Today is Frank Capra’s birthday, did you know that? He was a phenomenal, and phenomenally successful, director, and he made one of my favorite films, “It Happened One Night” (1934) which went on to become the first film to win the Top 5 Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. To celebrate, let’s bake the Sicilian-born (he emigrated to America as a child) legend a cake.
This is a recipe first published in Food & Wine, obtained by them from a hotel villa/cooking school in Sicily called Rocca delle Tre Contrade, and I am shamelessly and without remorse ripping it off and giving it to you. Food & Wine says this is something that an Italian grandmother would serve at tea. I can personally vouch for that. When I made it and served it as a light dessert there were a couple of Italians at my dinner table and they started chuckling. “What’s wrong?” I asked, thinking that it was supposed to be topped with something or was really supposed to have a different shape. “It’s nothing, Matteo. It is true that none of us is getting any younger, but as yet we have not gotten that much older.”
I didn’t care, this is delicious, and I’m like a culinary magpie, stealing from here and there and putting things to unexpected uses.
2 cups all-purpose flour (about 8 1/2 ounces), plus more for pan
2 tablespoons grated orange zest plus 1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice (from 3 oranges), divided
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing pan
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together flour, orange zest, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Beat sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs with an electric mixer on high speed until almost white, about 1 minute and 30 seconds. Add orange juice; beat on low speed until combined, about 20 seconds. With mixer running on low speed, gradually add flour mixture. Beat until just combined, about 1 minute (do not overmix). [Yes, do NOT overmix. I did a test run for me and Better Half and the first iteration came out kind of chewy. Just mix until the very second that you can’t really discern any flour floating around.]
Transfer batter to a greased (with vegetable oil) and floured 9-inch tube or Bundt pan. [There is no choice here. You must make this in a Bundt pan. I don’t care what those hacks at F&W say.] Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a wire rack; let cool completely, about 1 hour. [I have seen other recipes where you would rotate something like this 180° to ensure it bakes evenly but with my oven I’ve never needed to do this. You might though, but F&W assumes you wouldn’t.]
Because I am a philistine I was going to make an orange glaze or a streusel mix to pour over the Bundt cake. I didn’t, but you certainly could. And then you could sprinkle a few nuts over it, whichever variety you prefer. Or you could sprinkle confectioner’s sugar, as shown in the leader image. But I believe the classic, served up by a Sicilian nonna, would arrive at the tea table unadorned.