Refresh and Reset with Sicilian Orange Semolina Cake

Your happy cake.
Your happy cake.

If you’ve ever been guilty of procrastibaking, raise your hand.

Uh, yes, that would be me, multiple times when I’ve pushed aside writing deadlines for a few hours because I just felt the urge to bake a batch of cookies.

And if you’ve ever stressed baked, raise your other hand,

Yes, me again, both arms up, as I’ve been guilty of sliding a Bundt cake or pan of brownies into the oven when everything else has seemed too overwhelming.

Jack Hazan knows those times all too well. After all, he’s an actual New York City psychotherapist and founder of Modern Therapy Group, who also happens to be the chief baking officer of JackBakes, a baked goods company whose breads are now carried in more than 5– online and brick-and-mortar stores.

He’s also the author of “Mind Over Batter” (Chronicle Books, 2022), of which I received a review copy. It’s a novel self-care cookbook that touts baking as therapy.

Let’s face it, as merry and fun as the holidays are, they can also raise the roof on anxiety as we all try to be everything to everyone and feel obligated to accept every invitation that comes our way.

Baking to the rescue. As Hazan writes, “It serves up an alternative to trying to numb the bad feelings and allows us to channel that energy into creation. In other words, we’re getting out of our heads and into our hands.”

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. As Hazan points out, kneading bread dough offers the same type of relief as squeezing a stress ball. But of course, with the bonus of ending up with something delicious in the process.

His cookbook is filled with 75 recipes sure to lift the spirits and lighten the load, such as “Boost-of-Energy Coconut Lime Bites,” “Trifecta of Comfort Ice Cream Sandwiches,” “You’ve Met Your (Banana) Matcha Loaf,” and “Confetti Pound Cake.”

You don’t have to be feeling out of sorts to enjoy “Sicilian Orange Semolina Cake.” After all, the scent of fresh citrus will refresh and uplift no matter what the mood may be.

With the bright taste of orange through and through.
With the bright taste of orange through and through.

This cake couldn’t be easier. You don’t even need an electric mixer for it.

It gets deep orange flavor from the zest of three oranges massaged into granulated sugar to distribute its fragrant oil far and wide. Next go in eggs, orange juice for more of a citrus kick, and Greek yogurt and olive oil for moisture. Then, comes the flour, along with semolina to add a slightly nutty taste.

Pour the batter into a round cake pan, and pop it into the oven.

Serve slices with whipped cream flavored with a splash of orange blossom water. The recipe instructs to spread it on like frosting. I decided to add a big dollop to each slice, then grate some more fresh orange zest on top. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

The cake boasts a moist and compact crumb, with a lush taste. There’s a barely noticeable grittiness, thanks to the semolina. It’s along the lines of what cornmeal would add, except this comes from milled durum wheat. This cake’s flavor thoroughly celebrates oranges.

If one could taste sunshine, this would be it.

Moist and lush.
Moist and lush.

Sicilian Orange Semolina Cake

(Serves 8)

Grated zest of 3 oranges

3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 cup (240 grams) Greek yogurt

3/4 cup olive oil

6 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (80 grams) semolina flour

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup homemade whipped cream, for topping (see recipe below)

1/8 teaspoon orange blossom water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray, line it with parchment, and then spray the parchment. Set it aside.

In a large mixing bowl, massage 2 tablespoons of the orange zest into the sugar with your fingers. Add the eggs and whisk until pale and foamy. Add the yogurt, oil, and orange juice. Whisk vigorously until well combined. Add the all-purpose flour, semolina, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, tap it on the counter to release any air pockets, and smooth the surface. Bake the cake until golden brown and the center wobbles gently, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack and let cool for 2 hours.

When ready to serve, in a small bowl, gently mix the whipped cream with the orange blossom water. Dollop and spread the orange blossom whipped cream on top of the cake using an offset spatula, and sprinkle the remaining orange zest on top. Or conversely, plate slices of the cake, add a dollop of orange blossom whipped cream to each, and sprinkle on orange zest.

This cake can keep for about 3 days (without the whipped cream topping), tightly wrapped at room temperature.

Homemade Whipped Cream

(Makes 1 cup)

1/2 cup heavy cream, very cold

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon rose water or orange blossom water (optional)

Place a large metal bowl in the freezer for at least 10 minutes. The colder it is, the better the whipped cream will stand.

Add the heavy cream powdered sugar, vanilla, and rose water (if using) to the cold bowl. Use a handheld mixer or whisk (if you are feeling extra tough today) to whip the cream until stiff peaks form. If using a handheld mixer, use a whisk attachment and start on low speed, moving to high speed as the cream begins to thicken.

Use the whipped cream immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Adapted from “Mind Over Batter” by Jack Hazan

Celebrating Oranges: Orange Beef by Dale Talde

And: Coffee-Orange Angel Food Cake by Emily Luchetti

And: Essence of Orange-Chocolate Wafer Cake

And: Seared Duck Breast with Caramelized Orange Butter

And: Soy Sauce Chicken with Star Anise and Orange Peel by Francis Ang

And: Orange Butter Cookies

And: Pinched Orange Macaroons

And: Cold Candied Oranges by Gabrielle Hamilton

And: Pork Loin with Oranges by Charlie Palmer

And: Ash-Roasted Potatoes with Chipotle-Orange Sauce

And: Lamb Adobo Taco with Spices and Orange by Tacolicious

And: Sweet Potato Orange Cups

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