11 Aug

Recipe: Summer Cake

Summer Cake

A cool, fruity cake perfect for the melting hot days of summer.

The “original family recipe” (which is handwritten but probably originated with a Jell-O/Duncan Hines/Cool Whip ad in the Eighties) calls for a cake mix. I’ll tell you how to do that in the notes, but honestly, a basic yellow cake calls for six ingredients, so it’s barely more complicated than the four things you need to make a box cake. Unless you really like that chemical taste and rubbery texture, I encourage you to try it once from scratch.

On the other hand, I don’t get super braggy about the homemadeness of anything involving instant pudding and Cool Whip, so I won’t judge.

Summer Cake


  • 2½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1¾ cups of granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup of butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of milk (see notes)
  • 11-ounce can of mandarin oranges, including the juice
  • 1 teaspoon of orange zest (optional)


  • 8-ounce container of Cool Whip
  • 3.4-ounce package of vanilla or French vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple, including the juice

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease and flour (or use nonstick spray with flour) a 13×9-inch pan.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Drain the juice from the mandarin oranges into a measuring cup; add milk (approximately 1/3 cup) to total 1 cup of liquid.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add a third of the dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Add half the liquid; mix until combined. Repeat dry, liquid, and dry, mixing after each addition until combined. Gently fold in the mandarin oranges.

Spread batter in the prepared pan. Bake at 350° Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Thoroughly cool on a wire rack before topping.

To prepare the topping, combine the crushed pineapple with its juice and the instant pudding mix. Fold in the Cool Whip until thoroughly combined. Spread on the cooled cake. Store in the refrigerator.


  • The recipe requires a cup of liquid. The juice from the canned oranges will yield about 2/3 of a cup. The extra about 1/3 of a cup of liquid can be milk (as in a standard cake recipe), buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, regular orange juice, lemon-lime soda… hell, melted ice cream would probably be good, or booze if you’re so inclined. It’s such a little amount and you just need something wet, so don’t get all hung up on particulars. This means that if you remember you need to save the juice from the oranges only after it’s trickling down the sink, all is not lost — just replace it with the liquid of your choice to make a total of 1 cup.
  • There is a family divide on the handling of the oranges. If you leave them intact, they will all settle to the bottom of the cake during baking. If you tear them up into little pieces (or chop them, if you’re less handsy), they’ll still end up near the bottom, but the little flecks will be more evenly distributed. I prefer the little bits because I don’t care for huge, cold, wet globs sitting at the bottom of my cake like slugs, but others think that’s the best part, like buried treasure. Use your discretion.
  • I add a teaspoon of orange zest because I have lots of orange zest in my freezer at all times, but that’s not in the original recipe and not strictly necessary, although it is tasty and ensures the orange flavor is infused throughout the cake instead of concentrated at the bottom.
  • IF YOU’D RATHER USE A CAKE MIX: Beat together 1 package of yellow cake mix, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 4 eggs, and the juice from an 11-ounce can of mandarin oranges, and then fold in the oranges. Otherwise, follow the baking and topping instructions as indicated above.
  • I’m not one to grab a spoon and chow down on a big bowl of pistachio pudding, but using a pistachio pudding mix with the Cool Whip and pineapple would probably be good, in addition to switching up the color palette.

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