Orange juice has always had an important place in my life. It started when I was about 5 years old.
I spent my childhood in Gabon, Africa. The rhythm of life there is nothing like a Western developed country. We lived a calm and stress-free life. My dad used to call it “heaven.”
Everyday, my brother and I would get picked up from school at noon for a three-hour lunch break with the complete family at home. As my father’s car would pull into the house’s driveway, Aisha, our housekeeper, would stand by the door and greet us with glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice, while my mother cooked lunch. In each glass, she had placed a red plastic straw, one of those that fold at the top. The rule was that we had to finish the glass before going off to play. Looking back, I think it was my mother’s way of keeping us busy and gaining some time to prepare the meal.
It became a ritual. Through my high school years in France and my undergrad studies in Israel (yes, my family moved around a lot), I had orange juice every morning for breakfast. I would come down the stairs ready to go to school and the glass would be waiting for me on the kitchen table next to a warm pastry, without a straw this time.
Even today, as I am studying for my masters in New York, away from home, orange juice is to me what coffee is to most of my classmates. I even bought myself a small electric orange juicer; a strange looking machine that generates quite a lot of questions whenever I have guests over. Every morning, I make my own orange juice. I refuse to drink anything bottled, even though sometimes the process can be long. It is my way of carrying on the tradition.
Two years ago, when my mother introduced orange juice cake — a airy, subtly citrusy dessert — to our family, it was welcomed with open mouths. I remember the first time she served it. It sat there, in the center of our Tel Aviv home’s snow-white kitchen table, looking majestic with its striking height. It looked almost like a crown, one that would go on a king’s head. To top it all, my mother had used a high glass cake dome to cover it, as if it was an expensive piece of art in a famous museum. It was off limits until it reached our final destination: my grandparents’ house, where we often celebrate Shabbat. Since they keep kosher and serve meat for dinner, the orange, juice cake, which is light and pareve is a perfect end to the enormous Shabbat meal.
The cake has become a tradition of its own, made on Shabbat and sometimes for no special occasion, just for the family to enjoy. A slice of the orange infused cake reminds me that for many us: our favorite foods aren’t just about taste, they’re about who and what they remind us of.
Orange Juice Cake
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed or bottled) without pulp
½ cup of sunflower oil
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons confectioners sugar (for garnish)
Preheat the oven to 355 degrees.
1) First, separate the whites and yolks of the eggs.
2) In a large bowl, beat the yolks with half a cup of the sugar. Leave the rest of the sugar aside.
3) Keep beating the yolks with the sugar while gradually adding the orange juice, oil and flour.
4) In a separate bowl, beat the egg white to reach peaks while gradually adding the rest of the sugar. When the eggs are fluffy, stop. It is important not to overbeat them.
5) Once the two separate preparations are ready, slowly and carefully fold the egg whites into the batter.
6) Butter a large Angel Food cake pan, then pour half of the batter in. Once the mold is half full, generously spread the cinnamon. On top of this, add the rest of the batter.
7) Put the cake in the oven, and bake for about an hour. Use a cake tester or a wooden skewer to check if the cake is ready about 45 minutes in.
8) When ready, take out of the oven. Now comes the trick: Take out the oven rack from your oven. Place it on a deep rectangular dish such as a lasagna dish (you can also you a cooling rack), creating a space between the bottom of the dish and the oven rack.
9) Turn the cake mold upside down and place it on the oven rack. Let it cool for about 2 hours. This way, air will enter the cake from below making it very light and airy. It won’t fall once turned over but this will help it disconnect from the pan slowly while it is cooling off. After 2 hours, take the cake out of the mold carefully. It should look quite high. Spread confectioners sugar on top, and serve!