Hello, December! This mandarin layer cake is sure to get you in the Christmas spirit! Bursting with the flavour of fresh mandarin oranges and wrapped in a velvety vanilla bean buttercream, this cake will have you trilling carols long before you’ve set the holiday table.
Today is my blog’s one year anniversary.
I’ve been steadily cranking out recipes, reviews, and (hopefully) some decent blog posts for a total of 365 days. I honestly cannot believe that it’s been an entire year since I started on this online adventure.
If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll probably tell you that I’m a pretty quiet and private person. I’m very shy when it comes to meeting new people, I hardly ever spoke up in university lectures even if I knew the answer, and it takes me months to become comfortable at work when I start a new job. I think this is why my friends and family were a little surprised when I told them that I’d be starting a food blog.
“You’re going to air your life online for everyone, including Jo Blow down the street, to see? Are you comfortable with that?”
Surprisingly, I am. I didn’t think I would be. In fact, this blog began with the intention of only being seen by my family and friends back home in Canada. For those of you who have recently joined me, I actually started The Cinnamon Scrolls during my year abroad in Australia. It began as a way for me to connect with family members and friends I was missing back home and show them all of my Australian adventures and progress in the kitchen. It was a creative outlet for me and a way to keep my sanity while I continued on my career hunt.
My love for blogging grew each time I posted a new recipe. Then a miraculous thing happened — people began to respond. To me! People I didn’t know, people on the opposite of the globe, people I will probably never meet, and people who have become my friends (online and in real life) were reading my recipes and stories. Not only that, but they were reading, writing comments, and actually making my recipes! And they cared! They cared about my life and my adventures and they came back for more. I was blown away by the support I was receiving, so I started working harder. And harder. And harder. I wanted to show my readers that I cared about them too. I wanted to give them the best content, recipes, and photos that I could produce.
I started studying food styling. I would rummage through thrift shops and come home with fifteen or so more pieces every week. (I swear I thought my boyfriend was going to shoot me if I came home with one more plate or napkin!) With each photo shoot, I could see improvements in how my recipes were presented. I was learning to work with the light and was beginning to produce better photos. Even my recipes were getting more and more adventurous. But I knew the photography could be even better.
When I returned to Canada, I bit the bullet and bought a DSLR. (Which I’m still paying off in monthly installments.) It was one of the best decisions I ever made in regard to photography. This camera knew exactly what I had in my head, and with a little bit of studying, reading, and practice, I was able to go from this:
I’m still learning and improving my photography every day, but I do think I’m most proud of how far I’ve come in this year alone. I’m excited to see what my photos will look like next year!
It’s been a year of growth and success and of failure and disappointment. Not only have I started to learn and progress in my photography and food styling, but I’ve also struggled with and taught myself some basic code, chosen my focus for this blog, and made a looong list of what I hope to accomplish over the next year.
When I started blogging, I wasn’t sure what my niche was going to be. I basically put up everything that I thought tasted good. That included cakes, muffins, french toast, salads, main courses, and just about everything in between. What I learned was that I love baking the most. Although I struggle with pastry and cakes sometimes, I’m teaching myself how to be a better baker and I get far more enjoyment out of my baking successes than I do my cooking triumphs. So, from here on in, The Cinnamon Scrolls’ main focus will be baking. But we’re taking that a step further.
I will only be baking with natural ingredients.
What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that you won’t see any processed foods, refined sugars, synthetic dyes, or additives on this blog. I really believe that you can make cakes, brownies, doughnuts, and scones that are good and also good for you. I’m not saying that this is turning into a “healthy baking” blog, because it’s not. Eating cake is still an indulgence even if it uses unbleached flour and raw cane sugar. These ingredients are simply more natural. Ingredients like raw cane sugar and whole wheat flour are truer to their natural form (sugar cane and grain) than their refined counterparts. Sweeteners like honey and maple syrup are completely natural and some of the best sugars you can consume. Unbleached all-purpose flour may not have the snow white colouring you’re used to seeing, but you also know that it hasn’t been doused with chemicals to make it so. Vegetables and their juices make cakes and icings just as bright as synthetic food colourings, and they taste a heckuva lot better. I want to show you that you can make cookies with natural ingredients that are just as amazing as cookies you buy from the bakery or get out of a box.
But I am realistic. I know that it’s not always possible to only use unrefined, natural ingredients. One particular thing I struggle with is how to make frosting without confectioner’s sugar. Cane sugar makes it grainy, it doesn’t hold up to piping, and it’s generally an all around mess. Until I can figure out a suitable alternative, I will continue to use it. Which is why I say that this blog follows my own diet: 90% natural and healthy eating and 10% blow-it-all-out-the-window-and-enjoy-yourself. I’m sure most of you can sympathize! (Also, if anyone has any natural alternatives to confectioner’s sugar, I AM ALL EARS.)
