Baking In The Time Of Covid-19

Orange Torte Cake

If it weren’t for online shopping, exercise periods and permitted visits to grocery stores, I might have gone crazy in these unusual times. Even with twice daily naps, I still have daytime hours to fill.

I live in a high-rise condo, so gardening, apart from twice-weekly plant watering on the balcony is out.

So, it’s back to baking. The only downside, besides the clean-up, comes with added weight and tighter jeans.

Who bakes these days ? I’m not sure that even grandmothers perform this exercise, which is often one of love. Until the recent “stay in place” edicts, most of us had lives that left little time for this “ancient” art.

What excuse to avoid baking do we have now? We’re allowed to buy supplies and most of us have ovens.

If those of you who say that baking a cake is too much trouble, there’s a practical solution to reduce the prep time.

The “real” work of cake baking is not the mixing; it’s the assembly of the ingredients.

Leave it to the French; they have an expression for every occasion: mise en place. Put in its place. (In a high-quality restaurant, there is one person assigned as the person responsible for all the chef’s stations to have everything that is needed for the “service”. For an excellent explanation of mise en place in the restaurant kitchen, read

If you take the time, it should take no more than 5–10 minutes to read the recipe carefully and put everything you will need at your work station.

Sweet and delicate; cake interior moist with rich orange flavor and crunchy pecans.

The orange torte cake in the photo is a perfect example of something that involves time, but not culinary expertise. (See above statement about mise en place.) The results are worth it.The recipe for this orange torte cake is a throwback . . . to the sixties. Actually, the early sixties.

I was a new bride in an era where women, even those with a profession, (I was a registered nurse) did not necessarily work after marriage. My husband and I lived at Edwards Air Force Base, a remote aircraft and rocket testing facility located deep in the High Mojave Desert. I would have worked, but the local base hospital did not hire civilian nurses married to officers.

No social distancing in my world. Base activities, official and unofficial, filled the weekends. For the wives, it was all about family and friends, with golf, tennis, room mother duties, cub scouts, and the like to fill the time. As I said, it was a different time . . .

Helen Valentine, an up-the-street neighbor, and a lovely lady, happened to be an excellent cook. In spite of having an active family with teen age boys, and many demands on her time, Helen always had great food in her pantry and refrigerator. You never left Helen’s without something she had baked. Butter was always involved.

I should call this Helen’s cake because every time I bake it, I think of this remarkable woman, who operated a busy household, volunteered for every church and base activity, helped her neighbors whenever needed, and raised terrific children. In today’s world, that might seem a bit old-fashioned. In my book, Helen Valentine could be a role model for anyone! As a bonus, Helen had teenage boys, Mike and Jan, who loved our baby daughter Nicole.

Our baby daughter, Nicole, with her babysitter Mike Valentine. 1964, Edwards AFB, California

When I pulled this recipe from my files, I thought back to the last time I had baked a cake. Couldn’t remember, but this one is so good that I’ve made it three times within the last three weeks!

Count on two hours for assembly, baking, cooling, and glazing with the orange sauce. It can be done in stages, but the cake should be glazed while still warm.

Assemble ingredients. Use unsalted butter and soften before mixing with dry ingredients. Pre-heat oven. Prepare pans with oil or butter or spray to keep cake from sticking to pan.

Helen’s Orange Torte Cake is worth the effort!


1 cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)

3 eggs, beaten

Rind of two oranges

2–1/2 cups un-sifted flour

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla


1 cup sugar, juice of 2 oranges

Beat the eggs in the bowl of a mixer until frothy, add the softened butter and sugar and beat over low speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the orange rind, the dry ingredients, the buttermilk and vanilla. Mix well. Add the chopped pecans. Beat over low speed.

Butter a tube pan well and pour the batter into it. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 1 hour.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for ten minutes, then remove it from the pan, place the cake on a cake rack which has been set over a plate. Make small punctures in the cake so that it will absorb the syrup. I use a thin trussing needle.

Prepare the topping by boiling the sugar and orange juice together for five minutes. Cool syrup for 10 minutes before pouring about 1/3 slowly over the cake. (Continue until all the syrup is added and absorbed including the juices that gather at the bottom of the plate.)

Follow the directions!!! Do not overcook the sugar-orange syrup or it will harden and become like candy. Pour the orange-flavored sugar syrup, one-third at a time, over the cake slowly, allowing it to soak into the cake.

Travels Around My Kitchen…Travels Around The World…Travels Around My Life!

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