This cake reminds me of church potlucks and summertime, of Sunday meals at Grandma’s and vacations at the beach. This old-fashioned cake is light and sponge-like in texture with a great soft crumb and so easy to make. As if that wasn’t enough, an orange syrup is drizzled over the warm cake and frosted with a delicious orange buttercream frosting! How amazing is that? If you love citrus as much as I do, you’ll love this Old-Fashioned Orange Buttercream Cake!
This recipe feeds a crowd, but you can easily cut the recipe in half and bake it in a 9X13 baking pan. The recipe below is the full version for an 11X16X2 sheet pan or three 8-inch round cake pans. This size was perfect to cut out cake letters for my Mother’s Day brunch. If you’re interested, you can see how I made my MOM Mini Letter Cakes for Mother’s Day.
HERE’S HOW I MADE IT
Grease and flour the baking pan, position the oven rack in the center and preheat the oven to 350°F. Measure out all the ingredients and have everything ready to go. Sift three heaping cups of flour and set aside in a bowl. Later on you’ll measure one cup of flour at a time and sift it right over the mixing bowl so keep the fine sieve handy. This step will ensure you have the right amount of flour and that it won’t clump up.
Tip: All great southern recipes call for White Lily flour. White Lily is milled from soft winter wheat and always produces a light and delicious crumb. Soft winter wheat is low in protein and gluten. If you can’t find it at your local grocery store, Amazon and Walmart carry it.
Whip 2 cups of very cold, heavy whipping cream to soft peaks. Be careful not to over whip or you’ll end up with butter. If that happens, you’ll need to start over. Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat just to combined.
Scrape down the sides and add in the vanilla paste (or vanilla extract) and butter emulsion then mix to combine. Add one egg at a time just until incorporated, scraping down the sides with a spatula after each addition.
Note: Professional bakers use emulsions over extracts. I used LorAnn’s Buttery Sweet Dough emulsion in this recipe. Michael’s carries them and you can also find at LorAnn’s or Amazon.
Measure one cup at a time of the pre-sifted flour and sift it again directly into the bowl, over the wet ingredients. Mix with the electric mixer just until combined and scrape the sides of the bowl as you go. Do this for the first two cups. When you sift the last cup of flour, use a spatula to fold it in. You’ll be less likely to overwork the gluten in the flour when folding in with a spatula. Make sure all the ingredients have been well combined and you don’t have any streaks of flour in the batter.
Note: Adding too much flour will make your cakes dense. Sifting ensures the flour isn’t compacted and it also removes any clumps that won’t blend well.
Dump the batter into the prepared baking sheet and spread evenly. Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes, checking at 25 minutes. My cake was done at 25 minutes, but each oven is different. The cake should be golden and spring back when you touch it. You can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. If the toothpick is clean, the cake is done and if the toothpick is wet, the cake needs a little longer in the oven.
Note: If your oven has a hot spot and bakes unevenly, you may want to rotate the baking sheet half-way through the baking time.
While the cake is baking, make the orange syrup drizzle and the buttercream frosting. Zest the orange first because you’ll be using the zest in the frosting, then juice the orange for the syrup.
To make the orange syrup drizzle, in a small pot combine and bring to a strong simmer the juice of a navel orange, a tablespoon of light corn syrup and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Since this has a high sugar content, you don’t want to bring to a boil. Simply heat through and stir constantly until sugar has dissolved then remove from the heat. Optional: If adding Grand Marnier, add to the syrup after it’s been removed from the heat.
When the cake comes out of the oven, drizzle the orange syrup evenly over the cake with a silicone pastry brush or spoon. Make sure you get the corners too. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.
To make the orange buttercream frosting, cream a stick of unsalted, room temperature butter for about 7 minutes until the butter is light in color and creamy in texture. While the butter is being creamed, sift 4 cups of powdered sugar and set aside. Add the orange zest, a small pinch of salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla paste or vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon orange extract to the butter and mix to combine. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time and scrape down the sides after each cup. Add 2-3 tablespoons of whole milk, depending on the consistency you prefer, until combined. When all the ingredients have been combined and the sides scraped down, beat on high for a few minutes.
You can’t see the missing corner of the cake, but someone in my house decided to cut a small piece out, as if I would not notice. I frosted the cake while it was slightly warm because they were just begging for a warm slice. I know I shouldn’t have done this, but remember I was making this large sheet cake to cut out letters, so this cake isn’t pretty or decorated, but it’s darn delicious! After the family ate their warm cake, I placed the tray in the refrigerator to cool overnight. The next day I cut out my MOM letters.
