Mandarin orange cake gets a moisture boost from added oranges in a boxed cake mix dressed up with a cream cheese and pineapple frosting everyone will love. It’s light and summery and just right for your next pot luck or special event.Jump to Recipe
What is a pig pickin’ cake?
A mandarin orange cake is also known in the south as a pig pickin’ cake. The recipe is a moist yellow or vanilla cake mixed with orange segments and topped with a whipped cream and pineapple frosting.
The Pig Pickin’ cake got its name from the many barbecues and potlucks it was served at where guests would pick the tender meat from hogs roasted over a fire.
Most historians recognize the cake as first being served in North Carolina. After some controversy with the New York Times, it was designated as the #1 dish Googled in North Carolina at Thanksgiving earning it the ranking of the most popular.
No matter what you call it, it’s delicious.
Should the mandarin oranges and pineapple be drained for this cake?
No. Don’t drain the oranges or the pineapple. Their juices are necessary for adding moisture to the cake and proper hydration to the dry instant pudding mix in the frosting.
Where to find cheesecake pudding mix
Before instant cheesecake pudding was on the market, you had to buy a Jello No Bake Cheesecake and use just the pudding mix.
Today you can buy instant cheesecake pudding (make sure it says instant!).
You’ll need an 11-ounce box for this recipe.
Instant vanilla pudding could also be substituted.
How to make this cake a bit more homemade
It’s no secret that this recipe has more store bought junk in it than I am used to making.
But I know the original recipe works so I’m going to give you those ingredients as they were given to me.
That said, if you’d like a more homemade version:
- For the cake: A homemade yellow cake like this one would be great. The trick would be swapping some of the buttermilk for the oranges with their juice. It could be done, you’d just have to do a bit of guessing.
- For the Cool Whip: Stabilized homemade whipped cream would be my first choice. You can’t use whipped cream that hasn’t had a stabilizer like cornstarch or gelatin added or it will lose its air and turn back to liquid on you fairly quickly. I far and away prefer real whipped cream to inflammatory oil based Cool Whip.
- For the cheesecake pudding: You could make this pudding from scratch as well but you would probably want to squeeze dry the pineapple when making the frosting so the juice didn’t thin things too much. If you make your cake in a 9×13 having a slightly thinner frosting is much easier to hide than any other shape.
Should a mandarin orange cake be refrigerated?
Yes. This cake does have sour cream in it and for the sake of holding the Cool Whip in place it would be best to refrigerate it.
If you use real whipped cream, it would definitely need to be kept cold.
How to make a mandarin orange cake
Blend cake mix, eggs, oil and oranges with the juice together with a hand mixer. The oranges will break apart into tiny pieces in the cake. This is good! Blend just until no patches of dry flour remain.
Transfer the cake to a greased 9×13 pan and bake 23 to 25 minutes until the center springs back and a toothpick comes out clean. Let your mandarin orange cake cool completely before frosting.
How to make frosting for an orange cake
In a bowl use a hand mixer to blend together pineapple (undrained), the cheesecake filling mix, and sour cream until combined.
Fold in the Cool Whip last. Do your best not to knock all of the air out of it.
The frosting will firm up as it stands and the cheesecake filling thickens and absorbs the moisture from the pineapple so don’t worry if it looks thin at this point.
Can a cake with mandarin oranges be made ahead?
Yes. This cake is great made two or even three days in advance and refrigerated. If you use real whipped cream you’ll need to make sure it’s stabilized or it will liquify and your frosting will be ruined.
How to make mandarin cake in other shapes (cupcakes, bundt, round)
This cake is pretty forgiving with the shape you choose to bake it in. It will almost cook based on the directions on the back of the cake box, but here are some guidelines:
- As cupcakes: Use liners and fill 3/4 full with batter and bake until the cupcakes spring back and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. About 18 to 20 minutes. You may need to rotate the pan halfway through baking. Don’t try this recipe without liners: The cake is too tender and may stick or not come out after baking.
- In two 8×8 square pans: Your mandarin orange cake will be a bit thinner than mine if you divide it between two 8×8 pans, but plan for your cakes to take 20-25 minutes. Just check on them early.
- As 9″ cakes: Line the bottom of your cake tins with parchment paper then grease and flour the bottom and sides of the cake tins. Divide the batter between the two tins and bake until the cake springs back in the center and a toothpick comes out clean about 23-28 minutes.
- As a bundt pan: I would ONLY do this in a bundt if you have a great way to grease and flour or use a cake pan release mixture. Don’t try to make it in anything with lots of beautiful nooks and crannies. This cake will just break all to oblivion. Bake 33-36 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Use a sharp knife while the cake is hot and run it down the sides and around the center but wait 5 to 7 minutes to try to turn it out so it has a bit of time to firm up or it might break when you flip it over.
Other cakes you’ll love
Try these other fabulous cakes next:
Mandarin Orange Cake
For the cake
- 1 box yellow butter cake mix
- 1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges undrained
- 1/2 cup flavorless oil
- 4 eggs
For the frosting
- 1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple undrained
- 1 11-ounce package instant cheesecake pudding mix See note 1
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 8 ounces sour cream
- 8 ounces whipped topping thawed; See note 2
For the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350, grease a 9x13 baking dish and set aside.
- Combine the cake mix, eggs, oil and oranges and beat until well mixed and the oranges are incorporated. You will see small bits of oranges, but there shouldn't be any large chunks.
- Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the center rack 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; rotating them halfway through the cooking time. Start checking your cake at 20 minutes.
For the frosting
- Combine the pineapple, filling mix, sugar and sour cream and beat well until all ingredients are combined and thickened. Fold in the whipped topping.
- Frost the cooled cake and store in the refrigerator.