In the grey days of winter, I find myself making excuses to eat cake for breakfast, especially when in the form of this blood orange olive oil upside-down cake. I have a particular soft spot for olive oil cakes-- I love how the peppery oil provides a cheerful backbone to the other flavors in the cake. Citrus and EVOO are a particularly good combo, and one of the best ways to add some color and life to a roast- and stew-heavy season.
Is there anything more beautiful than the gem tones of blood oranges?
The inside flesh of a blood orange can range from a rosy pink, to deep ruby red, to almost purple. Some say that they are a bit sweeter than their orangey-orange cousins, but it really varies fruit by fruit, and season to season. Regardless, blood oranges are one of my favorite fruits to eat and bake with, so I always make a point to highlight them when they're in season. This cake often finds its way into breakfast with a cup of coffee, but it also makes a stellar sweet offering in a larger brunch spread (I love pairing it with a cheesy pasta frittata!). It also makes a lovely afternoon snack with tea, and (of course) a perfect dessert after a cozy dinner (maybe a comforting plate of red wine mushroom ragù?).
Hidden under the cake batter, whole orange slices turn to candy in a sugar syrup...
Citrus upside-down cakes are a classic, and for good reason. The beautiful stained glass designs of sliced whole oranges are stunning. The rind of the oranges candies in a sugar syrup layer at the bottom of the pan, which creates a satisfying chew. If you're worried about bitterness, don't be! The sugars balance the taste of the pith, whisking away any bitter astringency.
The blood orange cake batter is incredibly easy to toss together, making cake all the more justifiable!
This particular recipe is an adaptation of the one in Benjamina Ebuehi's wonderful book, The New Way to Cake.* Her recipe makes a stunning, full-sized round cake. Since I'm generally just feeding the two of us, and we generally are salt-people, I'm always searching for ways to scale back a recipe. The spirit and core of this cake remain true to the original, but shrunk down to a more manageable size. If you're looking for a full-sized cake, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Benjamina's book and making the original recipe.
*affiliate link–I earn a small commission if you make a purchase through my Bookshop storefront. Thank you!
I love cake, but I love easy cake even more...!
No creaming butter, no beating egg whites. No machines, unless you count the oven. The reason I return to this recipe time and time again is because all it takes is bowls and whisks.
I even take the convenience of this cake a step further and use a silicone loaf pan. My relatively recent transition to silicone for sticky bakes like this has been fairly life-changing. I am forever a convert. Not only does it minimize sticking, but the flexible base means it's easy to gently nudge any stubborn spots. Once you invert the pan, if something has stuck, you don't have to fuss around trying to slide a knife or a spatula trying to coax your bake free. I do recommend baking with a basic cookie sheet under the pan, however. While most silicone baking tools have metal frames that give them stability, the bottom surface can sometimes be flexible enough to create ridged imprints where it rests on the oven rack. I've never had any problems with even baking and browning using this sheet pan method, and it also makes it easier to maneuver the pan with oven mitts! Also, this should go without saying, but don't slice your cake while it's still in the silicone pan. That will cut the pan, silly.
Notes for Success:
To avoid unnecessary stickiness, play around with your orange design before you actually lay them in your pan.
If you don't have yogurt on hand, try sour cream in your batter. Crème fraîche might also work, but I haven't personally tried that swap. All three also happen to be delightful when dolloped on top of the finished cake.
Wrap your cake well to store, to keep it moist! If it's starting to dry out, try sizzling a slice in some butter in a nonstick pan. Decadent!
Recipe: Blood Orange Olive Oil Upside-Down Loaf Cake
- Softened butter, for the pan
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 blood orange
- 150 grams (¾ cup) white sugar
- ⅓ cup plain whole fat yogurt, Greek or regular
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 165 grams (1⅓ cup) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Step 1Preheat your oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Butter an 8½ x 4½-inch loaf pan, paying extra attention to the corners. Line with a piece of parchment paper.
- Step 2Mix the brown sugar and water in a bowl to make a paste. Spread evenly on the bottom of the prepared loaf pan. This sugar paste will caramelize the oranges as the cake bakes.
- Step 3Pour the sugar into a large bowl. Finely grate the orange zest directly into the bowl, then rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers until evenly distributed.Slice the orange, peel and all, into thin circles, ideally about ⅛-inch thick. You can leave the slices whole, or cut into half- or quarter-moon pieces. Arrange the slices in the loaf pan on top of the sugar paste. Try to cover as much of the bottom as possible.
- Step 4To the bowl of sugar, add the yogurt, eggs, and olive oil. Whisk well until smooth. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and gently mix until smooth.
- Step 5Carefully pour the batter into the pan in an even layer, doing your best not to disturb the oranges. Bake until the cake is firm to the touch and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pan before turning it upside down.