Partially motivated by memories of orange cake , I wanted to redo the cake part of that recipe because the batter and cake is SO good – it’s fluffy and orange-y and has just the right bright flavor to make you feel like you’re eating a creamsicle in cupcake form.
But also, back when I did a brief stint in selling baked goods I would get asked for orange cake by two of my neighbors whenever they had an event and it struck me that while it’s not a popular flavor, it should be!
Finely milled with a very low protein content (so will have less gluten development) and made from one of the softer wheats. This flour also has cornstarch added to it, done to prevent it from caking (heh) but cornstarch also has the benefit of adding to that very light, airy crumb.
If you don’t have it (or don’t want to buy) all purpose flour is a fine substitute: just swap one tablespoon of the ap flour with one tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of flour used.
Really any orange will work in this recipe: navel, cara cara or blood oranges. Get as much zest from it as you can (I’d use two if the oranges were smaller, and one of it was large).
Acidic and creamy, buttermilk does something lovely to cakes: keeping the chemistry levels balanced while also adding to the richness of the baked good in taste and texture.
I personally do not like the oft suggested substitution of using lemon/vinegar and milk as this can make it too acidic and there just isn’t enough ‘cream’ in it.
Better substitutes for buttermilk would be kefir (some of the flavored ones are very nice) or to thin out some yogurt with water.
Because it’ll be used in a buttercream, it’s best to use a full fat cream cheese. Lower fat cream cheeses are softer (there’s water added to them in place of the fat) which will give you an overly soft frosting that will run and slouch off the cupcakes.
Fine Sea Salt
If using table salt, use half of the salt recommended below.
Except in cases where funfetti is requested, I always implore to use a pure vanilla extract. However, with that creamsicle flavor in mind, I think an imitation vanilla could work here. Bear in mind the resulting cupcake will taste a little artificial and quite sweet!
What orange to use to make orange cake batter
I did say earlier any orange is good, however I do want you to know that there is a chance your batter will look a tad ‘green’ after baking if you use darker blood oranges (this is because of the baking soda reacting with the acid). I don’t mind this personally (especially when it turns the buttercream a pale peach!) but if it bothers you, you might want to use navel or cara cara.
Infusing orange flavor into the batter
I tend to rub the freshly zested orange into the sugar between my fingers before whipping it with the batter, this helps release some of the oils and imparts more flavor into the batter.
And for the juice needed, always use freshly juiced oranges: juice right before adding to the batter. This will give you better flavor.
Room temperature ingredients
Butter can be softened with a quick stint in the microwave (15 seconds at most) but it’s probably better to just take it out of the fridge an hour before baking.
Cream cheese tends to go from: cold and impossible to overly soft bordering on melty within hours. I like to take this out about 2 hours before using it (especially in the winter) but if your kitchen is quite warm you might only need one hour.
You might be tempted to hasten this warming process along but don’t put cream cheese in the microwave, it will begin to melt. You might try setting it under an upside down bowl that has been warmed.
Start and end with a rubber spatula
Once the cream cheese is soft, set it in the bowl you’ll use to make the frosting and use the back of a rubber spatula (or wooden spoon) to smush it against the sides of the bowl. This helps get those pesky lumps out.
Do this again, after you’ve added the butter to the mix and beaten it for a bit – looking for those lumps and pressing them out.
Start with no more than a quarter cup at a time, to avoid the frosting getting overly sweet.
This is probably the best way to get a cream cheese frosting to the right consistency: consider that the butter and cream cheese are quite warm after being outside the fridge and beaten with the sugar but a quick stint in the fridge will firm them up.
Leave it in for an hour, and stir it so that the cooler edges mix with the warmer centers – this will give you a good read on whether or not it’s ready to go on the cupcakes.
Once you’ve made the frosting you can store it in the fridge for a few days (in an airtight container).
Share & tag me on instagram @buttermilkbysam