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Mandarin Orange Cake

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.

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three slices of cake on plates on a table

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.

slices of cake on plates looking down on them from the top

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.

a bowl of cake mix with eggs and oil in the bowl
a bowl of cake mix with mandarin oranges added but not mixed in yet
a bowl of mixed cake batter

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.

a 9x13 pan of cake batter in a pan

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.

a bowl of pineapple in a bowl with the juice for frosting
a bowl with pineapple in the bottom, cheesecake filling mix and sour cream

Fold in the Cool Whip last. Do your best not to knock all of the air out of it.

a bowl with a spatula folding cool whip or whipped cream into the pineapple mixture

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.

a bowl of finished mandarin orange cake frosting
a 9x13 pan of baked cake with frosting spread on halfway to show the step

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.

a fork holding a piece of cake

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:

three slices of cake on plates on a table

Mandarin Orange Cake

Oranges and pineapple make a beautiful and tasty summer cake.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 12 people
Author Rachel Ballard


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.


Note 1: Traditionally I make this cake with the cheesecake filling packet found in a Jell-O No Bake Cheesecake. You can use that or an 11 ounce box of instant cheesecake pudding. 
Note 2:  Whipped topping can be substituted with stabilized homemade whipped cream. 
This cake tastes best if it can sit in the fridge for one to two days before eating.


Calories: 344kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 4gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 66mgSodium: 355mgPotassium: 83mgFiber: 1gSugar: 25gVitamin A: 212IUVitamin C: 0.2mgCalcium: 132mgIron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
a slice of round mandarin orange cake on a table with a cake stand in the back

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    1. Hi Valarie, Yep you sure can! I would use the same oven temperature and check it at 25 minutes (just stick a toothpick in the center, if it comes out clean, it’s done). If it’s not done at 25 minutes, check it every 4 or 5 minutes till it is. It shouldn’t take more than 30 I’d say. I hope you enjoy it! –Rachel

  1. 5 stars
    Ok! Made this cake today (day before Easter) & my baby girl(7) & I don’t think it’ll survive the night….AMAZZZING!! I gotta feeling we will have a new family fav recipe. ?

  2. Just ate this cake today with my Easter meal, it was a hit with everyone! Thanks again for sharing this recipe!!

    1. Yay Sam! I’m so glad. That’s my goal–to give you awesome recipes made from familiar ingredients that “most” (we can’t make everyone happy all the time) people will enjoy. Thanks for letting me know!

  3. Making this today for Easter dinner on Sunday 🙂 I usually prefer to use raw ingredients, do you think whipped cream with stabilizer and soft cream cheese would be successful substitutions for the ‘processed’ dairy items?

    1. Hi Pam,

      I totally agree on the whole food issue. I would think it would work with a few adjustments. First make sure your whipped cream is whipped stiff, and I would drain the pineapple and then add back the juice as needed to keep the frosting from being too thin. I might even add a dash of vanilla as well to replace that good old synthetic vanilla flavor in the whipped topping. Let me know how it turns out! –Rachel

  4. Gorgeous ~ Would love to see this submitted at Food Foto Gallery.com so I can share with all my foodie friends 😉

  5. Thank you for posting this…many favorite things all in one cake! What is the cheescake filling mix??Brand? cream cheese?

    1. Hi Jeanne,
      Thanks for asking–I did mention the filling in the comments above the recipe, but you’ll need a box of Jell-O No Bake Cheesecake Mix. Use the filling packet for the cake’s frosting and save the graham crackers for another recipe. Let me know if I can help with anything else. :)–Rachel

  6. 5 stars
    This sounds so good Rachel! Mandarin oranges and Pineapple….so good in a cake. Will pin and share!

  7. Could you email your note a little more? Do I make the batter and refrigerate that a day or two in the pans and then bake?

    1. I’ll make that more clear Sam. What I meant was make the cake, bake it, cool it, assemble and frost it then put the completed cake in the fridge for a day or two if you can.

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About the Author

Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.