Happy Birthday Cakes: Orange Cake with Pecans and Orange Mint Buttercream

Homemade cake is always better with a few herbs.

| October/November 1998

Serves 10 to 12

I always look forward to the fresh crop of citrus and dried fruits and nuts in the autumn. In this rich cake, tangerines may substitute for oranges and dried cranberries work just as well as the dried cherries. The leaves of the red-flowered bee balm Monarda didyma with their tealike flavor may be used in place of orange mint. Other monardas taste like oregano, not the flavor you want in this cake.

• 2 cup dried cherries (3 ounces)
• 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
• 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
• 1/2 cup cake flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/4 cups sugar
• 4 eggs
• 1 1/2 cups milk steeped with 1 cup chopped fresh orange mint leaves
• 2/3 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped and tossed with 2 teaspoons flour
• 2 tablespoons orange zest, finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with a circle of waxed paper, and dust lightly with flour. Soak the dried cherries in the orange juice. Sift the flours, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whip the butter with an electric mixer for a minute. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Strain the orange juice from the cherries into the butter mixture, reserving the cherries.

3. Measure 1 cup of the mint milk for the cake batter, reserving the remainder for the buttercream. Add the flour to the butter mixture in thirds alternately with the milk in two parts. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Fold in the cherries, nuts, and zest.

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