Most of the time, my ideas for cake recipes start with how they will look and taste on the inside. I only think about how to decorate the final product once I’ve got everything else figured out. This cake was different; it started with a nature scene that hasn’t left my mind since I was a kid and ended with a cake that’s in many ways reminiscent of my childhood.
Art class in grade school consisted of zero instruction and a teacher telling us to draw whatever we wanted for 45 minutes. I would always draw the same thing - a meadow with tall flowers (usually tulips, because they were easiest), perhaps some mountains, always a bright yellow sun in the corner, maybe some clouds and definitely a rainbow, so I could get the maximum use out of those colors which otherwise never saw the light of day. I don’t know why, but it was always this scene that poured out of my hand. I went to high school and later college, never touching anything other than a regular pen. And for a long time, my limited artistic abilities never really mattered; I ended up working in a field which demanded only my analytic abilities and a laptop.
And then I became a mama. And suddenly, my babygirl is one and I’m deep in the baby books, reading about the importance of honing her artistic abilities. I find myself in Michaels buying all the crayola markers, pencils, paints, and crayons I can find. We come home, get set up, and I have the paper and colors in front of us, and she has no idea what we are doing. She looks at me expectantly, as if to say, ‘draw something mama!’
So I draw that scene. I’ve drawn and colored the same scene for her so many times over the past year and a half. Sometimes she’ll ask me to add caterpillars or ponds with ducks or, HA get this, “flying unicorns”. About a month ago I started envisioning our scene on a sheet cake. Sheet cakes are fantastic for all occasions don’t you think? I went through a phase where I was baffled by their ubiquity in grocery stores and as birthday cakes but since having BG, I get it - they are easier to cut for large parties, and are essentially a large blank canvas to go wild with your creativity. And this is really the perfect cake for that.
When it came to deciding what kind of flavor I was going to make the cake, I instinctively knew the answer: a flavor that was equally part of my childhood thanks to so many boring mall trips with the ‘rents that were made more tolerable by these delicious smoothies (if you can call something with that much sugar a smoothie that is…).
This cake is mostly about the orange - lots of zest and juice bump up the flavor, and the vanilla really accentuates. I use two types of vanilla, because I find that their combination with orange results in a sweet yet complex taste. I added some lemon zest to round out all the sweetness. For the topping, you can do just vanilla buttercream and some beautiful swirls or you can mix up some colors and pipe something that speaks to your own inner child. I can see this being the kind of cake you prep up to the point of the white background, and then handover to your little ones to have fun with and draw their own creative scene. When she’s old enough to handle a piping bag without squirting it backwards, I’m going to make her loads of sunshine cakes for her to decorate. And until her artistic abilities become more sophisticated, we know every cake will at least taste amazing =)
Sunshine Cake (Orange, Lemon and Vanilla)
I use two types of vanilla in this cake and buttercream because there is something wonderful about the combination - you get the intensity of pure and the sweetness of imitation. If you only have one, double it.
Decorating: once cake is cool, make buttercream. Have six bowls ready, in three of them place 2 tablespoons buttercream, in the other three bowls place 4 tablespoons in each of buttercream. For the pink, blue and purple you’ll only need 2 tablespoons buttercream so color them in the corresponding bowls. You’ll want more for the orange, yellow and green because you’ll use them on the sun and grass. Place all the colors in piping bags. For the rainbow, I piped each color in an arc shape and then once the rainbow is done I smoothed it over with a small offset spatula. The flowers are edible chamomiles.
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)
Zest of one orange
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon imitation vanilla
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
320g cake flour
¾ cup plain or vanilla yogurt
Juice of half of an orange
Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour a 9x13” sheet pan.
In the bowl of your stand-mixer, beat together the sugar, butter, coconut oil and zests. Beat for at least 5 minutes, until the mixture is very light and fluffy.
Add baking powder, salt and vanillas and beat to combine.
Add egg whites, one at a time. Beating for at least 30 seconds between each add.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the two flours.
In another bowl, mix the greek yogurt and the orange together. Measure out 1 cup of the mixture.
Add the flour to your mixer bowl and stir with a spatula a bit to just prevent splattering. (use the opportunity to scrape the bowl)>
Turn mixer on low and while flour is incorporating, slowly pour in the yogurt/juice mix.
Mix together until just combined.
Spread into prepared sheet pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes.
Two Vanilla Buttercream
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 ½ cups organic powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon imitation vanilla
½ teaspoon vanilla paste, or 1 teaspoon
1-2 tablespoons milk
Beat butter until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
Add salt and vanillas, beat to combine.
Add powdered sugar and beat to combine.
Add milk, beat to combine.