Growing up I was not a fan of most fruit and if I was picking dessert flavors. I always went for chocolate. As an adult, I have come to love fruit and fruit flavored anything. This recipe came about because I was making cupcakes for a friend’s bridal shower. After asking for her favorite cake flavors, she responded, “orange or strawberry.” I was slightly nervous because neither of those flavors were ones that I had ever tried to bake into a cake. I toyed with the idea of making a vanilla cake and just flavoring the icing. But before I could start recipe testing, I talked with her again and found out that at their cake tasting, the baker said, “It is impossible to get an orange flavored cake without artificial flavoring or a boxed mix”… So, I took that as a challenge to come up with a great orange cake that was flavored naturally.
My cake testing started with a vegan pound cake recipe I had been struggling with for over a year to get right. It used apple cider vinegar to give the tang one would expect from a pound cake that used sour cream as an ingredient. I hypothesized that I could replace the ACV with orange juice and get a similar result. To concentrate the flavor, I reduced the orange juice on the stove to bump up the flavor while reducing the liquid. Though I was using orange juice, I also knew that, even concentrated, would not be enough orange flavoring. After years of watching any sort of baking show that I can, using zest is how you bump up the flavor of citrus. The zest contains natural oils that instantly bump up the flavor without adding more liquid. I added both the zest and juice to my recipe, and to tint the cake a little orange (being Fall, I had extra pumpkin puree), I added a little pumpkin puree in place of other liquid. That first weekend of recipe testing, I baked the cupcakes at 350F like more cake recipe. The cupcakes set on top and then split open with a soft interior, but once baked an additional 5 minutes, the texture and flavor were great.
Not sure what had caused the cracking in the cake, I ask my grandmother during our weekly phone chat, and she suggested that it might be a temperature issue. If the top set early and then cracked as the middle started to heat up, the oven temperature might be too hot. So, the next weekend when I went about recipe testing again, I first made sure all of the ingredients were at room temperature when starting (vegan butter had a smaller window than “normal” butter for being a workable consistency). You want it just room temperature enough but not too warm or it will break and separate the oils. After mixing up the second test batch, I deiced to go off Grandmother’s suggestion and baked them at 325F instead of 350F. And you know what? It worked! At the lower temperature, the top of the cupcakes did not set before the interior started to heat up.
The following Friday night, I prepped to bake my third batch of these cupcakes for the shower the following day. After my first two recipe testing sessions under my belt, I knew they would work out well. The only recipe change I made this final time was to make a double batch.
Icing! Originally, I thought that strawberry and orange would not go well together, but that first weekend of recipe testing, I decided to just try a strawberry icing and see how it went. Well, it turned out great. The flavors went well together. I took a basic butter cream recipe and veganized it using plant-based butter. Then once the icing was coming together, I folded in two tablespoons of strawberry jam from my local farm CSA Frog Song Organics. That first night the strawberry was light but present, but by the next day the flavor was a little lost. So, each time I recipe tested, I upped the percentage of strawberry jam and counterbalanced it with powder sugar. I also switched out some of the vegan butter for organic rainforest-alliance-certified shortening, because I live in Florida and knew that between the heat and the two-hour drive to the shower, the icing needed to be more stable. In the end, between 90-degree heat and road construction, the icing did settle before making it to the shower, but they still tasted great. If you were to want to make theses in the summer heat or travel with them, you might change out 2/3 of the vegan butter for shortening to stabilize them more.
1 Flax Eggs – (1 Tbsp Flax Seed Meal + 1/3 c Water)
180g / 1 ½ c All Purpose Flour
14g / 2 tbsp Arrow Root Powder (or Cornstarch)
¼ tsp Baking Powder
¾ tsp Baking Soda
¼ tsp Salt
180g / 1 c Raw Sugar (or granulated)
75g / 5 ½ tbsp Butter (Room temp)*
1 tsp Vanilla
56g / ¼ c Non-Dairy Milk (Room temp)
Juice and Zest of 1 Orange
45g / 2 ¾ tbsp Pumpkin Puree
*Tested with Earth Balance Baking Sticks plant-based butter.
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Mix flax egg to allow it to gel. Set aside.
Heat orange juice in a small saucepan over medium low heat and simmer until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, or microwave until reduced tot eh same amount. Set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the 180g (1 ½ cup) all-purpose flour, 14g (2 tbsp) arrow root, 1/4 tsp baking powder, ¾ tsp baking soda, and ¼ tsp salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and 180g (1c) sugar for 2-3 minutes with a stand mixer or by hand until light and fluffy. Whisk in the flax egg and continue mixing for two minutes until some air is incorporated.
Add the 1 tsp vanilla, 56g (1/4 c) non-dairy milk, 45g (2 ¾ tbsp) pumpkin puree, and 2 tbsp reduced orange juice; beat until combined.
Pour in ½ the flour mixture until and mix for 10 seconds. Add in the remaining flour mixture and mix for thirty seconds.
Pour into a greased or lined muffin tins and fill 2/3 of the way full. Should fill 12-18 depending on the size of your tins. Bake for 24-28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.
Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before attempting to remove. Do not leave in pan longer than 10 minutes or you will get soggy bottoms.
85g / 6 tbsp Butter (room temp) *
34.5g / 3 tbsp Vegetable Shortening**
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
¼ c Strawberry Preserves or Jam (room temp)
681-908g / 6-8 c Powder Sugar (sifted) ***
*Tested with Earth Balance Baking Sticks plant-based butter.
**If you are making this icing during the summer or traveling with the baked good, you may want to flip the proportions and use 6 tbsp of shortening and 3 tbsp butter to help make a more stable icing.
***The amount of powder sugar will depend on how thick you want your icing and whether you plan on spreading it on with a knife or pipping it on with a pipping bag.
In a stand mixer or by hand beat the butter and shortening until it starts to combine.
Add in 2 cups of powder sugar and whip until incorporated.
Add in the vanilla and strawberry preserves/jam, then add in the remaining powder sugar 2 cups at a time until combined.
Continue whipping icing until it reached your desired consistency. If you want a softer more spreadable icing using less sugar, and if you want a stiffer more pipe-able icing use a few cups more.