Note: I lined the baking sheet with parchment paper because I wanted to “lift” the letters without breaking up the cake. The parchment lifted beautifully and it worked as intended. If you’re just making a sheet cake, you don’t need to line it with parchment paper – just make sure you grease and flour the pan for easy release.
Had I been decorating the sheet cake, I would have spread the frosting with an off set spatula, sprinkled with some extra orange zested and maybe some sprinkles. Nothing fancy, just a simple yet satisfying any-time-of-the-day-dessert!
Note: The image below is so terrible, I should make another one just to get a better picture! Wink, wink.
The sheet cake above was so terrible, I made half a recipe in a 9X13 sheet cake and decorated with orange zest and a few sprinkles. We love to double stack the squares for a two-layer bite! Enjoy.
This recipe is slightly adapted from Phyllis Stokes’s Aunt Marie’s Orange Cake. Aunt Marie made this for the church’s Christmas party. It was such a hit, Phyllis asked her for the recipe. You can check Phyllis’s recipes on YouTube or SouthernFrugal.com. Phyllis passed away Jan 2020, but her YouTube channel is a treasury of southern recipes and home cooking.
Old-Fashioned Orange Buttercream Cake
A perfect sweet bite! This orange cake has a soft crumb and is very moist. Perfect for a large crowd or a three layer cake. This is a cake like grandma used to make!
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream, very cold
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ teaspoons butter emulsion prefer LorAnn's brand
- 4 extra large eggs, room temperature like Eggland's Best or your favorite brand
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted and measured prefer White Lily brand
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt prefer Diamond brand
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
ORANGE SYRUP DRIZZLE
- juice of 1 large navel orange zest first, then juice
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup like Karo brand
- 1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier, optional
ORANGE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
- 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick) prefer Plugra or Kerrygold butter
- zest of 1 navel orange zest from orange mentioned above
- small pinch of kosher salt prefer Diamond kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon orange extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2-3 Tablespoons whole milk
Preheat oven to 350°F and place oven rack in the center. Grease and flour baking sheet or round cake pans and set aside. Sift the flour (batter) and powdered sugar (frosting) and set aside.
Note: If making a 9X13 pan, reduce recipe by half.
In a stand alone mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand held electric mixer, whip the heavy whipping cream until soft peaks.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the granulated sugar. Scrape down the sides and add the vanilla paste or extract and butter emulsion. Mix to combine.
Beat in one egg at a time until all four eggs have been incorporated.
Add in the flour one cup at a time. Sift the cup of flour over the mixing bowl and mix just until combined with the mixer on low speed. Do this for the first two cups. Add kosher salt and sift the baking powder over the mixing bowl and mix until combined. Sift the last cup of flour over the mixing bowl, then fold in the remaining flour with a spatula.
Bake for about 30 minutes, check at 25 minutes by inserting a toothpick in the center.
Remove from the oven and evenly drizzle the Orange Syrup (recipe below). Allow to cool completely before frosting.
ORANGE SYRUP DRIZZLE
In a small pot over medium heat, bring to a strong simmer the orange juice, granulated sugar and light corn syrup. Stir to dissolve the sugar and prevent the orange juice from burning. After a few minutes, remove from heat. Optional: add Grand Marnier.
ORANGE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
While the cake is baking, make the buttercream frosting. Cream the butter for about 7 minutes until light in color and creamy in texture. Start on low speed then beat on high to make light and airy.
Add the orange zest, small pinch of salt, vanilla paste or vanilla extract and orange extract. Mix to combine on low speed.
Add a cup of powdered sugar at a time and mix on low speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl after each cup. Slowly add the whole milk until the frosting is of desired consistency. Start with 2 Tablespoon, then add the third if needed. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Once all the ingredients have been combined, beat on high speed for a few minutes.
Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting or the frosting will melt into the cake. Dollop the buttercream on the sheet cake then spread with an offset spatula. Decorate with sprinkles, as desired. Enjoy!
This recipe is slight adapted from Phyllis Stokes’s Aunt Marie’s Orange Buttercream Cake.
Note: I doubled the frosting recipe to decorate the M O M mini cakes for Mother’s Day.