Old-fashioned Sunshine Cake with Orange Frosting

Sunshine cake slice

Visiting with old friends is always special.  For the last 15 or 20 years, my husband and I get together a couple times a year with my daughter’s former girl scout leader and her husband to play pinochle. There are shared memories, family updates, and just plain good times.

It recently was my turn to host the gathering, and I wanted to make a special dessert –  but something not too heavy.  And, of course, my other criteria was that it had to be made using a hundred-year-old recipe. When browsing through an old cookbook, I came across a recipe for a citrus sponge cake called Sunshine Cake that peaked my interest, so I decided to give it a try.

The cake turned out wonderfully and did not disappoint. It was light, tender, and tasted divine. The recipe calls for both orange juice and lemon juice so it has a nicely balanced citrus flavor. The cake requires beating egg whites until stiff peaks form but it is worth the effort.

The trick to getting a really light cake is to cool it upside down. The cake can be inverted on a cooling rack when it is removed from the oven. In the old days, cakes often were inverted on an empty glass 1-quart soda-pop bottle to cool.

Here is the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Sunshine Cake with Orange Frosting

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print


6 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

5 egg yolks

1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350° F.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form; then add the cream of tartar and salt while continuing to beat until there are stiff peaks.

In a separate bowl combine the sugar, flour, egg yolks, orange juice, and lemon juice. Beat until combined, then gently fold the whipped egg whites into the mixture.

Gently spoon the batter into an ungreased angel food cake  pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the cake is lightly browned and the top springs back when lightly touched.

Invert pan until cool (at least 1 hour). Remove cake from pan and place on serving plate, then drizzle with a thin orange frosting (glaze).

Orange Frosting (Glaze)

2 cups  powdered sugar

approximately 2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons grated orange rind

Combine powdered sugar and orange juice in a mixing bowl; beat until smooth. If the mixture to too thick add additional orange juice; then stir in the grated orange rind.

Note: The frosting should be quite thin (and more of a glaze) when used on this cake. A thicker version of it would be lovely on heavier cakes.

Here are the original recipes:

sunshine cake recipe
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)


orange frosting (1)
Source: Tried and True Cook Book, compiled and published by the Willing Workers of the Minneapolis Incarnation Parish (1910)

103 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Sunshine Cake with Orange Frosting

    1. Playing cards is a nice activity. It provides something to do, yet presents lots of opportunities for chatting about other topics.

      1. That made me smile. My grandma Irene passed away in 1991 but I can still picture her sitting with a table full of family, doing just what you said. 🙂 Thanks for bringing up that memory!

          1. I am definitely a fan of yours! I love the history of your blog, the time you take to find new recipes, and the recipe mode rations for modern cooks. It’s a blessing to be able to share your posts! Thank you so much!

    1. I would definitely recommend that you use a mixer to make this cake. It takes a lot of beating to get the stiff peaks of egg white – though I continue to be amazed how many hundred-year-old recipes call for beating egg whites. People would have hand-beaten them back then.

  1. It’s funny — I don’t remember eating this, but as soon as I saw the photo, I recognized it. I happen to have every ingredient for it in the house, so I believe I’ll give it a try for July 4. Who cares if it’s not red, white, and blue? It ought to be just as impressive as fireworks!

    1. I’m glad you could tell that it was very light from the posted picture. I tried taking a photo that showed both the cake slice and the cut cake because I thought it would really show how light it was – but that picture didn’t turn out very well.

      1. That picture was fine, it showed how light the cake was ..without doubt it just shouted out look at me ” I’m light as a feather” Have a lovely day 🙂

  2. The cake looks great. Could you send one to me in a box? 🙂 Pinochle is the card game that has brought hours of enjoyment to our family. I do not think many people play it anymore. Great post as always.

    1. 🙂 Pinochle is a good game. It’s too bad that it’s not as popular as it once was, though sometimes I’m surprised how many young people play board games with their friends. I guess that it’s still the same idea even though the actual game may be different.

