Orange Spongecake: Julia Child or The Farmer’s Wife?

I like to visit the library, look up a cookbook that I am familiar with, write down it’s catalog number (whether it’s checked out of not) and go over to that section. Then I just browse the section of books to see what treasures I can find. I’ve done this several times and it’s always fun to find older cookbooks to experiment with. On one such trip I came home with, among others, The Farmer’s Wife Baking Cookbook: Over 300 blue-ribbon recipes!

What does that have to do with Julia Child you ask? Read on…
You see, even though I live in a rural area, I don’t live on a farm. I live in a subdivision that is surrounded by farms, some large, some small, but ours is your basic neighborhood. I have a mixture of fantasies about where it would be perfect for me to live. One is in the mountains of Colorado with 5-10 acres and horses in my backyard. The other is living here in my quiet little Wisconsin town, but on 5-10 acres with horses, maybe a couple of goats, some chickens and a big beautifully restored farmhouse with an enormous kitchen. In this dream I don’t HAVE to work and bring home a paycheck like I do now. No, I get to grow a huge garden full of vegetables, grow fruit trees, have farm fresh eggs, do my farmette type chores and spend the rest of the day baking and cooking (and blogging of course!) to my heart’s content. In summer evenings after dinner I’ll go for a leisurely horseback ride and enjoy the sunset. Ah yes, this fantasy of mine, as silly as it may seem to some of you who dream of living in more extravagant accommodations, is what drew me to the book, The Farmer’s Wife Baking Book.
So again you ask, what the heck does this have to do with Julia Child already??
Well you see, I am currently obsessed with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have really enjoyed making several different meals and am so sorry I didn’t check out this book sooner. However, I have tried hard not to neglect the other cookbooks sitting in my kitchen, so I opened The Farmer’s Wife Baking Book and found a recipe called Orange Sunshine Cake with Whipped Cream Topping. Well heck, that sounds just short of amazing, so I knew I just had to make it!
(Ahem, you still haven’t said what this has to do with Julia??) Yes yes, I know, be patient, I’ll get to that. :) 
Just a wee bit of information about this particular book. It is a compilation of recipes from real farmer’s wives that were published in The Farmer’s Wife, a monthly magazine published out of Minnesota between the years of 1893 and 1939. A quote from the introduction in the book which gives you a good sense of the magazine: 

