Monday, April 11, 2016

Orange-Spicebush Loaf

I took this loaf cake on a recent forage walk, and none remained, after. So I think the walkers liked it. Loaves are easy to fit into my backpack, and I slice them before wrapping them.

I cook seasonally, and in April in New York the only vaguely seasonal fruit in the hood is citrus from the South or apples from these parts. Citrus pairs beautifully with spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

This recipe is based heavily on the Orange Bar Cake from Lesley Faull's book Bread, Buns, Cakes and Cookies (Howard Timmins, 1970, Cape Town), that fed my childhood. The copy I have is the second edition of 1982 - the original came to some sort of sticky end, the details are vague. My mom baked Ms Faull's cherry cake (my preferred birthday cake) and her chocolate cake ("baked with a man in mind," is its subtitle - the alternate favourite for birthdays), her hot milk sponges, her cookies and scones and maybe some things I have not found in the foxed pages, yet.

The original recipe calls for margarine because in 1970 margarine was cutting edge heart health (I wonder how many people it killed). Use butter. I added the powdered spicebush, tweaked some quantities and also drizzled a syrup over the top, which is pure overkill, so you can leave that out if you like. And if you have no's still a good cake. Just add an extra teaspoon of orange zest.

If you have not foraged your own spicebush berries in late summer, order them dried from Integration Acres, in Ohio (called Appalachian allspice, on their website). The berries freeze well, just grind when you need them. I have also used the spring twigs of spicebush to flavour a jar of fine sugar in the way that you would use a vanilla bean (use 8 twigs per 1 lb of sugar, and scratch them up before inserting them in the jar).

Orange Spicebush Loaf

6 oz unsalted butter
6 oz sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 Tbsp ground spicebush
3 large eggs
4 oz self raising flour
4 oz cake flour (I use all-purpose, truth be told)
2 Tbsp orange juice

Cream the room temperature butter with the sugar, orange zest and spicebush till light in colour. Gradually add the beaten eggs, with a dusting of flour each time, to prevent separation. Gradually add the flour with the orange juice until well mixed. Pour into a buttered 2-lb loaf tin and bake at 350'F/180'C for 3/4's of an hour or until a sharp skewer inserted comes out clean.

If using the syrup, stab a dozen holes in the loaf with the skewer and drizzle the syrup over while the cake is still in the pan, and warm. When the syrup has been absorbed loosen the cakes around the edges with blunt knife, and remove from the tin onto a wire rack to cool.

Syrup for Drizzling

1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rye whiskey

Combine the orange juice and sugar and cook over high heat in a small saucepan until reduced in volume by two thirds. Add the rye and cook for another minute, bubbling. Turn off heat and allow to cool. Pour over the loaf when it comes out of the oven.


  1. What a lovely inviting cake, screams: eat me! mmmmmmm!

  2. I would love to grow spicebush in the shadier part of my backyard. Do you know of any sources for the plants where they are gendered male and female? I think you need one of each to produce berries.

    1. I do not! - best to contact nurseries that do stock them and ask. One can of course use the twigs, flowers and leaves of either sex, though of course only the male will make the fruit.


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