I know June is pretty much the end of the line for oranges. But I am sure that there are still a few to be rummaged up on countertops across the Outer Cape, where the truth is that we still have some waiting to do before our summer fruits arrive.
There is no better use for those oranges than this cake, which squeezes every last bittersweet drop out of the fruit: it incorporates the whole thing — peel and all.
I baked it last week to celebrate the first steps toward de-confinement taken by my small group of friends. We arrived via our separate cars and assembled on the bay side, tiptoeing into carefully distanced places around a warm fire. There, we removed our masks and dug into takeout clam pies while our individual hobo packs of buttered green peas simmered in the coals.
The plainness of the cake is just right for a cookout, yet it packs a surprising punch of bright and bitter orange flavor.
Its name has almost illicit appeal at this point: “Kiss Me Cake.” There we were, friends, some of us with roots here, some from away and not sure when we’ll get home, eating a cake with its own migration story. Just being together again made us want to, but we did not kiss.
The recipe, like me, comes from Canada, where I got it from my grandmother. It was imported nearly 100 years ago by her aunt, who had wrecked the family’s Quebecois purity by marrying a Scotsman. The oranges surely reflected a back and forth with sunny Mallorca or Seville.
I’m one of those Canadians with a connection to Cape Cod that goes back a couple of generations. Our family vacations started in Chatham, a place my grandmother had visited before I was born. But gradually our summer visits inched farther out. A stay on Truro’s Ballston Beach nearly a decade ago inspired my studies in environmental design. I am now documenting the interconnectedness of the built environment and coastal processes, mapping how the former influences the rates of erosion of the Atlantic-facing coast of outer Cape Cod from Ballston to Lecount Hollow in Wellfleet.
I called my grandmother in Montreal to check the recipe. She is 95, but remembers well her first taste of this cake. It figures in her 1968 cookbook, Les recettes de Janette et le grain de sel de Jean, which sold over 200,000 copies. It was reprinted in 2005 as Les recettes de Janette, leaving out her departed’s grain of salt in the title. By then, Janette Bertrand was not only a well-known baker but an outspoken radio personality, a Chevalier in the National Order of Quebec, and a winner of the Prix Condorcet, an award for defenders of secularism and freedom of thought. Grandma also wrote the lyrics for the Celine Dion song, “Berceuse,” on the D’elles album.
She hopes you like it, and the cake, too.
Kiss Me Cake
one 10-inch cake
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup whole milk
1 cup golden raisins
1 whole orange
Peel and juice of another orange
½ cup walnuts, optional
Set oven to 350 F. Butter a 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment, and butter it, too. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar well. Add the eggs, one at a time. Then, alternating, add the flour mixture and milk. Do not overmix the batter.
In a food processor, grind together raisins, the whole orange, and the peel of the second orange (reserving the juice of that one for drizzling over the finished cake). They can also be chopped by hand, if you have a good knife and some patience. Do not allow the raisins and orange to become a paste — let the mixture remain lumpy.
Pour batter into a well-buttered, 9-inch square or 10-inch round cake pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Drizzle orange juice over cake. Let sit for a few minutes, and sprinkle with a few tablespoons of sifted powdered sugar.
Note: My grandmother’s version includes about ½ cup of finely chopped walnuts scattered with the powdered sugar, but I recommend leaving them out if you’re serving this at the beach. They’ll roll right off the cake and into the sand.