“…the magazine aimed to offer community among hard working rural women by providing a forum for their questions and concerns and assistance in the day-to-day goings on about the farm – everything from raising chickens and slaughtering hogs, to managing scant funds and dressing the children, to keeping house and running the kitchen.” 
It goes on to state how important baking was to these women and how they were able express their creativity in the kitchen. Gee, that sounds familiar! :) 
So now that you have a little bit of background I have to also tell you that the recipes in the book were really not altered to fit modern times. Instead, the author provides definitions for some terms used in days past (i.e. bake in a moderate oven means at 350-400) as she really wanted to keep the recipes in the spirit of the historical magazine. So the recipes themselves, while the women that wrote them knew what they meant, can be sketchy to someone like me. I believe that’s where I went wrong with my Orange Sunshine Cake…
I followed the instructions to the T, but something seemed off to me. This is a sponge cake recipe. Now I don’t make a lot of sponge cakes. In remembering the subtitle of this book (Over 300 Blue Ribbon Recipes) I felt fairly confident in following along. But again, something just didn’t seem right. The instructions state to beat the egg whites until foamy. I believe that was the problem. It never really specified after that, that the egg whites should eventually be beaten stiff. So instead of the thick batter that should have resulted, I ended up with a consistency similar to, but runnier than a boxed cake mix.
Second problem, I poured the batter as instructed into a tube pan. The batter was too thin and consequently started seeping, rather quickly I might add, out on the pan through the false bottom, all over the countertop and down onto the floor. So I quickly salvaged as much as I could and poured the batter into a bundt pan. I proceeded to make the cake and while it had an EXCELLENT flavor, it wasn’t right. Not at all. It was too flat for a sponge cake and the center was kind of rubbery. Funny part is that the whole thing was eaten, no icing, just plain, by the kids and my husband. LOL
Sooo, I’m finally going to bring Julia Child into the picture. I was thumbing through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and came across Geteau a L’Orange, AKA Orange Spongecake! So needless to say I just had to try it and see how it measured up. The only problem I really had with this recipe was that I prepared what I thought was a 9″ cake pan. What it really was, was an 8″ cake pan. Luckily for me I realized this RIGHT before I poured the batter into the pan. I was looking at the batter, then the pan, and just knew there wasn’t enough room. So instead I poured the batter into my tube pan and hoped for the best. 
As the cake was baking I looked at the options in Julia’s book for decorating the cake. One of the suggestions was to make an Orange Butter Filling. Mmm, sounds tasty. :) So I did opt for that, however, I wasn’t a good student and didn’t adhere to the directions properly. I brought the mixture to the suggested temp, however it did not thicken to the consistency of honey as Julia said it would. The next step was to place the saucepan into a pan of cold water and whip the mixture. I was impatient, and my arm hurt as I am spoiled by my KitchenAid. I was worried that nothing was happening as after 3 minutes of hand beating there was no change. I poured the mixture into my KA and whipped it for several minutes, still nothing. It thickened a little, but nothing like it should, it was still very runny and certainly not at spreading consistency as the recipe indicated. 
So I decided to go ahead and put it back into the saucepan and heat it up again. This seemed to work. However, instead of the suggested temp of 160-163, mine reached 175 before I removed it. Once I placed the saucepan into the pan of cold water and started to whisk it I immediately noticed a thickening. Yay! I added ice to the water in the pan and continued to beat it. I still don’t think it worked as intended, but at least it was fairly spreadable, so I filled the center of the cake with a thin layer, probably 1/4″. 
Now the other thing I did was to take half of that filling and turn it into butter cream icing as suggested in yet another recipe. Just add butter and whip, then spread. So incredibly sweet and buttery that I did not frost the whole cake, just the top.
The verdict? 
Julia’s was a nice sponge cake, lovely filling, and great directions. It was enjoyed by all.
The Farmer’s Wife, while the directions were very sketchy, the flavor was immensely fabulous, even tastier than Julia’s! I don’t know if that was because the oranges I used in the cake were sweeter than the ones I used in Julia’s, but it’s possible.
In the end, when I attempt this again (famous last words) I will try the Farmer’s Wife recipe again and incorporate Julia’s expertise, and will hope for a spectacular result. :) Recipes below should you decide to try it yourself.
One more quick note. I found it interesting that Julia suggests buttering and flouring the pan while The Farmer’s Wife specifically states an ungreased pan. I did a quick google search and cannot remember for the life of me where I saw it, but it was stated that a pan should not be greased or floured as the sponge cake needs to cling to the pan to allow it to rise properly. There, don’t you feel more educated now? I know I do. :)
(And why the heck does the word “ungreased” come up as a misspelling through spell check? Sheesh, it’s only been used since the beginning of… well.. I don’t know, forever.)
Orange Sunshine Cake
from The Farmer’s Wife Baking Book
recipe submitted by L.H., Colorado
5 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
Beat egg yolks until thick and light, adding half of the sugar. Add orange juice and beat. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together three times and add. Beat whites until foamy, add cream of tartar, then rest of sugar gradually. Fold into other mixture. Bake in an ungreased tube pan in a very slow oven (325 F) for 1 hour. Cool, remove from the pan, and ice with whipped cream, very slightly sweetened. Sprinkle with grated orange rind.
Gateau a L’Orange [Orange Spongecake]
recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
9″ round cake pan
2/3 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
the grated rind of one orange
1/3 cup strained orange juice
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
4 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 tbsp sugar
Preheat oven to 350 F. 
Butter and flour the cake pan and measure out the ingredients. Gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks and continue beating until the mixture thickens and forms a ribbon. Add the grated orange peel, orange juice and salt. Beat for a moment or two until the mixture is light and foamy. Then beat in the flour.
Beat the egg whites and salt together in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed. Sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the batter, delicately fold the rest. 
Immediately turn into prepared cake pan and run the batter up to the rim all around. Bake in middle position for 30-35 minutes Cake is done when it has puffed and browned and shows a faint line of shrinkage from the edge of the mold.
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22 Responses to Orange Spongecake: Julia Child or The Farmer’s Wife?

  1. 1
    Frieda says:

    Beautiful cake~ and a nice way to incorporate the two recipes/techniques together~

  2. 2
    Barbara Bakes says:

    I haven't had an orange sponge cake, but it sounds delightful!

  3. 3
    girlichef says:

    My head is spinning. But seriously, they both sound amazing!!!

  4. 4
    Ingrid says:

    Julia's looks delish! I could go for a big hunk of that cake! Is a spongecake similar to angelfood cake? If so then yes, it probably shouldn't be greased.

  5. 5
    pinkstripes says:

    I can't believe you made both versions. The frosting sounds amazing.

  6. 6
    Katrina says:

    Wow, that's quite the homework you did for us there! Great job! I would have quit back with the first one and called it good.
    Looks yummy!

  7. 7
    margot says:

    The Julia Child cake looks lovely, sorry the other one didn't work out. I do the same thing at my library and always find wonderful cookbooks to try, it's great to do a test-run on.

  8. 8
    Mary says:

    Great post…I have that same no job/farmette chores and horse-ride at sunset fantasy…in mine, I am near the beach and there is somehow a cranberry bog and a lemon tree in my yard :).

  9. 9
    lisaiscooking says:

    Julia's cake with the filling sounds incredible! Great job with the filling to the right consistency too.

  10. 10
    5 Star Foodie says:

    A very cool exploration of both recipe and how fun to compare and contrast both versions. The result looks excellent!

  11. 11
    Cakelaw says:

    I love the sound of "Orange Sunshine Cake" – because who doesn't need a little sunshine ;)

  12. 12
    Chocolate Shavings says:

    Great post, and the cake looks heavenly!

