When I was pregnant with my son over six years ago, I started watching cooking shows regularly as a way to relax and take my mind off of work. Since then, I've been hooked and it is practically the only thing I watch on TV now. I DVR my favorite shows and catch up at night and on weekends.
The other night, I was watching a new show called Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel. It features actress, Debi Mazar, and her Italian husband, Gabriele Corcos, who shares a bunch of his Tuscan recipes. It's a neat show and I've already seen a few things I could see myself making. But what really caught my eye that night was this orange sponge cake, called "Schiacciata alla Fiorentina", which I learned is a Florentine Easter cake or a cake typically made for carnival in Tuscany. It is supposed to be spongy, light, and not too sweet. Not only did it sound great but I had all the ingredients to make the cake except for an orange. I couldn't wait to get that orange the next morning and try it!
It always amazes me what we can bake with a handful of ingredients that we can use over and over again in different recipes. In this instance, the result was a light, airy sponge cake with nice orange flavor. Not too heavy, this is a great option when you want something lighter than chocolate (although, I have to mention that orange and chocolate are sooo awesome together). I would make this for someone like my sister, who isn't into very rich, heavy desserts.
Orange as well as lemon/lime zest are powerful things. Chefs are always telling us this on TV and I can attest to it from practical experience. The natural oils provide such a strong flavor and aroma. In general, I would zest the citrus right on top of the bowl that I'm mixing the batter in so that I capture all the natural oils from the skin.
This recipe is very simple, essentially using the zest and juice of one orange, some warm milk (it's important for the milk to be warm so it melts the sugar), eggs, flour, sugar, and a modest amount of oil. This is simply mixed together for about 3-4 minutes to thoroughly combine. I love recipes that use vegetable oil instead of butter. I think it results in a moister cake and we cut down on some of the saturated fat.
I love how you can see the specks of orange zest running through the pale yellow batter.
This is how it looks out of the oven. The cake rises slightly and once cooled, a little powder sugar finishes it out.
I would mention that if you cover the cake overnight, the powder sugar will "melt" by the next day. It becomes a sticky, shiny glaze, which isn't half bad. But since I think the cake tastes best the day it's baked (like most things...although this is still quite good a few days later), maybe it's best just to try to finish it?
Sometimes I try to doll things up a little for my son to make it a teeny bit more special. But maybe it's because he's a boy, he is rarely all that impressed or moved by it. I'll keep trying.
You can find the recipe for this orange sponge cake, or Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina, here.