I am the first to admit that I am not a happy baker.
Baking is too precise. All that measuring just so. Plus I don’t really like cake; I’m a fruit-pie girl. And don’t get me started on trying to figure out high-altitude adjustments. (Boulder stands at 5,300 feet above sea level — enough to make muffins cry.)
But when I saw this January 2015 cover of Sunset magazine, I felt an irresistible urge. I had to make this Corn Flour and Orange Blossom Chiffon Cake.
My “you’re not a baker” voice tried to talk me out of it. “Are you crazy? It’ll never work. And the ingredient list calls for orange water. Good luck finding that, and I’m sure it’s ridiculously expensive.”
“You’re probably right,” I sighed. “Forget it. Nutty idea.”
But the urge wouldn’t go away. I can’t explain it — maybe it sprung from my new sense of freedom as I transition out of my 16-year tenure at Delicious Living. Maybe it was the fact that it was holiday time, a special cooking time if there ever is one. And bonus: The recipe is gluten free, and with my GF adult kids at home, it meant Dave and I wouldn’t have to eat the whole thing by ourselves.
And the orange water? The very next day, I accompanied my daughter-in-law to the Savory Spice Shop in downtown Boulder, looking for her favorite taco seasoning … and what should I see but a bottle of orange water that cost a measly $3.
“Wait!” cried the naysaying voice. “You’ll never use a whole bottle of that stuff. Wasteful!”
But then I read the label, which said that orange water is great in cocktails. “I’ll take it,” I said.
Next thing I knew, all ingredients, pans, and food processor were assembled in my kitchen, and my New Year’s Eve dessert was underway.
First: I read the recipe carefully. That always works. Then I made sure nothing was missing: check, check, check. (For the “flavorless vegetable oil” called for in the recipe, I used refined coconut oil — a healthier choice.)
Per instructions, I started with the candied orange peel, a chance to use my nifty cocktail-curl maker.
After those were done and cooling in the fridge, I mixed together the dry ingredients and beat the egg whites to stiff-but-not-dry perfection …
… and carefully folded them into the dry mixture before I realized that I’d left out the quarter-cup of sugar that was supposed to go into the egg whites. (You can see it sitting there in the photo above.)
“See,” said the voice. “Disaster. You hate baking.”
But then I remembered something: I’ve found that cutting back sugar just a little bit almost always makes a recipe better, not worse. I wasn’t sure whether the missing sugar would mess with the baking chemistry, but what the hell — I just kept going.
Once the cake was in the oven, I made the glaze, which would be drizzled into the finished cake. Fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice, honey, and the orange water — which smells like orange-blossom perfume. (Orange water is not the same as orange extract; it’s made with actual flowers.)
When the cake came out of the oven, I used a wooden skewer to poke holes all over it and to loosen the sides and center from the pan; then I poured in the juice-honey mixture.
Once cooled, I transferred the cake to a plate, whipped up the topping (using heavy cream and plain Greek yogurt instead of creme fraiche), draped the candied orange peel on top (OK, mine didn’t look nearly as good as the Sunset photo), and voilà!
Wow, it tasted good — like moist, floral, cakey cornbread, perfectly balanced with the slightly tart, citrusy cream on top. And that overlooked quarter cup of sugar? Completely not missed; in fact I’d leave it out again.
“Well, fine,” said the voice in a last-ditch defeatist attempt. “But it didn’t rise nearly as much as in the picture. And your orange-peel garnishes look like slimy, limp worms.”
“Hush,” I said. “Just eat.”