If you love oranges then you'll love this Orange Upside-Down Cake. The cake is a delicious cornmeal buttermilk cake flavored with orange zest and fresh thyme topped with a beautiful spiral of fresh orange slices which are candied during the baking process. It's irresistibly delicious, flavorful and a great dessert to serve to family and friends.
Why This Recipe Tastes So Good
Upside-down cakes are always delicious and this orange upside-down cake is not the exception. Caramelized fruit on top of a soft moist cake is a great combination. Oranges make a great fruit upside-down cake. The cake is bright and citrusy and the slight bitterness of the candied orange peel tastes great on the sweet cake. The fresh orange zest and thyme combine to add a floral taste to the cake.
If you love orange or citrus desserts then check out my Clementine Cake recipe too.
Orange Upside-Down Cake Ingredients
This recipe is based on my Meyer Lemon Upside-Down Cake, but for this orange version, I used orange zest and fresh thyme to flavor the cake and to complement the oranges on top.
This Orange Upside-Down Cake has the following ingredients:
- Cara Cara or Navel Oranges. I used Cara Cara oranges because of their sweetness and unique taste, but regular navel oranges will work in this recipe.
- Granulated Sugar. Sugar is in the topping to candy the oranges as they bake and provide moisture for the cake
- Unsalted Butter. I prefer unsalted butter to control the salt in the recipe. If you use salted butter, reduce the salt in the topping and in the cake batter by half.
- All-Purpose Flour. AP flour provides structure for the cake.
- Cornmeal. Cornmeal adds a slice crunch to the cake and slight corn flavor that goes well with the oranges.
- Buttermilk. Provides moisture, fat, and flavor. If you don't have buttermilk you can make your own using milk and lemon (or vinegar).
- Orange Zest. Adds a flavor punch to the cake.
- Fresh Thyme. The fresh thyme adds a nice herbal flavor to the cake that pairs well with the sweetness of the cake and the oranges.
- Baking Soda and Baking Powder. These are the chemical leaveners that provide lift to the cake. If it's been a while since you've used your supply of either test them by placing 1/2 teaspoon in a cup and add hot water. They should bubble and foam. If they don't throw them away and buy new.
How to Make This Cake
Make sure the butter, eggs, and buttermilk are all at room temperature. Room temperate means about 68 degrees F. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and measure the buttermilk into a measuring cup.
Remove the leaves from the thyme stalks by holding the stalks so the tiny leaves point upwards and then pinch the stalk between your thumb and forefinger and pull the stalk upward with your other hand. The leaves will easily come. Pinch off the leaves that are at the top of the stalk.
To bump up the flavor of this cake place the sugar in small bowl and then zest the orange onto the sugar until you have what looks like 2 teaspoons (1 large or 2 medium navel oranges). When you zest fruit directly into the sugar or other ingredients you capture the oil that makes up the flavor the fruit. Add the thyme and use your fingers to rub the zest and thyme into the sugar. The smell will be fragrant and slightly floral.
For the orange topping, you're going to need about 4 or 5 oranges depending on the size. To keep a uniform size for the upside-down oranges the middle section of the oranges is used. The juice is squeezed from the top and bottom of the orange for the orange glaze and I eat the rest.
Place 4 tablespoons of butter into a 9-inch cake pan and place it in the oven to melt. Remove the pan from the oven and brush the butter up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the sugar evenly across the butter. Arrange the orange slices by starting in the center and creating a spiral out to the edges of the pan.
Set the pan aside, make the cake batter according to the recipe directions and gently scrape the batter on top of the oranges being careful not to disturb the oranges. Smooth the top with an offset spatula and bake the cake.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool for 10 minutes and then invert it onto a plate or serving platter. Some of the orange slices may stick to the pan. Simply remove them and place them back on the cake.
Serve the cake at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream fraiche.
Pro Tips for Making This Cake
- This cake is made with all-purpose flour and cornmeal. Combine the buttermilk and cornmeal and allow it to sit for 15 minutes before combining it with the other ingredients. This step softens the cornmeal and allows it to mix in better with the other ingredients.
