The farmers’ market at Lake Merritt, in Oakland, is filled with beautiful oranges during the winter and early spring. You’ll find Valencias, blood oranges, navel oranges, satsumas, and more. What better way to showcase those gorgeous oranges than in this upside-down cake, scented with fennel and lightly caramelized. When making cakes with a coarse meal or flour, such as cornmeal, I use a trick I learned from my grandmother: I let the cake batter sit overnight in the refrigerator, so it absorbs as much liquid as possible. It gives the cake a very tender crumb.
makes 12 servings (one 12 in [30.5 cm] cake)
You Will Need
Using a pastry brush, liberally grease a 12 in [30.5 cm] round cake pan with half the melted butter. Line the pan with a parchment round and brush the paper with the remaining melted butter. Sprinkle the whole fennel seeds and 3 Tbsp of the sugar over the bottom of the pan. Using a sharp knife or mandoline, slice the oranges ¹/8 in [4 mm] thick. Arrange the orange slices over the sugar and fennel seeds, covering as much surface area as you can.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, orange zest, ground fennel, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the remaining 1½ cups plus 1 Tbsp [345 g] butter and remaining 1½ cups [300 g] sugar for 4 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Lower the mixer speed to medium-low and add half the dry ingredients, beating until combined, 1 to 1½ minutes. Beat in the tangerine juice, and then the remaining dry ingredients, and beat until well combined and there are no visible streaks of flour. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Cover the surface of the batter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C]. Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the centre is firm, yet spongy, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake, and invert the cake onto a plate. Let cool for another 10 to 12 minutes, and then gently tap the bottom of the pan to unmould the cake. Peel off the parchment paper and cool completely. To serve, cut the cake with a sharp, serrated knife.
the approach Upside-down cakes have a lot of advantages. Because the orange slices, fennel seeds, and sugar are placed at the bottom of the pan, the heat of the pan caramelizes the sugars and toasts the fennel seeds. These flavours infuse the cake as it bakes. And the caramelized fruit adds a dimension of beauty and a layer of concentrated sweetness.