Penarious Challenge – Orange Almond Cream Cake

Recipe name – see post title
Difficultly rating – 9 out of 10
Time invested – About 4 hours
Taste rating – 5 stars
Would I do it again? Only with variations!

Wow! If you ever need a difficult recipe to follow go directly to Bon Appetit or Cooks Illustrated. I love these places, but I’ve never found a recipe more confusing than when I try to follow one of theirs! I can’t say that all their recipes are like that, ’cause of course I haven’t tried all their recipes, but that has been my experience. (Perhaps this is because I’m “instructionally challenged” in this department and have to exercise immense self-control in order to follow the exact directions for any given recipe.) However,  they do have some amazing and delicious recipes, so if you’re up for a challenge,  go for it!
I was “up for the challenge” (so I thought) and actually started a day ahead as the recipe insisted! Do I hear a round of applause? I should! :D
I first made the amaretti cookies (which are basically Italian macaroons) the recipe called for. Those were easy and fabulously yummy. The recipe is below, as I know you’ll want to make them just to eat by themselves. Here’s a tip – dip them in chocolate, or some Slickepott fudge sauce as I saw “someone” doing, for double yumminess. (Yes, it’s a word. Do you doubt me?)

2 1/2 c. almond flour or 3 c. blanched almonds ground
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 egg whites
1 t. almond extract

Process almonds in food processor until fine. Add sugar and pulse until blended. Add egg whites and extract and pulse again. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place dough by the teaspoonful on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-30 minutes. They should be golden brown.

Now, I should just post the link to the recipe to save room, but I’m going to copy it right here for dramatic effect. Just keep scrolling down…and down…and down. Eventually you will get to the end of the recipe and I will continue my dialog.
Orange-Almond Cream Cake
Similar to zuppa inglese (an Italian trifle) [Blogger’s note – Zuppa inglese is Italian for “English soup”. That confused me. I didn’t want it to confuse you, too.] , this impressive dessert layers an amaretti-and-cream filling and orange segments between syrup-soaked sponge cake. Many of the components can be made ahead; start with the filling so that it can chill overnight.


8 to 10 servings 
Photograph by Brian Leatart
March 2004
Ingredients –

Cream Filling

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur


  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons grated orange peel, divided
  • 8 large navel oranges
  • 3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup coarsely crushed amaretti cookies (Italian macaroons)*
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam, melted
  • *Available at Italian markets and some supermarkets.


For cream filling:

  • Bring milk and orange peel to simmer in heavy medium saucepan; remove from heat. Using electric mixer, beat yolks in large bowl to blend. With machine running, add sugar and beat until mixture is light yellow and thick, about 4 minutes. Add flour, beating until well combined. Gradually beat in hot milk mixture. Return custard to same saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in butter and vanilla. Transfer cream filling to medium bowl; press plastic wrap onto surface. Refrigerate cream filling overnight. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

For syrup:

  • Bring sugar and 1 cup water to boil in small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil 5 minutes, swirling pan occasionally. Cool syrup slightly. Stir in Grand Marnier. Cover; chill until cold. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

For cake:

  • Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line each pan with parchment paper round. Bring milk and butter almost to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl.

  • Using electric mixer, beat eggs in large bowl on high speed 2 minutes. Gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until mixture is light yellow and thick, scraping down sides occasionally, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high; add vanilla. Gradually beat in hot milk mixture in steady stream. Immediately add dry ingredients and beat until just blended, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl (batter will be thin). Mix in 3 teaspoons orange peel. Quickly divide batter between prepared pans.

  • Bake until cakes are golden, pull away from sides of pans, and spring back when pressed in center, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans on rack 10 minutes. Invert cakes; peel off parchment paper. Turn cakes right side up on rack and cool completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic and let stand at room temperature.

  • Using small sharp knife, cut off peel and white pith from oranges. Working over strainer set over large bowl, cut between membranes to release segments. Transfer orange segments to paper towels to drain.

  • Beat cream and 1/4 cup sugar in large bowl until cream holds peaks. Fold 1/2 cup whipped cream into cream filling, then fold in crushed amaretti and remaining 1 teaspoon grated orange peel.

  • Using serrated knife, cut each cake layer horizontally in half, creating 4 layers. Place 1 layer on plate, cut side up; brush generously with syrup (about 6 tablespoons). Spread 3/4 cup filling over. Arrange 1 layer of orange segments (about 20) over filling. Repeat layering twice more with cake, syrup, filling, and orange segments. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side down. Brush cake with syrup. Fill pastry bag fitted with large star tip with 1 cup whipped cream. Spread remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake. Pipe cream in rosettes around top edge of cake. Cover center with orange segments. Brush oranges with melted apricot jam. Refrigerate cake 3 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Hello, again! Did you read it? I didn’t think so. It is impressive though, isn’t it!

So, I did make the filling to chill over night.

And I made the cake and the syrup in advance, so they could cool in time.

 And…the rest of it was rather last minute. But, hey, that’s okay, right?!
I diligently followed the recipe to the last detail…well, that might be exaggerating a bit. Actually, I did, except for one mistake that was caused by mistranslation of badly explained directions. At least that’s my excuse. I only now just figured out what I did wrong! (Not that I’ve been doing nothing but pondering it for the last few days…)
I folded the amaretti and the orange peel into the cream, not the cream filling! Ah ha! I knew that was weird!
You want to know one of my pet peeves in recipe writing? The word divided after an ingredient. For someone that only skim-reads recipes, that is a sure sign of impending disaster. Thankfully, I caught each of those nasty “divideds” in this recipe. But still, I hate them.
Whew, glad I got that off my chest! :D

Here’s what my cake looked like…

Definitely not as fancy. I’m not a fan of digging out the cake frosting tools from who-knows-where for one cake once a year, so I simply used a gallon-sized Ziplock with a hole cut in the corner to pipe it on and a knife to spread it.
Here’s my thought the whole time I was assembling the cake, filling, syrup, oranges and frosting –   “This would be just as good and way easier as a trifle. Why isn’t it a trifle anyway?…It should be a trifle…”

And next time? It will be a trifle. 

And I will use canned mandarin oranges. The End.

4 thoughts on “Penarious Challenge – Orange Almond Cream Cake

  1. I like my 5 hour chocolate orange cake better. And I'm so glad you didn't have me make this one for you. I would have. I really would have! But…I'm glad. It was yummy and this post is hysterical! ;)

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