  3. sounds good I will have to add this to my pile of to try recipes. 🙂 My mom taught me to put cakes upside down on bottles to cool….I never did think about the cooling rack. Will do it that way when I make this for our next church dinner – if I can beat it to the desert list. That is usually the first item to fill up. You can tell where our hearts lay!!

    1. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you are able to sign up for a dessert. 🙂 I’ve also found that the dessert section is the first to fill on pot luck dinner lists.

  4. What a wonderful recipe Sheryl! This reminds me of a lemon cake that I would always request that my mom or grandma make for my birthday. Love the orange idea though.. will have to try that.

    1. Just reading the cake name in the old cookbook made me feel cheery – and actually making (and eating) the cake made me feel even cheerier. 🙂

    1. This cake was similar in color to a “yellow cake.” The egg yolks (and the orange and lemon juices) gave it a yellowish color – but it definitely was not an intense shade of yellow. 🙂

    1. I miss the old glass pop bottles. I suppose the cakes could be inverted on wine bottles, but somehow it doesn’t seem the same. 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Unmeasured Journeys and commented:
    Are you looking for a cake recipe to add to your summer celebrations?

    If so, you’re going to love this! This evening I saw Sheryl’s post and what ultimately caught my eye, was when she said they play pinochle.

    That took me right back to my childhood memories. Mom’s side of the family LOVED playing cards. After meals, the decks of cards came out.

    I skipped several games just so I could sit on the couch and read grandma’s True Story magazines and look at old picture albums.

    After several hands of cards, the snack plates appeared. My grandma made lots of homemade desserts and I can’t help but think that she really would’ve enjoyed baking this one.

    After all, this recipe is from 1916, the same year my grandpa was born. Just that alone, makes it special.

    It looks so delicious and I can’t wait to try making it. Thank you so much Sheryl, for letting me share.

    1. Thank you for sharing what you wrote when you reblogged this post. I’m so glad that this post sparked these wonderful memories. You have a wonderful way with words. The description is so vivid, and I almost feel like I am in the room.

  6. This recipe is in one of my old cookbooks but I have never made it because I am allergic to oranges. It does sound and look really yummy. I enjoy seeing and hearing about the things of years gone by. Hugs

  7. Mmmm! This looks so yummy! Thanks for sharing the recipe Sheryl. I definitely need to try this cake.

  8. I made your lovely lighter cake with that topped Yummy frosting. My hubby Peter., my mom, Dad & me loved the cake so much. It was superb, dear Sheryl. Xx

    1. You have a nice way with words. I like how you described the cake, “I can almost taste the sunshine!” It’s so true. I wish I’d thought of that when I wrote my description. 🙂

  9. Oh this looks absolutely divine! I love the low quantity of flour and sugar and all the citrus notes. I will be making this cake soon for house guests! Happy 4th, Sheryl!

    1. I also like how the beaten egg whites enables this cake to be light and fluffy without a lot sugar and flour (and without a lot of calories). Have a wonderful 4th!

    1. I have similar memories. I think that my mother said that angel food cakes (and other similar cakes) were so light that they’d partially collapse if they weren’t cooled in an inverted position.

  10. It was our turn to bring dessert for our Movie Discussion Group, so I passed this recipe on to my husband, the Master Chef. He put it together easily but when it was time to turn it out of the angel cake pan, it would not budge, despite the non-stick lining. we tried loosening the sides with a thin plastic knife, but the bottom adhered firmly. Finally I took a clean coated-wire coat hanger, bent the end into an L, slid it sideways down the side of the cake, rotated a quarter – turn, then slid the L around the bottom of the cake. Out it came, scarcely the worse for the man-handling (or should I say “Pan-handling”?)

    I wonder, should we have used parchment on the bottom of the pan? Or maybe it was cooked just a little too long?

    1. Oh dear – thank goodness it didn’t fall apart too much. I used an aluminum tube angel food cake pan with a removable bottom so I didn’t have any difficulty getting it out. Your comment sent me googling pans and I found an Epicurious post about the best pans to use for angel food cakes (and this cake is very similar to an angel food cake) that shows a pan almost identical to the one I used. I also found the comments on the Epicurious post to be really interesting – some people had difficulty when they used non-stick pans, others didn’t.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s