An Easy Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake

March 9, 2015

I wrote a bit last week about worthwhile distractions, about being a scatterbrain, and that I was pretty sure that this was a sign that I’m “living in the moment” and being present. Presently Out-of-My-Mind is also a thing. In the dark this morning, a little voice (mine) had to literally say “Presently Get Yo’self Together.” We’ve sprung forward. The seasons are changing – both in our house and outside too. 

Yes – the snow is melting, the grass is peeking through green. But also, as winter thaws, so too does the nature of things that occupy our work around here. The time to set the framework, to organize projects, to gather ourselves is melting away too. This year – like the several before it – spring is the season when I get to watch the seeds of ideas planted over the winter take root and bloom and while this is manic, and sometimes overwhelming, its also the greatest thing on the planet. And by ideas, I’m talking about recipes (and, ok, a few other things too) but it’s about to start sprouting deliciousness around here, I just know it! 

My Skratch Labs colleagues and I will be cooking for athletes from Colorado to California these next weeks and I’ve been up to my eyeballs in cookbooks, recipe notes, magazines and notebook upon notebook of ideas searching to find the right recipes for the right purposes. And! I have a pop up here in Boulder this upcoming weekend if you’re in town! Needless to say, things like “what about a peanut butter and jelly muffin?” are coming out of my mouth, there is a constant fluttering of flour on the butcher block counter, and far too much cake in the house for two people to eat. It’s sort of poetic – just as the snow is thawing enough for us to get outside and move, I go and bake several cakes for us to test so we literally HAVE to get outside.

Deciding on what cake to bake – for traveling athletes, for a nice gathering of new friends, for a special birthday – is my own private torture. I mean, all cake is….CAKE. But not all cakes bake up well in long sheet pans, not all cakes are sturdy enough to travel or slather with frosting. I’ve played with ricotta cakes, almond cakes, banana cakes, applesauce cakes. There have been a few that made the cut – whether they’ll travel with us around the country this spring, or make a cameo this weekend.  This easy blood orange upside-down cake started off being considered for these categories, but I think this might be one we reserve for winter nights here at home. 

I found this cake buried in the New York Times archives and was baffled because, while rustic, it’ beautiful, buttery, and completely uncomplicated. . Let’s be honest – this is not the cake you want to serve for a birthday party. No, this is a simple one bowl cake that looks a little unkept when it’s turned out of the pan, but is so delicious no one will know or care once they take a single bite of the rich, moist, caramel-soaked cornmeal cake that’s sweet on the top and crunchy (from browning in the oven) on the bottom. This is not a cake to eat while riding your bike, or while flying to Asia. This is a cake for a Sunday night when you’ve played with friends, whirlwind cleaned your house, and want to treat yourself with somethings sweet and simply good. Pineapple-Upside Down Cake is something that your grandmother probably made, and maybe even your mother; I think that most cake boxes still have a quick upside down cake written on the back! This is not as easy as mixing a boxed batter and dumping it in the pan…but almost. 

A couple of quick things here: I do NOT recommend substituting the eggs here, sorry vegans. The cake really needs the custard to set up right. Don’t use low-fat yogurt either, go whole hog. Alternatively, employ sour cream or crème fraîche. Also, the size of your blood oranges will matter. I needed something like six small oranges to cover the bottom of my cake pan but if you have large oranges (Californians, you lucky ducks) you might only need four oranges. Besides a small bumper crop of oranges, you likely already have all the things you need to whip up the cake – butter, eggs, sugar, flour. Buy the finest grain cornmeal you can. 

One last thing: you can’t allow this cake to cool completely in its pan – the caramel will stick and you won’t get it out! Allow the cake to sit for 10 minutes straight out of the oven, then run a knife along the sides of the pan and turn it out. Voila! Upside down cake! Enjoy! – xo L

An Easy Blood Orange Upside Down Cake
  1. 2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , at room temperature
  2. 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  3. 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  4. 2-4 medium-sized blood oranges, or 6-8 small oranges
  5. 1 cup fine cornmeal
  6. 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  8. 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  9. 1 cup granulated sugar
  10. 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  11. ⅓ cup full fat greek yogurt (or creme fraîche OR sour cream)
  12. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the 3 tablespoons butter. Add the brown sugar and lemon juice; stir until sugar melts, about 3 minutes. Scrape mixture into bottom of prepared pan and tap the pan so the caramel covers it evenly.
  3. Grate 1/2 teaspoon zest from one of the oranges, then slice off the tops and bottoms of both oranges. Place oranges on a clean, flat surface, and slice away the rind and pith, top to bottom, following the curve of the fruit. Slice each orange crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick wheels; discard any seeds. Arrange orange wheels on top of brown sugar caramel mixture in a single, tight layer.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together orange zest, cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together remaining 2 sticks butter with granulated sugar. Beat in eggs, one a time, then beat in sour cream and vanilla. Fold in the dry mixture by hand.
  5. Scrape batter into pan over oranges. Transfer to the oven and bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes, then run a knife along pan’s edges to loosen it; invert onto a platter and cool completely before serving.
Adapted from from the New York Times

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