Orange cake starts with box mix, comes out homemade

Arthi Subramaniam
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If you are short on time but looking for wonderful and bright citrus flavors, this Bundt cake is the way to go.

For starters, the County Fair Orange Cake screams orange all the way through from a batter flecked with orange zest to a glaze that includes orange juice and orange zest. The ease and cost to make it is minimal as the cake does not require an endless list of ingredients nor are they difficult to find. When it comes to the texture and taste, the delightfully moist and not-too-sweet cake is complemented with that nicely balanced sweet-tangy glaze.

The cake is bright yellow with a tinge of orange and that’s because the batter is made from store-bought yellow cake and lemon instant pudding mixes, but so what if they are from boxes? The cake is doctored enough to taste homemade and the mixes only partly define the cake. It’s the add-ins like the orange juice and zest that linger in the mouth and have you craving another slice of cake.

Country singer Martina McBride included the recipe in her cookbook, “Martina’s Kitchen Mix: My Recipe Playlist for Real Life,” after tasting an orange cake backstage on her birthday during a performance at a country fair in Owensville, Missouri.

“One bite, and I was blown away. So much so, I went back and asked if they would share the recipe for this book,” she writes in the head note. “Not only did they share the recipe, but they sent some cake to my tour bus so I could take it home.”

She says she doesn’t have a “big sweet tooth,” cooks healthy foods most of the time and avoids packaged ingredients. But every once in a while, she likes to eat the way she grew up eating, when boxed cakes and instant pudding mixes were pantry staples.

“I think that’s why I loved this cake so much — it just transported me back home,” she writes.

When I tested the County Fair Orange Cake recipe and shared some slices with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette librarian Stephen Karlinchak, he recounted a similar memory.

“That cake tasted almost, if not exactly, like a cake that my mother would bake,” he says.

So if you are looking to make a cake that has a good measure of nostalgia, can be whipped up in a jiffy and has an undeniable orange flavor, it is the County Fair Orange Cake without a doubt. It has the power to change even a box-mix naysayer’s heart.

County Fair Orange Cake

Note: PG tested. The original recipe called for two teaspoons of lemon zest to the cake batter. I replaced it with three tablespoons of orange zest, as it is an orange cake after all, and for a deeper and brighter flavor.

1 (15.25-ounce) package yellow cake mix

1 (3.4-ounce) package lemon instant pudding mix

3/4 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

3 tablespoons orange zest

Orange glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.

Stir the cake and pudding mixes in a large bowl. Add orange juice, oil, eggs and orange zest.

Beat on low with a mixer at low speed to combine. Scrape down the sides. Beat at medium for 4 minutes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 38 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely for 1 hour. Transfer to a platter. Drizzle warm orange glaze over the cake.

Serves 16.

Orange Glaze

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed

1/4 cup butter

2 teaspoons orange zest

Cook sugar, orange juice and butter in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until butter is melted.

Cook for 2 minutes. Then remove from heat and stir in the orange zest.

Adapted from “Martina’s Kitchen Mix: My Recipe Playlist for Real Life” by Martina McBride (Oxmoor House; October 2018)