I like to think of cakes in two broad categories: special occasion cakes and rectangular cakes. Special occasion cakes are nearly always cut into triangular wedges and involve multiple layers of ganache, cake, and frosting. They’re one of my very favorite things to make and eat, but they’re also a lot of work. Rectangular cakes, however, are a convenient way to bridge the gap between birthday parties. They come in the form of pound cakes, almond or fruit loaf cakes with glazes and dustings of powdered sugar, and tea cakes. You know, the cakes you can eat for breakfast with a cup of coffee or for afternoon snack with some tea.
This most recent recipe for tea cake that I found (from Jerusalem) is the perfect recipe for any occasion where you may need a simple dessert. There’s no butter to soften and cream painstakingly with sugar, just two bowls of wet and dry ingredients that get whisked together and baked in a loaf pan. Once the golden brown cakes emerge from the oven and perfume the air with scents of honey and orange zest, you brush them with simple syrup so that the outside is moist and sweet, even three or four days later. The semolina gives the crumb a little bit of crunch and the honey speeds up the caramelization process so that the crust is a rich golden color. The short slices make for convenient hand-held snacks when reading a book, but the cakes can be cut into longer planks as well to be spread with jam or marmalade.
Just because a cake doesn’t take all day to make doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious and impressive.
Semolina Orange Tea Cake
Adapted from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Makes 2 short loaves or one taller loaf
¾ sunflower or canola oil
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
Zest of two oranges
½ cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons semolina flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons water
- Preheat the oven to 350F and grease your loaf pan or pans (see note below for details on sizing), then line with parchment paper along the base and longest sides. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, zest, honey, and eggs. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, semolina, baking powder, and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan or pans, then place on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, 45-60 minutes.
- About 10 minutes before the cakes are done, place the sugar and the water for the soaking syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Once the cakes come out of the oven, begin brushing them with the syrup. This may take a few minutes and may seem like an inordinate amount of syrup, but if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve survived either the SAT, college, doing laundry, or all of the above so I think you can handle brushing a cup of simply syrup into a cake. Keep at it and make sure to use up all of the syrup. Remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool completely before serving.
Note: This recipe will make either 2 short cakes or one taller one. For two smaller cakes, prepare two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans as directed in step 1. For a taller cake, only use one 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, prepare as directed, and pour all of the batter into the one pan. It will take an additional 20-30 minutes to bake fully.