A Winter’s Cake

by convivialist

blood orange polenta cake

I promise it is not the winter blues that have kept me from posting for the past couple weeks. Though I have a few visiting kitchen opportunities in the works, I will pause for a moment and share with you one of my personal favorite recipes, which I assure you remedies anything that may be going on outside. Wind chill, be gone!

With its heavy reliance on citrus, namely blood oranges, this cake recalls a Floridian grove or perhaps a Southern Italian Sunday afternoon much more than it does a snowy cityscape. But with an influx of imported citrus to Northern Europe during January and February, adding a bright note to your cooking seems to be a sensible, not to mention cheery, solution to the abundance.

This is a classic upside down cake. The first layer is a caramel, which is a poured into the bottom of a spring-form pan and left to harden, followed by a layer of tightly packed sliced blood oranges, and lastly the cake batter. The miraculous thing that happens is that the caramel and the orange layers fuse together during baking, and when the thing is removed from the oven and flipped, the sweet/sour medley drips down, infusing the entire cake. I also particularly like the crumbly nature of the cake itself. This is due to the uncooked polenta and ground almonds added to the batter. And if that’s not enough for you, the orange marmalade glaze adds the finishing touch in order to slightly counter-act the rich flavor of the caramel (and to make it look prettier).

The recipe is not my own. I found it a few years back in Gourmet magazine, which itself ‘borrowed’ it from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Maybe it was a coincidence that this cake just popped into my head today, but I suppose I already had Israeli-born British chef Yotam Ottolenghi on my mind after reading a fascinating New Yorker feature on him during a long train ride last week. Nevertheless, I have followed trend and also slightly adapted the recipe, most notably switching out regular navel oranges for blood oranges. If you want, you can alternatively use a combination of blood and navel oranges to play with the colors of the finished cake, since there will be a subtle difference, even after baking.

Recipe: Blood Orange Polenta Upside Down Cake


Caramel Orange Layer

1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

2 – 3 blood oranges, depending on size


1 3/4 sticks (about 200 grams) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup superfine granulated sugar

3 large eggs

zest from one orange

½ orange, juiced

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups ground almonds (7 oz)

2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta


1/4 cup orange marmalade

1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat oven to 350°F or 175°C with rack in middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper and side with a strip of parchment.

2. Make the caramel layer:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber. Keep a close eye on it so that it does not burn.

Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly.

3. Peel blood oranges including white pith with a paring knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove any seeds and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.

4. Make cake:

Beat butter with sugar using an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Zest orange and juice one half of it. Mix in orange juice and reserved zest.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer at low speed, mix almonds, polenta, and flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly over oranges (preferably with an offset spatula).

5. Place in oven and bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Invert cake onto a cake plate and discard parchment.

6. Glaze cake:

Heat marmalade with water in a small saucepan until melted. Strain through a sieve into a small bowl. Brush top of cake with some of glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

recipe- blood orange polenta upside down cake