Blogging is hard work you guys. Who knew?
The first thing you think of when you read a food blog is, well, the food. But there’s a lot more that goes into blogging than just making food. You have to be able to sit down and write something, and you want it to be written well enough that someone will want to read it. Being able to write for an audience and have your writing be relatable and engaging is a challenge of it’s own. I definitely don’t want to be responsible for any eye-roll-induced headaches.
You also want to be able to photograph your food, and photograph it well enough that the food will look appealing and will make people want to make it themselves. Beyond having your food look nice in a picture, it should taste great too. I would never want to recommend a recipe I don’t stand behind. I could make a beautiful looking meal that tasted terrible, and no one would know until they tried to make it themselves. But what would be the point of blogging about food that isn’t any good? I want to share recipes with you that you’ll love and that you’ll want to make for your family and friends and keep on file to make again and again in years to come.
There’s also a certain amount of pressure, probably self imposed, but also probably better for the blog, to post unique and original recipes. I’d rather share something interesting, something that gives me bragging rights, than to post a recipe I copied word for word and ingredient for ingredient from someone or somewhere else. Every once in a while a recipe is so good that tweaking would be completely unnecessary, such as the Aunt Sassy Cake that was my very first post, and of course when I find such a recipe I definitely want to share it with you. For the bulk of my posts though, the meat and potatoes if you will, I want to be able to say, “Why yes I did think this up all on my own, thankyouverymuch.”
Over the 15+ years I’ve been cooking, I’ve learned enough to be completely confident toying with recipes to put my own spin on them. I think that most home cooks feel more comfortable making a savory meal their own than changing baking recipes. With a savory meal you can toss in a dash of this, a sprig of that, a splash of this other thing, and if you have a little experience and comfort with it, you’ll usually end up with something good, and sometimes something great. This makes cooking more exciting, and what keeps me wanting to get back in the kitchen to cook for myself and my husband.
When it comes to baking, it gets more complicated. Baking is about formulas and chemical reactions. It’s about math and science. Flour, sugar, leavening, fat & liquid; when combined in the correct proportions, should result in a tasty end product. If you get the ratio wrong though, you can end up with something heavy and flat, or dry, or burnt, or falling apart, or tasteless, or bad tasting. I am no pastry chef, and I won’t claim to be able to come up with a cake recipe from nowhere without needing at least a point of reference. I will say that I’ve been doing this long enough now that I’m comfortable toying with flavors and ingredients in my baking. If I have an idea in my head for a cake with a certain flavor, I try to find a similar recipe that’s tried and true, and tweak it to try to make it my own.
When I dreamed up this cake I was thinking about cold weather, cocktails with friends, and the smells and flavors of the holidays. I was thinking of citrus and spice and a little nip of something to warm you up. I started by finding a recipe for an orange pound cake that I could convert. A bundt cakes tends to be slightly denser than a layer cake, so pound cake recipes usually translate well. Once I found a recipe that I thought would work well, I set to changing a few things to put my twist on it. I wanted to add a layered citrus flavor so I swapped some of the orange zest and juice for lemon. I also wanted a hint of warm homey spice, so I added some cinnamon and clove, some cardamom and bit of ginger for kick.
Well. Sometimes things don’t always work out the way you expect them to. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong, but the first time around, this was a big ol’ failure with a capital FAIL. The flavor of the cake was great, with the perfect levels of citrus and spice, but the cake itself was dry dry dry. Like a loaf of bread. The original recipe called for an orange simple syrup to be brushed on the cake as it came out of the oven. With a flat loaf-shaped pound cake it’s easy to brush on a syrup and let it soak into the cake, but with a bundt the syrup would run down the sloped sides and puddle on the bottom. I skipped the syrup, assuming wrongly that it was added mostly to boost the orange flavor and not needed to add moisture. Beyond being dry, I also thought the cake was just a bit too sweet for my taste, and if I’d used the syrup it would have been even sweeter still.
I knew though, that the idea for the cake was solid, the flavors worked really well together, and the cake was actually really pretty to boot. So, rather than admit defeat and move on, I decided it was time to try, try again. The next evening after work I went back in for another round, zesting and creaming and sifting and mixing. I dialed down the sugar just a touch, and added a bit more liquid, boosting both the citrus juice and the buttermilk for flavor. I also think that while butter adds the best flavor, cakes baked with oil usually end up impossibly moist, so I increased the amount of fat just a bit and swapped some of the butter for oil. I’ve played with this recipe so much now that I consider it completely my own.
Boy did my determination pay off. I was definitely able to fix the dryness issue, and now the cake is perfectly moist with a tender bite. This cake has it all. Good looks. Great flavor. Perfect texture. The total package. The combination of citrus and spice is comforting and somehow nostalgic. Cold weather always makes me want citrus. There’s something familiar and old fashioned about eating oranges shipped from warmer climates when the weather in the northeast is cold and windy. There is a reason that grocery stores start filling up with tangerines right around Christmas. This time of year you can usually start to find citrus married with spice too. Lemon and ginger tea, clove studded oranges, cinnamon sticks and citrus boiled on the stove to potpourri your home. Classic flavors people, now in cake form.
Then we have the whiskey glaze. The flavors of butter and whiskey drizzled over this cake is amazing. They marry incredibly well with the cold weather flavors of the citrus and spices, bringing to mind the flavors of a hot toddy. I used Bulliet rye, because that’s what I had on hand, but it would be amazing with Bourbon too. It’s easy to make, just a simple matter of melting some butter, mixing it with whiskey and whisking in confectioner’s sugar until there are no lumps. I melted the butter in the microwave in a pyrex measuring cup, and mixed the glaze up in the same cup for easy pouring.
The one word of warning is that this glaze is seriously boozey. Three tablespoons of whiskey might not seem like much, but there’s isn’t much else to this so the alcohol is front and center. It isn’t overwhelming since there’s just a small amount of it on each bite, but it definitely is an “adult” addition to this cake. If you want this to be a more family friendly recipe, or if you don’t like whiskey, skip it! A simple citrus glaze would be really great and just as easy- just whisk together some confectioners sugar and orange or lemon juice, maybe some zest too.
So go take some butter and eggs out of the fridge and let them come up to room temperature. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t stop yourself. You know you want to make this cake, so just give in and make it. It’s delicious and perfectly moist, and it has whiskey on top. In a couple hours you’re going to eat this cake, you’re going to eat it real good. Like this:
Spiced Citrus Bundt Cake with Buttered Whiskey Glaze
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Buttered Whiskey Glaze (optional):
3 tablespoons good whiskey
3 tablespoon melted butter
1 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 10-12 cup bundt pan.
With the paddle attachment in an electric mixer, mix your citrus zests and sugar together on low for 3 minutes, or until the sugar is golden yellow and you can smell the citrus from across your kitchen. Add the soft butter and cream with the sugar for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. On low speed, add the oil and then the eggs, one at a time, until just combined.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In another bowl, combine the orange and lemon juices, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour batter into pan and tap on the counter to even the batter and remove air bubbles. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool for an hour or more before turning out onto a cooling rack. To make the glaze mix the melted butter and whiskey together in a small bowl. Whisk in confectioner’s sugar and continue to whisk until combined and free of lumps. If too thick, you can add a few more drops of whiskey to thin it for easy pouring. Pour over the top of the completely cooled cake and allow the glaze to dry before serving.