Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mandarin Orange Pig Pickin' Cake

Mandarin Orange Cake is what this dessert is typically known as in this part of The Deep South, but in many other areas of The South, this is more commonly known as Pig Pickin' Cake.
Mandarin Orange Cake is what this dessert is typically known as in this part of The Deep South, but in many other areas of The South, this is more commonly known as Pig Pickin' Cake, though it has many names.

Mandarin Orange Pig Pickin' Cake

How y'all liking that vintage Tupperware Cake Taker plate up there?

I know for photo styling I should have used my mama's fancy footed cake plate, but this is one of those refrigerated cakes so in the cake taker it went. This one, in that classic mustard color, dates back to the 70s of course, and has been used many, many times. I actually have two of them - one was mine from back then and the other my mama's, which she very well may have purchased at a Tupperware party at my house!

I also have the rectangular one for sheet cakes. Anybody else still have one of these oldies hanging around?

But, we're here for the cake aren't we?

I absolutely adore this cake and always have, and Mandarin Orange Cake is what we typically call this dessert in this part of The Deep South, and in many other parts of the country. In many other areas of The South however, especially in the southeast, and more particularly the Carolinas, this cake is most commonly known as Pig Pickin' Cake or Pea Pickin' Cake.
Just a quick reminder.... this is a blog, not just a "recipe site," and yes, there is a difference! I want to first thank all of you who have supported my work over the years, but if you aren't interested in the chit chat, info, photos, tips and such in a post, as always, you'll find the complete recipe text with measurements and instructions, as well as a printable document, a little bit further down the page. Just swipe or scroll down to the bottom of the post!
The name pig pickin' apparently dates back many years, and comes from the regular appearance of this dessert at good ole southern barbecues, particularly in the Carolinas, where the guest of honor is a whole roasted pig.

The pig is usually cooked on an open pit, or in an enclosed grill and sometimes even an old barrel converted to a grill, where the succulent meat, once done, is then pulled, or "picked" off. Now that's your original pulled pork y'all. All the usual fare is served at a pig pickin' just as at any other southern barbecue or picnic. Goodies like baked beans, macaroni salad, potato salads, coleslaw, hush puppies and all the usual dishes, with this cake being one of the traditional desserts to finish off the feast.

Bell's Best, some of the first cookbooks I owned as a young bride in the 70s, and from where I first made this recipe, lists this cake by at least three names - Mandarin Orange Cake, Pea Pickin' Cake and Pig Pickin' Cake.

Those, however, are not the only name this cake has picked up along the way. Some other names it is known by include, Pig Cake, Pig Pickin' Good Cake, Pig Lickin' Cake, Pig Eatin' Cake, Pineapple Cake, Orange Pineapple Layer Cake, Pineapple Orange Cake, Celestial Snow Cake, Summer Cake, Sunshine Cake, Okoboji Sunrise, Better Than Sex Cake, (or if you're Paula Deen, Not Better Than Sex Cake), and of course, Mandarin Orange Cake. There may even been more, who knows!

This cake dates at least back to then, but these days, seems that folks either love it, or they think it's downright bland and are totally un-impressed with its simplicity. A lot of folks who don't know this cake from back in the day, seem to expect this to be an orange cake by virtue of its name, but it's not and really was never intended to be.

It's a cake that has mandarin oranges in the batter which mostly adds tenderness and moisture, and in its traditional form, doesn't really have a very distinct orange flavor.

You can certainly enhance it by draining the canned juices and substituting orange juice, or by adding in orange zest or extract, or even substituting more oranges for the standard pineapple in the frosting, but to be honest, this ain't orange chiffon cake y'all!

Personally, I kinda like it best the old school way myself, and, I can tell you that almost every southerner I know loves this cake in its original form.

As always, it comes with a multitude of variations, mostly in the sizes of the products or whether to drain them or not, although these days, folks are using all kinds of different flavored cake mixes, and other add-ins like cream cheese too.

Here's how to make our beloved Mandarin Orange Cake. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. I decided to make three layers and I like to use parchment when I'm making layer cakes, so I butter the bottom and sides of the pan, stick in the rounds and then butter the tops of them. You can also just butter and flour the pans of course. I also love these stainless cake pans {affil link}.

Add the cake mix, oil and 3 eggs to the mixing bowl and mix on low until well blended.

