I am a last-minute baker — a procrasti-baker. As such, I am most likely going to make the least complicated sorts of desserts and baked goods. On the occasions I have my act together, I like to make cakes — and even then, I want them to fit my schedule. At one point, I believe, Mandarin Orange Cake — also known as “Dream Cake” or “Pig Pickin’ Cake” — was made from scratch.
Whether it began its culinary life as a from-scratch cake, or it’s been a prepared box-cake-Cool-Whip creation all its life, is unknown to me; but these days, it’s usually made with mostly processed ingredients. Most of its charm is deeply rooted in the fact that this cake is not for special occasions. It’s a summer cake, a cake to make at the lake house, or cabin, or eaten while sitting in wet swimsuits while wrapped in beach towels. It is the kind of cake that lets your children know you think about them while they are away. It makes your heart feel good to have one on the counter when they walk through the mudroom door. When their eyes light up and a smile crosses their faces, it makes the effort worth it. Make this cake in the morning, after the kids have gone to school or outside to play.
As you might expect, most variations call for a yellow cake mix out of the box. Normally, I would make the cake from scratch, weighing out the sugar and flour and measuring out the leavening. But this time, I went the box route, because I wanted to make the cake gluten-free. I wanted a standardized recipe that would be convenient for everyone, without all the different flours and starches that gluten-free baking usually requires. So I chose to use Bob’s Red Mill Vanilla Cake Mix. It’s been tested, the ingredients list is straightforward, and it makes a great cake. Besides, who didn’t grow up on boxed cake mix? After I chose my cake mix, I still had more battles to pick.
All the recipes I have seen call for Cool Whip, which I didn’t want to use; but I didn’t draw the prepared foods line here, either. Whipped cream icings need to be stabilized to prevent them from weeping — and for me, Dr. Oetker’s Organic Instant Vanilla Pudding Mix is a tried and true way to do this. There are other ways to stabilize whipped cream, such as plain gelatin or the marshmallow method, but I went with vanilla pudding mix for flavor and the little bit of sugar it adds to the frosting. However you choose to make this cake, make this cake. Put it into your repertoire, tweak it, make it yours, and streamline it however you see fit. You will be glad you did. It’s a kid’s cake; let it bring out the kid in you.
1 Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free Vanilla Cake Mix (1 lb. 3 oz. )
1/2 cup mayonnaise (do not use miracle whip)
11 ounces can Mandarin oranges
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract For the frosting 1
6 ounces heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons Dr. Oetker’s Organic Instant Vanilla Pudding mix
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
1 1/2 teaspoon mandarin orange zest or orange zest
1. Heat the oven to 350˚ F. Ignore the ingredients list and instructions on the back of the Vanilla Cake Mix bag.
2. Drain the orange segments into a strainer set over a bowl. Reserve 5 segments to for which to decorate the top of the cake. Measure out the juice. You need a half a cup. If you have less then a half cup add water to make it a 1/2 cup.
3. Combine the orange segments, half a cup of juice, gluten-free flour mix, vanilla, mayonnaise and the eggs in the bowl of a mixer. Using the beaters or the whisk combine the ingredients till smooth. For me it wasn’t as runny as normal cake batter but it wasn’t stiff either.
4. Spilt the batter between two 8 inch cake rounds that have been greased and have a parchment round on the bottom. Bake for 35 minutes or until a tester or toothpick comes out clean. Or, if you will, the cake is firm to the touch when you gently push down on the middle. Remove from the oven. Cool on a rack until completely cool. You could stop here and once the cakes are cool carefully wrap them and let the sit till the next day to ice them.
5. To make the frosting put all the frosting ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk with the whisk attachment until the cream forms stiff peaks being careful not to turn the frosting into a flavored butter.
6. Place one of the layers of cake onto a cake stand and ice the top. Place the other layer onto the top of the icing and ice the rest of the cake. Fan out the 5 segments of orange to make a pinwheel in the center of the cake. Refrigerate or serve.