Guilt-Free Mandarin Orange Cake

  • Guilt-Free Mandarin Orange Cake“Guilt-Free”.  Let’s talk about that for a moment, shall we?

    If you like the sounds of “almost entirely fat free”, you’ll probably agree that there is very little guilt to go around when it comes to this cake.
    (Really.  There is one lone little egg in this recipe, and if you use the glaze- which I am going to demand that you do- one teeny pat of butter.  So if you divide that minute amount of fat around a cake with 8 servings, it’s not even worth me doing the math to tell you what the fat content is or isn’t.  Sounds guilt-free to me, unless you eat 3/4 of the cake on your own as your dinner as soon as it’s cool enough to eat.  But I can’t help you with that problem.)

    So to the extent that a cake can actually be guilt-free (let’s be honest- you still want your cake to taste great- not “pretty good, considering it’s low fat”- so a bit of sugar does make an appearance in this mandarin wonder), this recipe officially takes the cake.  It’s light (almost pillowy), sweet (but not cloying), and sticky (but not annoyingly so in the slightest).

    Key side note:  this is the easiest cake I have ever made.  This recipe flips the bird to the traditional “how to bake a cake” instruction manual (no creaming of ingredients for minutes on end, no sifting, no adding the egg at an exactly special time)… you simply throw the basic ingredients into a food processor and bake.

    You won’t come across a cake like this very often, so save this recipe.  Go forth and bake, minus (most of) the guilt.


    1 10 or 11-ounce can drained mandarin oranges (reserve a tablespoon of juice for Dairy-Free Glaze, recipe below)

    1 cup sugar

    1 cup flour

    1 egg

    1 teaspoon baking soda

    1 teaspoon vanilla

    1 teaspoon orange zest (totally optional)


    1/3 cup packed brown sugar

    1 tablespoon butter

    1 1/2 tablespoons milk

    (See Tips below for Dairy-Free Glaze option)

    1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°, and grease an 8-inch cake pan.  (See Tips below for info on mini loaves or cupcakes.)
    2. Throw all ingredients into a food processor, blender, or stand mixer and mix until smooth (batter will be quite thin).  A few chunks of orange are acceptable if you are using a stand mixer.
    3. Bake the cake for 30 minutes.  (Be careful not to over bake; the top of the cake should spring back when gently pressed, &/or a cake tester should come out almost clean of crumbs.)  Place the cake on a cooling rack, and pour the glaze of your choice (below) over the cake while it’s still warm.  Enjoy in a guilt-free way.
    4. GLAZE: Melt ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil for one minute.  Pour over cake while both glaze and cake are still warm.


    • Cake vs. Mini Loaves vs. Cupcakes.  It really is a hard decision.  All you need to know is that you’ll bake the mini loaves for about 18 – 20 minutes (this recipe allows you to make 3 loaves), and the cupcakes will take 13 – 15 minutes (you’ll have enough batter for 12 cupcakes).  Test the cakes a few minutes before the recommended bake times to make sure they aren’t over baking.  Cupcake note- be sure to use liners in your muffin cups, as this is a bit of a sticky cake that you won’t want to pry from the pan.
    • Don’t have orange zest?  No problem, really.  I make this cake all the time without it, because I rarely have an orange waiting around to be zested.  The cake itself doesn’t really have a strong orange flavor, so if you are hankering for an orange hit, then do use the zest.  (You could always add lemon zest instead.)
    • Oh, my- the Glaze.  I developed a serious crush on this glaze in 1997.  (I used to make a double batch, pour it over graham crackers in a 9 x 9 pan, and then bake in the oven at 375° for 5 – 8 minutes.)  (I just spaced out for a moment, reflecting on that era.)  Anyhoo, here are your glaze options:  #1. Pour this glaze over a warm cake with little holes poked into it with a fine-tipped knife or your cake tester (because everyone knows that a warm, holey cake  is a thirsty cake that will soak up the glazey goodness).  #2. Pour this glaze over a cooled cake (from the fridge), so it dries on the surface like a rich skating rink of caramel.  #3. Pour this glaze over a cooled, sliced cake.  (You know where this is going.  The glaze sneaks into the slice crevases, like in option #1.)  It will need to be a bit cooled so you can slice it neatly, FYI.  #4. Pour TWO batches of glaze over the cake— one while it’s still warm, and another after it has had a chance to cool a bit.  (In no way is this guilt-free, but in fairness I need to present this glorious option to you.)  Last tip: Keep the cake in its pan when pouring the glaze overtop, to contain the wayward drops.
    • Dairy-Free Glaze:  stir together a tablespoon of the mandarin juice (reserved from the can) with 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar.  You are looking for a thin consistency, like cream… just pour over your still-warm cake/mini loaves/ cupcakes and spread with a spoon to cover the top surface.  It will dry to a nice translucent crackly surface.  Orange crackly heaven.

    So tell me, how do you plan to glaze this cake?



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    February 10th, 2012 | More Sweets Please | 6 Comments | Tags: , ,

6 Responses and Counting...

  • Michelle 02.10.2012

    I would love to try out this recipe but we don’t have canned mandarins in my part of the world. Can I sub fresh ones?

  • You should absolutely be able to use fresh mandarins… just make sure to choose juicy, ripe ones, and use a knife to cut the entire exterior off so you don’t have any pith. (Try to use only the perfect little segments.) Use about 1 1/4 cups, and be sure to add a tablespoon of extra juice. batter should be quite thin… let me know how it turns out!

  • Ok so I finally tried this. And unfortunately it didn’t turn out all that well, though through complete fault of my own! I made muffins and the taste was actually great, but the consistency was too liquidy, and I screwed up the icing so it came out like hard caramel! Not good. My mother in law says I probably added too much sugar? Oh well…

  • I am SO sorry that these weren’t a resounding success for you… I am thinking it’s because you didn’t have the canned mandarin oranges? As for the icing, if it’s boiled too long it will harden up, so next time try watching the time and make sure it’s not boiling too hard for too long. I will send you a can of oranges if you send me your address!

  • You mention an egg in the description but there isnt any in the recipe??

  • HOLY CRAPPERS, CORA! I am SO SO sorry. You’re totally right- I forgot to mention “1 egg” in the recipe… kind of massively important. Send me your address (to and I’ll mail you a World’s Greatest Fudge Brownie tea towel as my thanks for your keen eye! Thank you, and happy baking…

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