December 15, 2012

I Promised You Cake

I promised you cake. You can find the emphatic declaration here. And, well... I'm nothing if not good for my word.

As you know, it's been a year since this blog began. Last week I gave a little history on how it came to be and how it really got going. It was heartbreak that spurred this thing on initially, and it's been many other things that have kept it going since. Some bits of romance here and there. Moments of happiness. More sadness in between. And the most important thing of all: sharing experiences and creating community. We've come together through this, and your lovely notes and sweet emails and encouraging texts have kept me coming back. Thank you to all of you who have written to me, and also to my more silent, but diligent, readers. This cake is for you.

I thought we would try a little something different in honor of this one-year mark. A sort of year-in-review, if you will:

For one thing, there has been lots of cake. In one of my more nostalgic posts, there's even been cake on the shores of the Point Reyes National Coastline. I shared that cake with someone close to me and compared it later to sand dunes. We had a good time that day. I even remember reciting a poem. My friend's dog was there, too, yanking her leash and getting herself a muzzle full of sand at every opportunity.

There have been two notable pancake incidents—incidentally, or perhaps not-so-incidentally, following a night of sadness. In the first one, I made a sort of sexual innuendo that involved a reference to the heat from a sizzling, nonstick griddle. (Maybe not one of my finest writing moments here, but much appreciated by a certain friend of mine. M., I'm talking to you.

Recently, I wrote about my sister and how much I miss her. That was a hard post to write, but I was glad to have done it. That post has become a place where I can go when I want to think of and be close to her. I now also associate her with the colors in that first photo—the vibrant purples from that bougainvillea bush and the cool blue light on my old kitchen table.

We’ve also had a bit of success: I discovered one morning, much to my surprise, that my blog had been picked up by the Bon App├ętit website. I celebrated by digging my heels into a couple paralyzing weeks of writer’s block (!!!), followed by happiness and disbelief, followed by more paralysis and writer’s block. I got over it eventually and somehow decided to keep writing.

Then there was meat, the first ever on the blog, and a celebration of all things animalistic and primal. That post also featured my roommate's cat. His name is Chulo. This is another photo from that shoot; a slightly less elegant—but more characteristically Chulo—moment:

In spring, there were strawberries with chamomile cream and a rhubarb clafoutis (or, rather, a Flaugnarde—a divine French custard oozing with roasted rhubarb and cinnamon sugar). I also wrote about someone I never knew in that post: my great-grandfather—the original grower of the rhubarb plants that my mother and I still pick from.

In the summer months, we had cold soup and watermelons with chili salt. Much earlier, in winter, we ate oatmeal with roasted cherries and almonds.

There was also a trip to New York along the way, during which I turned 30 alongside some of my closest friends and in the arms of my beloved city.

There were many other things too: things both written about and omitted, grandiose and insignificant, uplifting and tragic.

It’s been a busy year.

For the first time in a long time… no, for the first time ever, I’ve found a way to track these moments that can also be shared with others. Outside of the pages of a journal, in a slightly more dressed-up form, I’ve written about and noted and made photographs of various events both large and small. I’ve given them over here, to this format, for us to be in together.

It’s a unique experience and one that I am grateful for.


In honor of the occasion, I’ve made us a birthday cake, as promised, to give this blog a proper celebration.

And a celebration cake it is—orange and pistachio yogurt cake, layered high with a grand marnier buttercream, bedecked with candied orange slices… orange slices that have been simmered in a honey syrup fragrant with cardamom.

It really is quite the thing.

It took me a while to figure out what kind of cake I wanted to make. I needed something different for this post—something truly new and celebratory; something that seemed fresh and that could signal a sort of renewed excitement and energy. I saw in my mind a beautiful, creamy white frosting; I tasted citrus on my tongue; and then I built from there.

As a result, the recipe is a sort of amalgam of different sources—sources that have also been heavily tweaked by me. I might even be able to take credit for this thing as being an “original recipe.” It was inspired by many sources, yes, but it is also new and original in its own way.

Here’s to the start of another year—a fresh start; one with an infinite array of possibilities, both terrifying and intoxicating.

For the first time in a long time, I think I’m ready. 

Orange-Pistachio Cake with Grand Marnier Buttercream and Candied Orange Slices

Serves many, many
Inspired by this, this, and this

For the cake (makes two 8-inch round cakes, to be divided into two layers each):

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 cup granulated sugar
6 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (I used Cara Cara oranges)
1 cup canola oil
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup ground pistachios

For the candied orange slices:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup orange blossom honey
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon crushed cardamom pods

For the buttercream frosting:

6 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Bake the cakes:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs until thoroughly mixed. Add the flour, baking powder, orange zest, and a pinch of salt, and stir to combine. Add the oil and stir until the batter comes together and is smooth and silky. Fold in the ground pistachios until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans for 20-30 minutes and then turn out onto a baking rack and allow to cool completely. 

Prepare the candied orange slices:

While the cake is baking, you can prepare the candied orange slices. They are very elegant, but require minimum effort. 

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, and cardamom pods with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and add the orange slices. Stir gently once or twice, and allow to simmer for 40 minutes, or until the orange slices are softened and slightly translucent. Place the orange slices on a baking sheet with parchment until you are ready to use them.

Make the Grand Marnier buttercream frosting

In a large bowl, cream the butter until soft and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar until fully incorporated and no lumps remain. Stir in the Grand Marnier and the orange juice. These measurements can be fiddled with to get the right consistency; for a thicker frosting, add more sugar; if you need to thin the frosting, add juice or liquor. 

Assemble the cake

Once the cakes have cooled completely, you may prepare the layers. Trim the tops of each cake so that you have a relatively flat surface on each. Flip the cakes over so that the cut side is facing down. Then, score each cake about halfway up the side and around the entire cake—the score marks act as your guide for slicing the cake into two even layers. Once the score marks are made, run a large serrated knife through the cake, making sure to keep a steady hand and cut evenly through. Separate the layers, and brush away stray crumbs.

The original bottoms of each cake (with the most even surface) should be used for the top and bottom layers—for the bottom layer, place one of these layers cut side up; for the top layer, this layer should be cut side down. 

Place your first layer on a cake stand or plate. Place strips of parchment paper around the plate and under the first layer of cake to protect the surface of your serving dish. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of frosting onto the first layer, and smooth out evenly, going almost to the edge. Place the next cake layer on top, and repeat this process until you reach the top layer. (I like very thin layers of frosting between each cake layer, so the cake does not become overly sweet.)

Once all four layers are in place, you should thinly frost the entire cake to make a "crumb coat." This first coat seals in the crumbs and will ensure a beautiful, unmarred final frosting. After the crumb coat, frost the entire cake again more thickly using a butter knife. 

Add a few candied orange slices to the top of the cake, right in the middle, and garnish with chopped pistachios, if you wish. 


  1. I'm in love with this one, V. Pistachios and citrus - what a heavenly combo! Lovely, lovely, lovely! - Michelle :)

    1. Thank you, Michelle!! I'm so glad you like it. xo

  2. Hi Vera. This sounds lovely and I am going to give it a try. One of my favourite cakes is lemon, almond and pistachios and I love the sound of your orange version.I also really like using yogurt in cakes.

    1. Thanks Amy. Good luck with it! And let me know if you have any questions. Also, lemon, almond, and pistachio sounds heavenly...