Gluten-Free Orange Cake with Orange Buttercream Icing

As you get older, it becomes a sad fact that people come and go. I’ve said goodbye to many wonderful people over my life. The only thing I’ve learnt from those experiences is that you need to give them a good sendoff.

This orange cake was for an incredible teacher who has touched many lives, including mine. I was part of her last university class, so my classmates and I naturally decided to throw her a small farewell party.

Why this cake in particular? Well, the week before I’d brought some scones to class. While my classmates were tucking into the scones, said teacher was noticeably avoiding them. Turns out, she had wheat allergies.

Fortunately, I’m no stranger to wheat-/gluten-free baking. There’s a Middle Eastern orange cake that I make every Chinese New Year to use up the endless supply of mandarin oranges. It uses ground almonds instead of flour, which, on top of keeping celiacs happy, keeps the cake beautifully moist.

I also love that the cake makes use of the entire orange, no peeling, no de-seeding. I first came across this recipe in one of my cake books, but somehow eating pulverized orange seeds and skin didn’t appeal to me. Then I saw Nigella Lawson make it on Nigella Bites, and I was sold on how easy it was to make. Using the whole orange gives this cake an intensely orange flavour that no essences or flavourings can reproduce.

This cake was meant to be a single whole cake, because it’s so dense and rich on its own. However, seeing that this cake was for a celebration, I tried a layered version of it, iced with a very suiting orange buttercream. I love this buttercream because of the flecks of zest you can see in it. Also, the orange flavour is nice and sharp.



For the cake:

2 medium oranges (approx. 400g)
6 eggs
250g caster sugar
250g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder

Makes a 9-inch cake, or 2 8-inch cake layers

For the icing:

50g unsalted butter, softened
150g vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
400g icing sugar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Diced candied orange peel (opt.)

Makes about 3 cups of icing.


Step 1: Put the oranges in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours.

Drain and put the oranges in a food processor (zest, pith, seeds, and all). Process until you get a smooth and luridly orange paste.

Step 2:  Preheat your oven to 175°C (350°F). Grease and line 1 9-inch round tin or 2 8-inch round tins, depending on what you want to make.

Step 3: Mix the orange paste, eggs, sugar, almonds, and baking powder. (You can simply dump all the ingredients in your food processor and mix until well blended.) Pour into the tin(s) and bake for 1 hour (for 1 cake) or 50 minutes (for 2 layers).

If you’re making one massive cake, then you’re pretty much done. For a layer cake, let the 2 cake layers cool before icing.

Step 4: To make the buttercream icing, start by beating the butter and shortening in a mixer set to ‘high’ for 5 minutes. Mix in the salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Sift in half the icing sugar and a quarter of your freshly squeezed orange juice, and mix to combine. Sift in the rest of your icing sugar and continue beating. Add in more orange juice until you achieve a good spreading consistency.

Step 5: Ice your cakes. If you have diced candied orange peel, spread some in between the cake layers.

I like to do this because the cakes are quite heavy and dense, and their weight might push the icing out from between them. The peel helps to keep the layers separate.

If you can’t get candied peel, try using almonds or walnuts. I would recommend refrigerating the cake at this point to allow the sandwiched layer of buttercream to harden and gain some strength. Then, finish icing the rest of your cake.

Even though this cake came out beautifully for me, I really would not recommend making a layered version because the cake is so dense. A lighter orange sponge or even a chocolate cake would be more reliable, although then it’s no longer wheat-free. Or, keep it as one whole cake and just have a simple runny orange icing (100g icing sugar dissolved in 1-2 tbsp orange juice) to drizzle over the top.

If you do decide to make a layered version of this cake, please do add some sort of filling to ensure the two halves do not come together and force the icing out the sides. And as I said in the instructions, let the middle layer of icing harden in the refrigerator first before icing the rest of the cake.

The recipe can also be used for other types of citrus fruits, like mandarin oranges and clementines. Lemons and limes even, but you might have to up the sugar content to balance out the sour fruit.

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