I’m a guitar player. I have a blog about my band but if I started talking about cakes and other trifles, I may lose all of my already limited street cred. I rarely cook. Never do I bake. My mom used to bake a lot when I was little. Bread, cookies, potpies (is that baking?), all that stuff. I remember when I was about 4 or 5 and both my brothers were in school, my mom and I would trudge through huge snow drifts to get to the store. We had to walk because we couldn’t get the car out of our glacial wall of a driveway. Once, specifically, I remember helping push a grocery cart full of provisions home through dunes of white powder between Bill’s Red Owl and our house. Five blocks of it. At some point my mom started baking this Mandarin Orange Cake for every holiday and birthday and any other occasion where sugary delicassies are required. If anyone didn’t love it, they were keeping quiet. Similarly, she made the “mistake” of making the world’s greatest 7 layer salad at some point and now has to make one about every 3 days to appease her loyal following. (Slight exaggeration, but it’s the best, and I punch anyone who says otherwise. Also, if you use Bacos in 7 layer salad, there is a special place in hell for you. Not you Aunt Joan, it was just that once and we all forgive you.)
All right. I started compulsively thinking of the Mandarin Orange Cake for about a week straight. I called up my Ma and she wanted to mail me the recipe. I told her it couldn’t wait. She read me the recipe, and here it is:
Alice’s Mandarin Orange Cake
This has a few steps, but I guess most recipes do. The main parts are the crunch layer, the cake, and the frosting. You can do it all from scratch, or cheat, or both. I cheated and made some alterations. If you tell my mom I’ll tell her you lie.
1 cup graham crackers (I got the Co-op hippie kind, but the regular kind are fine)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 chopped walnuts
1/2 cup melted butter (I used slightly more.)
Combine the dry stuff and dump in the butter. Don’t use a microwave. Use the burners. They get lonely and won’t fry your chromosomes. Just make sure the butter and brown sugar get mixed up pretty well or you may have some sticking to the pan. (A little bit of sticking is okay, as you will soon find out!)
Using two 8 inch circular cake pans, line the bottoms with half the crunch stuff. Smash it down with the nearest dull object. I used a pint glass, but you could use a balpeen hammer, butt of rifle, etc.
1 yellow or vanilla cake mix
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
Here, follow the box directions, except when it calls for water, substitute 1/2 of it with orange juice. So the eggs and oil is the same, but generally it will be a 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup OJ. Also, for the orange peel, you don’t need a lot or maybe you need more I don’t know. If you like stuff orangy, go nuts. Put it in the mix, though.
1 can vanilla frosting
1 cup whipped topping (Cool Whip style, not whippets)
3 tablespoons grated orange peel
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
11 oz. can of Mandarin oranges, drained
Beat frosting in midair til fluffy. No, actually, you should use a small bowl. Add whipped topping. Fold in orange and lemon peel.
Oven should be heated to 350 degrees. Pour the cake batter equally over the two pans with crunch layer. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until you can pass a toothpick in and it comes out unscathed.
VERY IMPORTANT (my mom yelled this, so I took it seriously): let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of not getting the cakes out of the pans. Take them out and put one crunch side down. Scrape the remaining crusty parts into a small bowl and hang on to them.
Frost the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting. Stack the other layer on, also crunch side down. Frost the bejeezus out of the sucker. Top with the Mandrin oranges. Then, this is my crowning glory that I thought of on my own, sprinkle the crusty crunch layer remnants over the top. Maybe my mom does this too, but I can’t remember, and until she corrects me I’m taking credit for it.
Thanks Ma, for making this when I was little and inspiring me to obsess over it in the modern era.