It’s citrus season! For many of you who know me and have had the opportunity to share many a meal or cup of tea with me, you know my obsession with all things citrus. Lemon and orange are two of the flavors I bake the most with—probably more frequently than even chocolate or cocoa, or even dulce de leche. I’m hooked on citrus flavors like Mellowgold grapefruits, pomelos, Meyer lemons, kumquats, and Cara Cara oranges for their sweet, sour, acidic and sometimes even puckery taste. I credit my love for all things citrus to the fact that most houses in Buenos Aires tended to have either orange trees or lemon trees, a legacy of Spanish and Italian settlers who brought to the River Plate with them their custom of growing oranges and lemons as they did back in their Mediterranean homelands. A lot of Argentine desserts are flavored with oranges or lemons, just as their Italian and Spanish counterparts were: you find them in custards and puddings, scenting breads with orange blossom; or in delicate butter cookies. One of my favorite tasks that my mom used to assign me in the kitchen was sending me out into the garden to pick some lemons for her recipes; I just loved doing that! Another fond childhood memory related to citrus fruit revolves around one of my favorite stories growing up. El Cuento de las Naranjas (“The Story of Oranges”), was a tale my Aunt Sylvia used to tell my sister and me to quiet us down before bedtime. It was a story about two sisters picking oranges and helping out their mom, and my aunt had such a compelling manner in telling it that it quickly became a favorite. Needless to say, my aunt’s story and the practice of picking lemons at home have led to my seeing lemons and oranges as almost magical fruits steeped in childhood nostalgia. When I went into the garden, I loved seeing how the sun would ripen the clusters of yellow fruit into a golden harvest that was not only delicious but was packed with vitamins, too, and picking the fruit to help my mom with her cooking made it extra special. So I thought it was high time to bake a simple pound cake packed with the sunshiney sweetness of oranges and create a dessert to commemorate all these fruity childhood memories. As with a lot of my cooking at home, I often look for ways to intersect cuisines from different parts of the world and find ingredients that are shared by disparate continents and countries. Oranges, mandarins, and lemons are popular ingredients in Chinese cuisine too, and so this recipe for citrus pound cake emerged as an expression of my personal love of these flavors as well.
I was also compelled to include floral chamomile tea to infuse this Bundt cake. The bright notes of lemon and orange evoke sunshine and made me think of a field of chamomile flowers under a blue sky. It’s not the first time I’ve baked with flowers, but chamomile is especially comforting for its soothing properties and subtle flavor, for its memories of soothing stomachaches in some of the characters of my favorite stories like Peter Rabbit, when Peter is given chamomile tea after indulging too much in Mr. MacGregor’s garden. Chamomile is super important in Chinese herbalism and cuisine, too! It’s truly a wonderfully delicious and simple cake that brings a lot of nostalgic flavors together for me and both sides of the family. Lastly, I chose to bake the pound cake in a Bundt pan because Bundt pans stand by themselves without further embellishment or frosting, and so the purity of the pound cake can really shine.
If at some point you find yourself really wanting something fresh, sunshiney, and citrusy, or something floral and evocative, or an unfussy recipe that celebrates flavors of spring and summer, this cake might just be for you! During the cold, dark days of winter, the citrus flavor will provide a much-welcomed ray of sunshine to brighten this season.
Orange Chamomile Bundt Cake
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 45-50 minutes
Cooling time: 30 to 60 minutes
- 1 cup butter, unsalted
- 2 cups cane sugar
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 2 oranges
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ½ cup whole milk
- 4 tbsp or 4 bags chamomile tea
- 1 ½ cups cake flour
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ cup flavorless oil
- 3 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup orange juice
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Use butter to grease the inside of a 12-cup Bundt pan, making sure to cover all corners, nooks, and crannies. Sprinkle and coat with flour and set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and Celtic salt. Stir together and set aside.
- In a small bowl, rub the orange and lemon zest together with the sugar using your fingertips. Using your fingertips allows the citrus fruit to release its oils and scent, so you should smell its fragrance. Briefly set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Add the sugar with the citrus zest to the butter and beat together on medium speed for 3 minutes, until pale in color and fluffy.
- Meanwhile, while the butter and sugar are being beaten together, warm up the ½ cup of milk and steep 4 chamomile tea bags in it. Once the milk has steamed, remove from the heat, and let the tea steep until ready to use.
- Lower the speed on the stand mixer and add the eggs and yolks one at a time, followed by the orange blossom water and vanilla. Mix well until combined.
- Stop the mixer to scrape down the bowl, add the oil, and start the stand mixer again on low until combined.
- Carefully add half of the dry ingredients, ½ cup at a time, and once combined, add the sour cream and orange juice.
- Strain the cooled chamomile tea milk into the stand mixer.
- Finish adding the remaining half of the dry mixture, mixing on low until it’s incorporated.
- Using a spatula, pour the batter into your prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes. To unmold, place a cutting board or plate on top of the Bundt pan and flip the Bundt pan to unmold. It’s best not to wait too long to unmold the cake because it may stick to the pan, but never unmold a hot cake as it will break.
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