When I was growing up, we celebrated Christmas with, among other things, stockings hung by the chimney with care. While I have a hard time remembering what all was in those stockings, there is one item I definitely remember: a round, ripe orange.
The orange was always stuffed into the toe and was usually the very last thing to be discovered in a sock full of surprising treats. I remember the orange so vividly because I was always stumped as to why this mundane grocery store staple kept showing up on a day reserved for special gifts.
And then one year in school, some time around third grade, a teacher attempted to hold our attention on the last day before Christmas break by reading to us from a big book of Christmas stories. Lo and behold, one of those stories was about children who found oranges in the bottom of their stockings. Only these kids were blown away by the oranges, and I was blown away that anyone could consider an orange a real Christmas treat!
I want to say it was a Laura Ingalls Wilder story, but it’s been a long time. It was definitely a story set in the Midwest pioneer days. Our teacher explained that back then, at a time before freight trucks and refrigeration, oranges were an exotic fruit, and Christmas was probably the only time of year that pioneers got to eat such a thing as an orange.
From that day on the Christmas orange morphed from a boring everyday fruit to a fresh reminder of how amazing life is these days, and how lucky I was to grow up in a time and place so secure and happy that Christmas meant a belly full of rich food and arms full of new gifts hand-picked by a loving mother. I have been fascinated by the idea of oranges for Christmas ever since.
So when I first discovered orange thyme, perhaps about my second year into growing herbs for Pickle Creek, I immediately knew we had to make an orange thyme soap for Christmas, and we had to name it Christmas Thyme. If you’ve ever picked up a bar of our Christmas Thyme soap at market and wondered why it smells of oranges, now you know why!
And then when we started making Blood Orange Thyme infused olive oil earlier this fall, I immediately knew I had to come up with a Blood Orange Thyme olive oil cake for Christmas. It actually wasn’t that difficult to do; my sister is an avid baker, and she helped me devise a basic olive oil chocolate cake recipe. I tried the Blood Orange Thyme olive oil in the recipe and knew I had an immediate winner (because Tim and I ate almost half that cake in one sitting!).
I’m a big fan of homemade whipped cream, so I topped off my cake with a simple orange whipped cream. I think a rich chocolate glaze might be equally amazing on this cake, but on the other hand this cake is tasty in its own right and also would probably shine with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
However you decide to top off this cake, I hope it does for you as it does for me and brings to mind the many great things in your life. Cheers, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!
Blood Orange Thyme Olive Oil Cake
1/2 c. coffee (boiling hot)
1/2 c. Dutch cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. sugar
Heat your oven to 325° F. Oil a 9- x 2-inch round pan or 9-inch springform pan with olive oil (I use the Blood Orange Thyme oil to grease my pan, but you can also use a plain olive oil if you’re hoping to conserve on your Blood Orange Thyme oil usage). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Oil the paper and dust the whole pan lightly with flour.
Brew about 1 cup of a nice, dark coffee. If your coffee doesn’t come out of your pot boiling hot (which mine never does), place the coffee in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Sift the cocoa powder over a small bowl, and stir in 1/2 cup of the boiling hot coffee until the cocoa mixture is smooth and glossy. Add the vanilla and set aside. In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
Combine the eggs, olive oil, and sugar in an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the cocoa mixture until well combined. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until just combined, again scraping down the sides of the bowl. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of your oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.
Run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan to release the cake. Let cool. Carefully slide the cake out of the pan and peel off the parchment paper. Top with freshly whipped orange cream (recipe below). Enjoy!
Orange Whipped Cream
2 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
3/4 c. chilled whipping cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest and juice the orange. Add the whipped cream to the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, begin beating the cream at high speed. Alternatively, you can use a hand mixer to beat the cream, which allows for better visibility. You have to watch your cream very carefully while it’s being beaten, because if you overbeat it you will end up with butter instead of cream! As soon as you start beating the cream, add in the sugar and vanilla extract. Add1/4 teaspoon of the orange zest (save the rest for garnish) and slowly add in 2 tablespoons of the fresh orange juice. Continue beating the cream until it begins to stiffen and form peaks (6 to 7 minutes in all). Cover and chill until you’re ready to use (no longer a few hours).