baking therapy: orange creamsicle cake | the merry gourmet

My mornings start early, rising before anyone else in the house is awake. If I’m lucky, and feeling motivated, I start the day with a pre-dawn run. I call it running, but it’s really more of a lurching jog. Whatever. It gets the calories burned, and it’s good for my soul.

On the way to the school in the mornings, the kids and I watch the sun rise. As I drive, the sun – glowing orange, but not yet so bright that we have to look away – slowly emerges into the rosy sky guiding its path. The kids guess which direction we’re headed based on where sun sits on the horizon.

orange creamsicle cake | the merry gourmet

We listen to the latest pop songs on the radio, and my daughter sings along. Maddie belts out the words to “Call Me Maybe” as if she is on stage, microphone in hand, and Oliver mumbles his own version of the song. Sometimes they even sing in sync with each other. I smile to myself as I drive, not wanting to interrupt for fear they will stop if they know I am listening.

I love my mornings, regardless of how little rest I’ve had the night before. Mornings are, by their very nature, so full of potential, ripe with possibilities for the day ahead. The world around me looks brighter, shinier, in those early morning hours than it does in the afternoon.

orange creamsicle cake | the merry gourmet

Lately, I’ve had fitful sleep. When it’s my turn, as it is now, to be “on service” for two weeks – that phrase that represents a 15-day stretch of attending on the oncology inpatient ward with 24-hour-a-day call – I never sleep well. I take my patients’ problems home with me, filling my dreams with their diagnoses, their pain, their struggles to live, or their attempts to die peacefully and without suffering.

I recognize this pattern in myself now, this pattern of not leaving work where it belongs – at work. I have found ways of coping with the emotional fatigue that is inevitable after a handful of days.

orange creamsicle cake | the merry gourmet

My tricks for coping? Reading bedtime stories with my kids, or snuggling on the sofa to watch Phineas and Ferb with them. Losing myself in a good book before bed, or listening to an audiobook on my commute to and from work.

And baking. Baking nearly always works.

And, regardless of the nightmares that filled my sleep the night before, I cherish each morning. Each new day that I wake to find my beautiful, healthy family beside me – or singing loudly and off-key in the backseat of the minivan – is a gift, one that I know to never take for granted.

orange creamsicle cake | the merry gourmet


Yield: 10-12 servings

Orange Creamsicle Cake

Creamsicles were always a treat growing up. I would nibble the orange popsicle from around the creamy center, saving the middle for last. With this cake, there's no need for nibbling around the edges - unless you're a buttercream frosting addict, like me.

Special thanks to Abby Dodge for her help with nailing down the flavor profile and for the orange-sugar trick in the cake batter.


For Cake:
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons orange zest
2-1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1-1/4 cups plain, whole-milk yogurt, room temperature

For Frosting:
4-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice (without pulp)
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
Orange or peach food coloring (optional)


Make Cake Layers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in the upper and middle positions. Butter three 8-inch (or 9-inch) round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Lightly dust the cake pans with flour, shaking out excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a small food processor (or in a bowl, using your fingers), process one cup sugar with the orange zest. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together on medium-high speed the orange sugar, the remaining cup of granulated sugar, and the butter. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and Grand Marnier, and continue beating the mixture for another 5 minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to low, then add flour mixture alternating with yogurt, in three batches, beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until smooth. Divide the batter equally among the three cake pans, rap the pans once or twice on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes for 9-inch cake pans or 25-30 minutes for 8-inch pans, rotating cake layers about halfway through baking time. Cool layers in pans for about 10 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edge of each and invert layers onto cooling racks to cool completely.

(Note: Layers can be made in advance. Bake up to 1 week ahead, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, store individual layers in a plastic freezer bag, and freeze. Thaw layers overnight in refrigerator the night before you plan to assemble the cake.)

Prepare Frosting

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low and slowly add confectioners' sugar. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine orange zest, orange juice, vanilla, and salt; stir until salt is dissolved, then add to the butter mixture. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. If you desire, add a drop or two of food coloring to tint the frosting.

(Note: Frosting can be made ahead, up to 2 days, and refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes when ready to use. Beat on medium-low in stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.)

Assemble Cake

To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with about 1 cup of frosting. Place the second cake layer on top, and repeat. Place third layer on top and spread frosting in a thin layer over the sides and top of the cake. Chill briefly in refrigerator, until frosting is firm, then spread sides and top with the remaining frosting. You will end up with a bit of leftover frosting which can be used for additional decorating if you like.

Cake layers adapted from this cake from Gourmet Live.

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9 Responses to “baking therapy: orange creamsicle cake | the merry gourmet”

  1. 1
    DessertForTwo — September 9, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

    Such a lovely read, as always. I, too, cherish every morning, even if I’ve been up til 3am harvesting corn the night before. It’s such a fresh new start. I think about all the healthy things I will eat and do before bedtime.

    Lovley, lovely cake!

  2. 2

    MJ your mornings with the kids sound lovely. And I SO know how baking comforts – for a couple of hours, when you are baking, all seems right with the world. As it would with this cake in my life!

  3. 3
    jenn s — September 9, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

    I cannot wait to make this cake, MJ!! And I’m with you, baking/cooking is cathartic…

  4. 4
    Rosemary — September 9, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

    MJ, you always make me smile 🙂

  5. 5
    Laura — September 9, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

    Beautifully written! Baking is my therapy too. Stay strong throughout your “on service” time!

  6. 6
    Deb — September 10, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    I just adore the orange creamsicle cake, especially the pastel hue! I agree baking is great therapy! When my mind is spinning and my heart is heavy I busy my hands. The mind and heart will usually follow.

  7. 7
    olga — September 10, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    I’m both sad and glad we don’t live close to one another. Mostly sad. 🙂 the cake looks delicious. Orange creamsicle? Yes, please.

    Also you’re way ahead of me on running. One of these days…

  8. 8
    Paula — September 13, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

    What a beautiful and delicious sounding cake. I hope your *on service* shift doesn’t fill your evenings with nightmares this time around. Baking is my therapy too but so too are your beautiful and tenderly written blog posts.

  9. 9
    Kelly Senyei (Just a Taste) — September 18, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

    This looks so spectacular! I love the rosy color of the frosting and especially the addition of the citrus.

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