Burgundy-fleshed blood oranges taste like orange mixed with pomegranate and the juice of dark, sweet cherries – fruity, mysterious, tangy, with a hint of bitterness. Their vibrant color makes them a welcome addition during the dark days of winter. (Though to be fair, the plants around here seem quite confused by California's odd weather and all manner of berries, even raspberries and blueberries, are currently fruiting.)
Since overcoming my aversion to blood oranges several years ago, I now look forward to their arrival each winter, and keep an eye out for new ways to use them.
So when I saw a recipe in Jamie magazine for a ginger-clementine upside-down cake, I reckoned that the same cake made with blood oranges would taste – and look – especially vibrant.
The original recipe was not only written in grams, but also vegan, so I remedied both problems straight away: I swapped out the margarine for butter and the soy milk for crème fraîche, and added a couple of eggs. The recipe also called for orange marmalade, which I did not want to buy (or have time to make), so instead I added the zest of a couple of satsumas from our box. Blood orange zest would have been the natural choice and you can certainly zest an orange or two before cutting off the peel, but I like the way the bright, sunny flavor of tangerines helps lighten the mood of the brooding blood oranges. Finally, I traded the powdered ginger for fresh.
This cake is a straightforward one to put together: cut the peel and pith off of the oranges and slice them into rounds, lay them atop butter and brown sugar, make a buttery cake batter and spread it on top, bake until done.
The cake slips out of the pan with a 'plop,' ruby juices running down the sides, oranges glistening like rubies atop a dense, moist cake. Take a bite, and the flavors of sunshine flood your mouth, the ginger and vanilla creating a warm backdrop for vibrant citrus. A dollop of crème fraîche helps to round out the complex flavors of the blood orange; though you could make a stunning presentation by pooling vanilla crème anglaise around the cake and swirling in a drizzle of blood orange reduction.
If you're looking for still more blood orange inspiration, here are a few more ideas:
- Add blood orange juice to a glass of Prosecco for a colorful mimosa, or use it to mix up a margarita
- Whip up a blood orange curd and bake it into a rosy, buttery tart, or use it to fill lemon poundcakelets topped with mascarpone cream
- Stir up a blood orange olive oil cake
- Supremes add a bright pop to any crepe or pancake; or arrange the ruby slivers around a panna cotta
- Blood orange granita or sorbet, with or without the addition of fresh ginger, goes well with meyer lemon buttermilk ice cream and sbrisolona
- A classmate in pastry school once made a blood orange sabayon and paired it with gingerbread bread pudding, something I have been meaning to try
- Toss segments into a salad – beets, avocado, fennel, pomegranate pistils, crumbly cheeses, arugula, pine nuts and hazelnuts are all good contenders
- Blood orange juice adds a rosy hue to any rhubarb recipe; it also pairs well with strawberries
- Bake slices into a stunning galette
- Make a blood orange compote (my favorite recipe comes from Chez Panisse Desserts) and serve with honey yogurt ice cream or drizzle a blood orange reduction around chocolate bouchons cakes and gild the lily with black pepper-vanilla ice cream
What do you like to do with blood oranges?
Turn your world upside-down:
Banana Rum Cakelets
Ginger Pineapple, with Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream
One year ago:
Chocolate Bouchons Cakes, Black Pepper Ice Cream, Blood Orange Reduction
Two years ago:
Plum Jam and Cardamom Crumble Squares
Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake
Inspired by the vegan Ginger-Clementine Upside-Down Cake in issue 24 of Jamie magazine
I used the zest of 2 small satsuma mandarins in this cake; if you prefer to use blood orange zest, zest 1-2 blood oranges before cutting off the peels to make the topping. You can make your own crème fraîche by stirring 1 tablespoon buttermilk into 1 cup of heavy cream and letting it sit in a warm spot for 24 hours; alternately, you can substitute the same amount of whole milk in the recipe and increase the flour to 1 3/4 cups – these two variations taste almost identical.
The cake benefits from a creamy accoutrement; serve slices with additional crème fraîche, or decorate a pool of crème anglaise with drips of blood orange reduction. All ounce measurements are by weight.
Makes one 9" cake, 8-10 servings
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, in a few pieces
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) soft light-brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds blood oranges (about 5 medium)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated zest from 1-2 blood oranges or tangerines.
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger root (from 3/4 ounce ginger, peeled)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) crème fraîche
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) blood orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the topping:
Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350º.
As the oven preheats, place the butter in a 9" round cake pan and put it in the oven to melt. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter and return the pan to the oven for about 5 minutes until the sugar is moistened and distributed evenly over the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, use a sharp paring knife to slice the top and bottom from the blood oranges. Place a cut-side down, and, following the curve of the orange, cut away the peel and white pith. Cut the orange cross-wise into 3/8" rounds. Repeat with the remaining oranges. Reserve any juices to use in the cake (I like to squeeze the butts and peels to get every last bit of juice).
Lay the orange rounds over the buttery sugar in the pan in a single layer using the fattest pieces and starting with the outer ring, and filling in the center with the smaller pieces. Set aside while you make the cake batter.
Make the cake batter:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, zest and ginger until fluffy and lightened in color, about 5 minutes on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.
In a measuring cup, stir together the crème fraîche, blood orange juice and vanilla extract.
With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, let stir to incorporate, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the crème fraîche mixture, let incorporate, then scrape. Repeat, adding another 1/3 of the dries, half of the crème fraîche, and the rest of the dries. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the batter with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is completely homogeneous.
Dollop the batter over the orange slices, which may have released some juices and that's a-ok, and spread it evenly.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes. (If the cake cools too much, the orange goo may stick the pan; no worries, just return the cake to a hot oven for 5 minutes or so to re-melt it.)
Loosen the edges of the cake with a thin knife or offset spatula, invert a large plate over the top of the cake. Wearing oven mitts, grasp the cake and plate together and bravely flip them both over. Rap the plate on the counter a few times to dislodge, then remove the cake pan. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour – the cake is still baking from residual heat, so try to resist cutting into it too soon.
For the cleanest slices, use a serrated bread knife to gently saw through the orange slices, which can be a bit messy. Serve slices with extra crème fraîche, or crème anglaise (see headnote).
The cake is best served shortly after cooling, but will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.