Orange One-Egg Cake, a 1940s Recipe

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a small 4-½ x 6 inch leather bound book engraved “Cooking Recipes”, purchased at an antique mall in Sugar Creek, Ohio.  The pages are edged in gold and there are 10 index tabs for food categories.  

The real gold in this book, though, is the collection of handwritten recipes.  There aren’t a lot of recipes – just 25, 22 of which are desserts.  The book itself could have been from the 1930s, but I believe the recipes are from the 1945-1950 era.  This is based on a lot of recipes calling for shortening, for using the word “oleo” rather than margarine in most recipes and the attention given to oven temperatures.  I believe it’s post-World War II because of all of the sugar-laden desserts.  

The handwriting is clear and ingredients are listed correctly, although most of the recipes give no idea of how the item is to be prepared, what kind of pan to use or how long to bake.  That’s why I’ve decided to make each of the recipes, using the products specified, and adding my own instructions.  I like to think that the woman from the 1940s kitchen (who would have been about my mother’s age) would enjoy having someone fuss around with these recipes again and turn out some delicious food for the family.

It seems that every cookbook from the 1940s included a recipe for “One-Egg Cake” or “Busy Day Cake” that produced an easy, economical suppertime dessert.

The woman who kept this small recipe journal entered the recipe for One-Egg Cake twice.  On one, she noted that it was from “Mom”.

On the second one, she didn’t acknowledge Mom but did give more complete directions which I thought were a little strange:

“Mix dry junk together.  Then vanilla and 1 egg (rotten if so desired).  Gradually add milk or you’ll have lumpy batter.”

I have a very clear memory of the 1930s-40s, and never heard of anyone using a rotten egg.  I assume it was her idea of a joke.

For my version, I had four big oranges that I needed to use and substituted 1 cup of fresh orange juice for the milk, added 1 tsp. grated orange peel, and omitted the vanilla to make an Orange One-Egg Cake. I used the freshest egg I could find.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1-¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. grated orange peel
  • 1 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 F degrees for metal pans, 325 degrees F for glass dishes.
Grease and flour a 9-inch pan or dish.

When I have fresh oranges, I like to wash and dry them, grate the peel on a large piece of waxed paper and juice the oranges.  I use what I need for the recipe and the remainder is frozen for another time.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the shortening, sugar, egg, and orange peel.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the orange juice, beating well after each addition.  Begin and end with dry ingredients.

Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-inch pan and bake @ 350 degrees F (325 degrees F for glass dishes) for 30-35 minutes or until cake tests done when a tester is inserted in the center.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Leave in the pan and frost the top with a 1940s version of Orange Frosting:


  • ¼ cup margarine, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tblsp. orange juice

Beat together the margarine and powdered sugar.  Add the orange juice gradually.  If necessary, add a tiny bit more juice or sugar until frosting is of good spreading consistency.

Yield:  6 to 9 servings

This is a nice soft cake with a bright orange flavor.  It would make a good cake for a picnic or cookout.

A 1940s era dishtowel