I know what you’re going to ask next: What about your previous recipes that have refined sugars and other stuff you’re now eliminating? Are you going to take them off the website?
No. Over the course of the next year or two, I will be curating my past recipes and updating them to fit the new theme of my blog. Lots of those recipes can easily be adapted to the natural baking platform, so I don’t plan on getting rid of any of them. I worked hard on those recipes. I’m not about to exile them! I also plan to update the photos of a few of my earliest posts. I honestly can’t even look at them, I’m so embarrassed! But don’t worry — you’ll barely notice I’m doing this as they’ll be mixed in with tons of new content that I’m planning!
Speaking of planning, I have a few other exciting ventures planned for 2016. Over the next few weeks, I will be moving my blog to self-hosting. This decision comes from many personal as well as technical reasons that won’t bore you with. All you have to look forward to is a new layout, new recipes, new sharing buttons, some extra surprises and (OMFG) a visual recipe index!! Yes, I am very excited about this last bit, considering we all know how pathetic my current recipe index is. Hooray for leaping into the future!
Lastly, but most importantly, I want to thank you. I want to thank each and every one of you lovely people who come here, read my posts, make my recipes, comment, like, share, and generally make my life so much better every time I log on to my computer. You have no idea how much your support means to me, and how much I wish I could meet and hug every single one of you! I can honestly say that it’s you who keeps me motivated to keep chugging along. Without you, this whole thing wouldn’t be possible or nearly as much fun. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.
To show you how much I love and appreciate you all, I want to leave you with cake!
This is my first foray into holiday flavours this year, and I am SO DAMN EXCITED to share this with you! Orange cake is one of my absolute favourite cakes, so I figured I would take advantage of the bountiful mandarins available this time of year and make a mandarin layer cake. I am so impressed with how much the mandarin shines through in this cake! I wasn’t sure how it would turn out as mandarins have a much more subtle and sweeter flavour than regular oranges, but it’s fantastic! It pairs so well with the vanilla bean frosting, I just couldn’t get enough. I topped the lot with sugared cranberries because those just scream holiday time to me. They’re so beautiful!
I hope this mandarin cake makes up for my lengthy post, and I hope you all have a wonderful start to your holiday season. Here’s to many more years of The Cinnamon Scrolls! Cheers!
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup organic coconut oil, at room temperature
- ¾ cup raw cane sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- zest of 4 mandarin oranges
- ½ cup mandarin orange juice (about 3 mandarins)
- ¾ cup mandarin orange juice (about 5 mandarins)
- ¼ cup + 1 tbsp raw cane sugar
- ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
- ½ vanilla bean pod, seeds only
- Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C) and grease two 6-inch round cake pans with butter. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy. Crack in the egg and beat on low until combined. Add the vanilla and zest and stir until combined. Slowly pour in the mandarin juice until emulsified.* Add the flour mixture, half a cup at a time, and mix until smooth. Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared pans and smack the pans on the counter a couple times to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes for 20--22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the cakes have started to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cakes are baking, make the syrup. Add the mandarin juice, sugar, and vanilla to a small pot over medium heat. Allow the mixture to cook for 12--15 minutes, or until all the sugar has dissolved and it has reduced by half and thickened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- While the cakes and syrup are cooling, using a chopstick or skewer, poke a few holes in the top of each cake layer. Do not press the implement all the way through the cake, only about half way. This will help the syrup to infuse further into the cake. After the syrup has cooled for 10 minutes, brush the tops of the cake layers with a good amount of the syrup. Repeat this process 3 times. Allow the cakes to cool completely before assembling and frosting.
- To make the frosting, add the butter to a clean bowl and fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on high until fluffy and pale, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the sifted sugar, a cup at a time, until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla pod seeds and stir until combined.
- Once the cake layers have completely cooled, choose a top and bottom layer. Place a tablespoon of frosting on the serving dish and lay the bottom layer on top. Frost the top of the bottom layer with about ½ cup frosting from the centre to the edges. Place the top layer of cake on top of the frosted bottom layer and frost that layer in the same way. Crumb coat the cake with frosting and refrigerate for 30 minutes to lock in the crumbs. Frost the rest of the cake with the remaining frosting. If you have frosting leftover, feel free to decorate with piping designs. Top the cake with sugared cranberries, candied orange peel, or anything else your heart desires!
- This cake is best served the day it is made. It will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
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If you make my Mandarin Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting, be sure to take a photo and tag me @cinnamonscribe on Instagram or Twitter. I would love nothing more than to see your creations!