Set aside three of the mandarin oranges for a garnish in the center. I never manage to remember this one!
Actually, the whole sunshine cake theme came from some clever soul who decorated the entire edge of the top with oranges. If you want to do that, set aside about 20 or so pieces from a second drained can, and add the remaining oranges to the batter here, along with the other can and it's juices. Mix on medium for 2 minutes.

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and transfer to the oven. For these three layers it will take about 20 to 25 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes.

Then you'll turn out the layers onto the rack and carefully peel off the parchment. You can find all sorts of pan liners these days, but I love the parchment rounds.

Let the layers cool completely. See the little specks of orange in there?

When you are ready to frost the cake, first mix the instant pudding with the pineapple and its juice. Make sure that you are using instant pudding and not the cook and serve variety! Some folks also like to add a little bit of the mandarin oranges in the frosting as well. I haven't done it but I'd tend to want to shred them up a bit and let them drain afterward so the frosting doesn't get too wet.

Let this mixture rest for about 5 minutes or so.

Then fold in the whipped topping.

Lay out strips of wax paper on the edge of your cake plate to protect it from getting frosting on it. I'm using the bottom of that trusty cake taker! It sure is handy when you need to refrigerate a layered cake, and there are several different brands available now. Then place the bottom layer on top of the strips and put about 3 large spoons of frosting on top.

Spread it out and repeat with the remaining two layers. Put the rest of the frosting on top and pull it down along the sides all around, then slowly pull the strips out and discard.

Voila! It's ready.

To go in the fridge y'all, not to eat!

Yes, this is the hard part.

While you can certainly eat this right away, it's not nearly as good. This cake really must be refrigerated for several hours, or really overnight. Even an extra day in the fridge only does this cake good y'all so go ahead and make it ahead by a day or two.

For more of my favorite cake recipes, visit my page on Pinterest!

Mandarin Orange Pig Pickin' Cake

Mandarin Orange Pig Pickin' Cake

Yield: About 12 servings
Author: Deep South Dish
Prep time: 15 MinCook time: 25 MinInactive time: 8 HourTotal time: 8 H & 40 M
Mandarin Orange Cake is what this dessert is typically known as in this part of The Deep South, but in many other areas of The South, this is more commonly known as Pig Pickin' Cake, though it is known by many names.


For the Cake:
  • 1 box butter style yellow cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 (11 or 15 ounce) can of mandarin oranges, undrained
For the Frosting:
  • 1 (4-1/2 serving size) package of instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
  • 1 (16 ounce) carton whipped topping (like Cool Whip)
  • Sprig of fresh mint, for garnish, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8 or 9 inch cake pans and flour or line with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Add the cake mix, oil and eggs to the bowl of a mixer and mix on low until blended. 
  3. Reserve a couple of the oranges for garnish if desired. Add the remaining oranges with their juice, blend in on low then mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes. 
  4. Divide evenly into the three prepared cake pans and bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes back clean. 
  5. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a cake rack to cool completely.
  6. Blend together the instant pudding and crushed pineapple; set aside for 5 minutes. Gently fold in the whipped topping and spread in between the layers, frosting the sides and top of the cake. 
  7. Garnish the top with a sprig of mint and the reserved orange segments, if desired. 
  8. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Store any leftovers in the fridge.


While any butter style yellow cake mix will work, Duncan Hines butter recipe was the traditional cake mix used back in the 70s, and will give you the best result. Make sure you are using instant pudding and not the cook and serve variety. I actually use just a little bit less than the full 16-ounce Cool Whip. Add 1/2 teaspoon of orange extract to the batter for more orange flavor.

Although there are some brands still offering standard sized (18.25 ounce) cake mixes, the traditional Duncan Hines brands used for this cake have been reduced. To compensate, the "cake mix lady" Anne Byrn, who has multiple cookbooks with recipes based on the old box size, suggests whisking in 6 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with the cake mix, then proceed with recipes as before.

For Garnish: To garnish, use 2 cans of oranges, but set aside about 20 orange segments from one can to decorate the top of the cake. Use all of the remaining oranges and the juice from only one can in the batter. A light garnish on the top with toasted coconut and maraschino cherries is also very pretty.

Variations: Coconut is a great flavor addition to this cake. Add 3/4 cup of coconut to the cake batter, and 1/2 cup to the frosting. For a different variation, follow the layering directions on my Fresh Citrus Cake.

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