Here is an old family favorite recipe, over 60 years old. My mother-in-law Seeta baked this moist orange walnut cake for every family birthday after she discovered the recipe in the US when they lived here for a while in the 1950s. This was my husband Raj’s favorite cake and I baked it for him on his birthdays. Raj remembered her making it in Haiti when they lived there for a while. No other cake came close to this one for him–and the memories it brought home of a simply happy childhood.
There is no icing. Studded with walnuts and raisins and moistened with an intense fresh-tasting orange syrup, Seeta’s orange walnut cake stands by itself, unadorned, bringing home a bygone simplicity that focused on flavors–no one plated and decorated food.
The small town in which Raj’s family lived in India had no bakeries at that time and cake was hardly eaten. I do not recall anyone having an oven. So Seeta baked at home, not much but at least this cake, and the mystery of how she did it remains unsolved. As more family members asked for the recipe and I was the only one who had it, I thought it worth sharing with everyone though we have no other egg recipes here. The extended family discovered the cake when I had baked two as a surprise for my brother-in-law’s birthday party.
As kitchens and ingredients have modernized, after many trials the recipe has been updated to make a consistently even, moist crumb. The original version is given below the updated one. It is best to chop the nuts and raisins by hand. Raisins, like dates and figs, stick to the blades of a food processor or blender and can break the machine down.
I hope this creates happy memories in your home!
- 1 cup light brown sugar, divided
- 1 cup sour cream at room temperature
- ½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature (4 ounces), plus 1 tablespoon for buttering the pan
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- grated zest from 2 large oranges I use navel)
- 1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 level teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup chopped golden raisins (use a large knife)
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (use a large serrated knife for a finer chop)
- 1 ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3-4 large navel oranges or 4-5 Valencia)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter well a 9 in x 12 in x 2 ½ in (approximate) cake pan or baking dish.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream half cup of sugar with the sour cream and butter using a handheld electric mixer on number 1 for 90 seconds. Make a newspaper tent around the bowl to catch the splatters and reduce cleaning. Or you can use a mixer.
- Add the eggs and zest and beat for another 90 seconds on low speed.
- Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Toss in the raisins and walnuts so they are evenly coated. This will prevent them from settling at the bottom of the cake and they will be evenly distributed. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture by hand till just moist. Do not overmix.
- Spread the batter evenly in the buttered pan. Bake on the middle rack for 20-30 minutes, till the cake is a lovely golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanee
- While the cake is baking, juice 3 to 4 oranges. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and bring the orange juice to a simmer. Keep the juice hot.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then poke it through to the bottom with the thin end of a chopstick, skewer, or a knitting needle every inch, all around and over the cake. Then spoon the hot juice evenly over the cake.
Let cool to room temperature and enjoy! If storing, wrap the cake tightly and refrigerate overnight.
Sita’s original recipe
Ingredients (the order remains unaltered intentionally)
- 1 cup white sugar, divided
- 1 cup sour cream or buttermilk
- ½ cup butter (4 ounces)
- 2 eggs
- grated zest from 1 large orange
- 1 ½ cups white flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup golden raisins, chopped
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2-3 oranges)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl beat eggs till light.
- Add sugar and sour cream and beat till well blended. Then add the butter and beat some more.
- Add all the dry ingredients and the zest. Fold in till just moist.
- Butter a 9 in x 12 in x 2½ in pan and spread the cake batter evenly. Bake on the middle rack for 20-30 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking stir the remaining half cup of sugar into the orange juice till it dissolves completely. Pour the juice over the hot cake.
Enjoy the cake at room temperature!
Serves 12-15. Preparation and baking time: 45-60 minutes.