flowers are real chamomile flowers. I had a little extra buttercream so I colored it orange and green then piped on what I thought looked like little oranges (my family insisted they looked like carrots, which is funny because that’s exactly the design that inspired this) and the ‘roses’ are made of orange peel (my favorite part!). I used a peeler, dragging it around the whole orange and then coiled it. Simple but cute!
Can I halve this recipe to make a smaller orange layer cake?
If you’re halving the recipe bake it in two 5 or 6″ round tins. 6″ tins will yield slightly flatter layers but you’ll still have a thick layer of ganache in between. Check the cakes after about 30 minutes in the oven.
I’d like to skip the ganache, should I make more buttercream?
Yup, just increase the buttercream by 25%.
How best to store the cake?
In an airtight container.
Orange Layer Cake
- 2 8" round cake tins metal
- stand mixer or hand mixer
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 226g
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 vanilla bean
- 3 cups powdered sugar organic is preferable
- 3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 226g
- zest of 2 oranges
- 2 cups granulated sugar 440g
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups cake flour 375g
- 1/2 tsps baking powder
- 1/2 tsps baking soda
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice 125g
- 3/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature 185g
- 250g white chocolate, chopped
- 60g fresh orange juice
For the Orange Buttercream
- Beat the butter, vanilla, salt and orange zest together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and beat until combined. Add the orange juice, one tablespoon at a time until you have a smooth buttercream - you may need more or less than what’s specified. This can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
For the Orange Cake Layers
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease and flour two 8” cake pans.
- Set the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then zest the orange over the butter and turn the mixer on. Pour in the sugar and beat until creamed, very light and fluffy, about 5 full minutes.
- Add the salt and vanilla and beat to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each to be almost fully combined before adding another. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl and ensure everything is well mixed.
- Sift in the cake flour with the baking soda and powder then use the rubber spatula to fold it in gently. Turn the mixer on low and slowly pour in the buttermilk and orange juice. Mix to combine.
- Divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean or you can press the top and it bounces back. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes then set on a cooling rack. If the cakes have a light dome, use a serrated bread knife to slice them off. Let cool completely.
For the Orange Ganache
- Melt the white chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds. When it’s mostly melted, stir until glossy. Add the orange juice and stir to combine.
To Build the Cake
- Pipe a ring of buttercream around one of the cake layers (it should be face-up) and pour the ganache in. Even it out so it’s in one layer. Chill this in the fridge so the ganache can set, just 10 minutes should do it. Place the second cake layer on top (face down) then use the rest of the buttercream to frost the cake.