  13. 13
    Amanda says:

    Thanks all! The filling was a tad too sweet for me. But everyone enjoyed it :)

  14. 14
    oneshotbeyond says:

    I wish I was a baker!

  15. 15
    CinnamonQuill says:

    Both sound very good! Great post.

  16. 16
    Amanda says:

    Thanks all! Thanks for stopping by CinnamonQuill :)

  17. 17
    Anonymous says:

    Well instead of two different recipes, I tried Julia's twice. The first attempt never did "puff" in the oven, and was maybe 3/4 inch thick when finished. It tasted magnificent, but reminded more of a dense, flourless cake—nothing resembling sponge cake. I figured I'd over-beat or over-folded the egg whites or not pulverized the almonds finely enough. So I tried again, very attentive to each of those steps. That attempt didn't puff either, though it was slightly higher and lighter than the first.

    Since there was no picture in the cookbook, I thought maybe it was supposed to be dense and relatively flat. Then I Googled the recipe, found your blog, and marveled at your picture of the same cake.

    But I'm mystified as to what I did wrong. First, please tell me yours is 2 9-inch cakes stacked, and not a single recipe split. When I sliced my one cake in half, each half was less than 1/2 inch thick.

    Also, I was puzzled by the recipe step that says "Run the batter up to the rim all around." Since the batter only filled half of the 9-inch pan to begin with, all I could think to do was spread some of it up the sides of the pan, sort of a thin coating, though with no idea why except that Julia said to.

    I baked the first cake in a small convection oven for 30 minutes, the second in a traditional oven for 35 minutes, but even with careful adjustments, the results were nearly identical. I loved the taste and texture of this cake enough to want to try it again. Any hints as to what I might have done wrong?

  18. 18
    Amanda says:

    Hi Anonymous! I'm sorry I can't respond to you via email as you didn't leave a contact, but hopefully you subscribed to the comments and will see this answer :)

    The first thing that comes to mind is the type of flour. Did you use all purpose or cake flour? The recipe specifies cake flour, which already has a considerable amount of baking powder mixed into it. If you used regular flour, you will not get the rise you need. The other thing that will affect the rise are the egg whites. They should have been beaten until stiff. Once folded in to the batter, that would give to a fluffy but thick consistency that has to be "turned into" the pan with the help of a rubber spatula. If yours was runny your egg white may not have been beaten correctly. Beating to stiff peaks is the consistency of meringue topping. Folding those in gently gives your batter volume.

    As for running the batter up to the rim and all around, I believe she meant that your pan will definitely be full. Because of the beaten egg whites, the cake will bake and puff upward, like a souffle. A traditional cake batter will bake upwards a little, but due to its runny consistency, will spill out over the edge if the pan is filled too high. That's not a concern with a sponge cake.

    The recipe called for a 9" round pan. I discovered that I only had an 8" pan. So instead, I used a tube pan, which is a very common pan for making sponge cakes. :)

    If you try again, please let me know your results, would love to hear! Also, if you have any other questions, please ask :)

    Also, here's a video on folding egg whites into batter

  19. 19
    Anonymous says:

    I have been trying for the cake recipes for three times now. The cakes never rise!! I used cake flours and I did beat the egg white really will and folded them delicately, any advice??

  20. 20
    Amanda says:

    I'm sorry the cakes aren't rising for you. :( I would definitely check the expiration date on your baking powder and on your cake flour as well. I found the following explanation on a web forum, but I would also make sure your oven is actually reaching the temperature it says it is by using an oven thermometer:

    "Sponge cakes don't really rise – all the air is put in at mixing time – they expand a bit due to heating of the entrapped air and then the cooked batter sets up and retains most of that expansion. There are three places that process can go wrong – preparing the egg whites and batter, baking, and cooling. If the batter seemed as normal going into the pan, that probably wasn't the problem. I can normally tell if the batter is okay from the way it behaves and feels. From your description it sounds like the problem occurred in the oven.

    Time is the enemy of sponge cake batter. If the batter sits too long before heat stiffens it up, too much air may escape and the cake will go flat. So the cake coming out of the oven too flat means that it probably didn't cook quickly enough – a hotter oven is the direction to go. If the oven was too hot, the problem would be an overcooked outside of the cake while the inside isn't cooked yet, such a cake might fall after it was taken out of the oven as the uncooked inside collapses but it wouldn't come out of the oven flat. Possibly the low ratio of starchy ingredients to egg in your recipe makes it take a bit more cooking to set up. "

  21. 21
    Anonymous says:

    Do you have the butter cream icing recipe?

  22. 22
    Amanda says:

    Anonymous – For this particular cake, I didn't use a standard buttercream icing recipe, I used the orange icing and since it was just too runny, I added powdered sugar and some butter. For a standard buttercream, I use 1/2 cup shortening, 1/2 cup butter, 4-4.5 cups powdered sugar, 3-4 tablespoons of milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla. :)

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