Layers of blood orange poppy seed cake frosted with blood orange Swiss meringue buttercream and garnished with candied blood orange slices.
This time of year always tends to really get me down. The winters are both long and brutal in Chicago and I seem to have an especially low tolerance for the cold. So, I try my best every year to focus on any bright spot I can find during this dreary season.
Christmas tree lights are an obvious one, which is why I was so disappointed when my husband called me on my way home last Friday to warn me that he had taken down our Christmas tree earlier that day. I know what you’re thinking. It’s January, Haley, wasn’t it about time anyway? Maybe. But I was committed to holding out as long as possible and fully taking advantage of all 12 days of Christmas.
So, why did he take the tree down a day early, you ask? Great question. Apparently, there were a dozen praying mantis eggs hatching in our living room.
Yep, I think I actually screamed that nice and loud for everyone in my train car to hear. Turns out, according to Ben’s research, Christmas trees often carry little sacs of praying mantis eggs (do people know about this??), which might hatch if your home is very warm. We have steam radiators in our apartment, which keep our place oh so nice and toasty, so the praying mantis eggs thought it was springtime, yay! Not.
Will I ever be able to get a real Christmas tree again? I DON’T KNOW.
The point here is, I’m back to trying to find anything that makes life a little brighter this time of year and as a result, I am so very in love with winter citrus right now. Kind of like there’s nothing better than a ripe peach in the summertime – a bright, juicy orange in the middle of January is perfection. Plus, we could all really do with that extra vitamin C to fight all the germs flying around these days.
Out of all the winter citrus options, blood oranges are my absolute favorite. Their color is just so gorgeous and I’ve had the idea in my head to use them in a layer cake for months now. Since lemon poppy seed is one of my favorite flavors, I decided to try baking a blood orange poppy seed cake, and I was not disappointed! Citrus + poppy seeds, you make such a great pair!!
The cake is also frosted with a blood orange Swiss meringue buttercream, which is flavored with both the zest and juice of a blood orange. It’s been a little while since I made a Swiss meringue buttercream, but I knew it’d be the perfect type of frosting to handle the addition of citrus juice.
I know Swiss meringue buttercream (SMBC) can be a little intimidating for the average baker, but it doesn’t need to be! I wrote all about the details of making this smooth, light, and airy frosting back in this cherry crisp layer cake post, so today I want to focus a little bit on troubleshooting when it comes to SMBC. Below are some simple tips and tricks on how to salvage your buttercream, even when hope seems lost.
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Problem 1: Butter is too warm!
Confession: I left my butter out way too long (near a heater) before mixing it into my buttercream for this blood orange poppy seed cake. Your buttercream might start to look kind of soupy if this happens to you. But stay calm! All you need to do is put the mixing bowl into the fridge for about 15 minutes or so. Then try beating it again and you should end up with a nice, smooth, fluffy SMBC.
Problem 2: Buttercream is too cold!
Soupy frosting is no good, but it’s also an issue if you let your buttercream get to cold. I always prefer to do the full frosting process for my cakes at one time (stack, crumb coat, chill for 20 minutes, then do the final layer of frosting). That way, I don’t have to deal with storing my buttercream or risking any changes in consistency.
However, when I was testing this cake, my husband convinced me to go out to see a movie and I had to postpone my final coat of frosting. I left my SMBC right next to our kitchen window to keep it slightly cool, but turns out it was a little too cold (thanks, Chicago winter!). When I tried whipping my buttercream back up, it looked curdled and wouldn’t come together.
This time, I was able to salvage my SMBC by putting the mixer bowl over a small pot with an inch or two of water in the bottom (a double boiler) and stirring it over medium-low heat until the buttercream just began to melt around the edges. Remove from heat, beat it back up on medium speed, and it should come together beautifully!
And finally, a helpful tip!
I don’t do this often, but I added a little bit of food coloring to this frosting to give it a pale pink hue. It’s totally optional, just depends what you want for the look of your cake. But if you do decide to use food coloring, I highly recommend gel food coloring. Liquid food colorings can too easily change the consistency of your frosting (or other baked goods) for the worse.
Personally, I love this Americolor Gel Paste Junior Kit. I don’t typically use a lot of food coloring, so the 8 colors provided in this pack work out perfectly for me. If you want more colors, you can check out the AmeriColor Student Kit, which comes with 12 options.
If you make this blood orange poppy seed cake, I’d love to see it. Post a photo and tag @flourcoveredapron on Instagram, it might just make my freezing-cold-winter’s day! 😉
Blood Orange Poppy Seed Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream
This blood orange poppy seed cake is frosted with a blood orange Swiss meringue buttercream and garnished with candied orange slices.
Blood Orange Poppy Seed Cake
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour*
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 egg yolk, room temperature**
- 2-3 tablespoons zest from a blood orange
- 3 tablespoons juice from a blood orange
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Blood Orange Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 4 egg whites (from large eggs)
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 5-6 teaspoons juice from a blood orange
- 1 tablespoon zest from a blood orange
- pink food coloring (optional)
Candied Blood Orange Slices (optional, prepare ahead)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 whole blood oranges, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
Candied Blood Orange Slices
Combine water and sugar in a large skillet and bring to a boil, whisking frequently until sugar has dissolved. Add the orange slices carefully, in a single layer, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer orange slices uncovered for about 45 minutes.
Place a wire cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet. Remove oranges from sugar water and place on the cooling rack to dry. Allow to dry, uncovered, overnight. Sprinkle with sugar if desired.
Blood Orange Poppy Seed Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare three six-inch cake pans by lining the bottoms with parchment paper. Then, generously butter and flour the pans.
Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low speed, add eggs, then egg yolk, one at a time. Mix until just combined after each addition. Add orange zest and juice, then mix to combine.
Turn mixer to low speed and alternate adding 1/3 of the flour mixture then 1/2 of the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour. Mix until incorporated after each addition.
Divide batter evenly among the three cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until cakes pass the toothpick test. Let cool in pans for 5-10 minutes, then turn cakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Blood Orange Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Add egg whites and granulated sugar to the bowl of a double boiler.*** Whisk to combine, then turn heat to medium. Whisking frequently, continue to heat the mixture until sugar has dissolved and mixture feels smooth when rubbed between two fingers. If you like, use a candy thermometer - it's ready when it reaches about 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour mixture into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for about 8-10 minutes until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature. Once cooled, switch to the paddle attachment and reduce speed to medium-low. Add butter a tablespoon at a time, beating until incorporated.
Once the butter is mixed in, add the orange juice and zest and beat on medium speed until smooth. If desired, add gel food coloring one drop at a time until desired color is reached.
Assembling the Cake
Once cakes are cool, level each layer using a serrated knife. Use a small amount of buttercream to secure the first layer on top of a cake board. Top with a layer of frosting, then repeat with the second layer. Top with third cake layer, cut side down. Frost top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of buttercream, then chill the cake for about 20 minutes.
Finish frosting the cake with the remaining buttercream, using an offset spatula and cake scraper to smooth the sides. Decorate with candied orange slices as desired.
*you can make your own cake flour by sifting together 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 3/4 cup of all purpose flour for every 1 cup of cake flour
**save the extra egg white for the buttercream!
***You can also use the bowl of your stand mixer to create a double boiler. Place it on top of a small pot with a couple inches of simmering water in the bottom. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl.
Note: If you can't find a true blood orange, try looking for Cara Cara oranges. They are a red-fleshed Navel orange and will work just fine in this recipe.