I was asked to bring a dessert to a potluck party tonight, a farewell gathering for friends of ours who will soon be heading to Chile. I decided to make one of childhood favourites, Oranje Cooke. It is a recipe that our family learned in the Dutch church that we attended when I was a child, and the recipe in my book claims to be from the kitchen of Tina DeVries, a woman I vaguely remember, so I never questioned my family lore about the dish, though much of it now seems to me a little questionable. We were always told that Oranje Cooke was Dutch for Orange Cake, which may well be true, but it raised the question of why the recipe does not actually contain any oranges. This was because, we were told, the name of the dish actually refers to the colour orange as a symbol of Holland’s royal family, which descends from Willem van Oranje, or William of Orange. Again, this explanation seems plausible enough, only the icing that was put on this cake, every time I can remember eating it, whether it was made by my own family or one of the Dutch ladies from the church, was pink. There was no explanation at all for this inconsistency.
So, today, as I got the recipe out of my book for perhaps the fiftieth time, and as I wondered about why there should be pink icing on an orange cake for the fiftieth time also, I decided to answer this question once and for all. Unfortunately, the internet solved nothing. I can find no results for Oranje Cooke recipes that look anything like mine, no results that are even without oranges. A search for Dutch Spice Cake, which I think more accurately describes the dish, returns any number of recipes, some more or less like mine, but none very similar, and none that specify pink icing, or even orange icing for that matter.
All of this makes me feel much better about the fact that I have been altering the recipe as long as I have been making it for myself. Despite all the reasons that I was given as a child, I grate orange rind into it, and I make the icing orange as well.
Mix together, in a very large bowl, a pound of shortening, four eggs, three cups of brown sugar, and a teasponn of vanilla. Stir in a tablespoon of anise seed, two or three tablespoons of grated orange rind, and about two teaspoons each, more or less depending on your taste, of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground allspice, ground cloves, and baking powder. Stir in four cups of flour, which should produce a heavy, sticky dough. Press the dough about half an inch thick into an edged cookie pan. Bake it for ten minutes or so in a 450 degree oven. Let it cool, then spread it it with orange (or pink) butter icing. Cut it into squares, and enjoy.