West and Grand

Florida Autumn Musings and a Recipe: Spiced Orange and Neufchatel Coffee Cake and Ginger Walnut Streusel

When autumn whisks into existence in a flurry of cascading scarlet leaves and chilly breezes which wisp our hairs out of their updos, I sit back further in my desk chair and wish for that atmospheric coolness to stroke the south of Florida. Instead, the day carries forth as if summer refused to leave the porch. Palm trees don’t lose their fronds. The humidity climbs up my stairs and ruffles my tresses and crawls wetly onto my arms. Sandals still occupy my wardrobe repertoire. Autumn is a word bounced off my lips like a volleyball. The wish when the candles on a birthday cake are blown, barely to come into fruition. 

In a way, this lack of change in the weather reinforces for me the idea that fall is more of a feeling rather than a climatic cycle. We anticipate the cozying down and bundling up. The heat of coffee or cocoa or tea against chilly fingers. Yet, even if the thermometer reads 90 degrees and dew points hover in the oppressive mid-upper 70s, Floridians understand that fall brings mental reprieves. We can sweeten our kitchens with cinnamon and clove and warming spices while the air conditioner blows. We view the swamp or the sea outside our kitchen windows but feel more at ease. Summer is long and active, kicking sand, bathing suits, splashing in the ocean, waking up to steaming windows. Fall is comprised of the same, except internally our clocks are slowing, our paces are calming, the quilts are folded over the headrests of chairs even if it’ll still be a few months before their use is appropriate. 

Orange is a quintessential fruit of Florida, whether juiced for convenience or sliced and eaten over the sink with the liquid running down my wrists. Growing up, my family owned a beautiful orange tree which watched over our back yard. From the pool I could watch the seasons ebb and bloom in the form of new orange blossoms poking out, stretching, and finally producing bulbs when the pool became impractical and it was time to venture out and pluck the fruit off. Every winter my mom, siblings, and I would harvest the sweet little spheres and have a constant stream of juice bottles gracing our refrigerator. Sometimes doves or mockingbirds would nest in the branches, and I’d curiously peer at the little eggs while hauling my yield from the uppermost bunches. Slow living didn’t escape me even as a boisterous child. Autumn, and winter, reeled me in and settled me down.

Now I lack an orange tree and have added a basket of 10 or so years in my heart. Cooler months, or the daydream of them, still lighten my worries. It’s an anticipation of the future that hardly causes me strife. I channeled the tangy zest of an orange, both a childhood and a current favorite, into this spicy breakfast cake, a perfect pairing with your best cup of coffee. It won my sister’s approval, so I’m hoping it wins yours too, and crawls snugly into your autumnal soul. Neufchatel, the lower-fat cousin of cream cheese, adds a richness to these crumbs. The ginger walnut streusel concludes the paragraph with an extra kick of flavor and crunch. Burrow into your blankets with a slice, whether you can channel the coolness by opening your windows or switching the AC unit down a couple of degrees.


For the cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

Pinch kosher salt

1/8 tsp clove

1 tsp ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

Zest of 1 orange

2 eggs

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup buttermilk

4 oz Neufchatel, softened

1 tsp vanilla

Powdered sugar for topping (optional)

For the streusel

4 T cold butter

1/3 cup flour

1 tsp ginger

½ cup walnuts, chopped

¼ cup packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and coat a round springform cake pan generously with cooking spray. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, orange zest, and spices; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk sugar and Neufchatel until light and creamy. Whisk in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and buttermilk, whisking to combine. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just combined (do not overmix!) Pour batter into pan and set aside.

To make the streusel, toss flour, ginger, walnuts, and sugar in a small bowl until combined. Cut in butter with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle streusel evenly over the top of the cake. Add more walnuts if desired. 

Bake cake 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then remove from the springform and cool on a wire rack for an additional 20 minutes. If desired, sift powdered sugar generously over the top. I recommend this step for an extra kick of sweetness, because who doesn’t love a touch more sugar?

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