- The eggs, butter, and buttermilk should all be at room temperate before starting this recipe.
- If the oranges have really thick peels (greater than 1/4-inch) remove the peels after slicing the oranges. Peels that are too thick will make this dessert too bitter.
- Use a sharp thin blade to slice the oranges.
- Whether you're making Orange, Lemon or Pineapple Upside-Down Cake change the spices in the cake batter to complement the fruit that you're using. In my Meyer Lemon Upside Down Cake I used ginger and cardamon. In a pineapple upside-down cake consider using allspice.
Recipe - Frequently Asked Questions
You can store the cake at room temperature for 2 days in a covered container or in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Yes, you can use regular navel oranges which are the most common variety. You can also use lemons. If you using lemons use brown sugar instead of granulated sugar.
I have not tested this recipe using gluten-free flour. You can try it, but I can't guarantee the results.
Make your own buttermilk by combining 3/4 cup of milk with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Stir and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes before using.
More Related Recipes
Do you want more cake ideas? These check out these recipes for some of my favorite spring time cakes.
I hope you try the recipe for this beautiful Orange Upside-Down Cake, especially if you like oranges. This cake packs a lot of flavor and is absolutely delicious. If you make this recipe please rate it and leave a comment below. If you're on Instagram post a picture and tag me on IG @bakesbybrownsugar.
Orange Upside-Down Cake
- 9-inch round cake pan
- 10 inch plate or platter
- 1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 Cara Cara oranges sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1/3 cup (60 grams) cornmeal
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 1/4 cups (162 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons navel orange zest
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 1/2 cup (114 grams) unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 (100 grams) large eggs room temperature
- 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon apricot jam Smucker's brand recommended
- Place the cornmeal and buttermilk in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Allow this mixture to sit for 15 minutes before adding to the other ingredients. This step softens the cornmeal.
For the Orange Topping
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the butter into 4 pieces, place them in the 9-inch cake pan and place the pan in the oven. Melt the butter until it just melted - 2 minutes. With a pastry brush, brush the butter up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the sugar over the butter. Layer the orange slices on top of the sugar, overlapping the oranges in spiral pattern.
For the Cake
- Place the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and whisk until the ingredients are well combined, about 30 seconds.
- Place the sugar in a medium bowl. Zest the orange on top of the sugar, until you have what looks like 2 teaspoons. Add the thyme and use your fingers to rub the zest and thyme into the sugar. Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter. Beat the butter and sugar mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add one egg at a time, beating after each addition. Add half of the flour mixture and mix at low speed until well combined. There may be some flour on the sides of the bowl - that's okay. Add all the buttermilk-cornmeal mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Add the remaining flour and mix on low speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for another 10 seconds to ensure all the ingredients are well combined
- Gently pour the batter over the orange slices and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to release the cake and invert it onto a platter or plate.
Orange Glaze (Optional)
- Make this glaze after the cake has cooled to room temperature.
- Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer until it thickens. Stir in the apricot jam and then remove the pan from the heat.
- Allow the jam to cool until it is just a little warm and then brush the glaze over the top of the cake,
Serving and Storing the Cake
- Serve the cake at room temperature. You can eat the cake as soon as it is cool, but it will taste even better the next day. The cake tastes really good with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped creme fraiche or whipped cream. Use a sharp knife to cut through the oranges and cake.
- The cake can sit a room temperature for 2 days in a covered container and in the refrigerator for 1 week.
I absolutely loved the citrus upside down cake recipe. The cornmeal in the batter was a great addition and created a nice texture. I’ll definitely make this one again!!!
I loved that this wasn't just any old upside down cake. The cornmeal in the cake really elevated the warmth and "down-home" flavor of this orange cake. Very good.
Britney Brown says
This orange cake was amazing - fluffy, but still dense with a beautiful citrus orange flavor. The glaze also made such a wonderful flavor for the cake. We devoured this cake and loved every minute of it!
Thank you so much for the very detailed walk-through!! I aced this so perfectly as a result and everyone loved the cake! I personally enjoyed the flavor of the orange and the thyme together! So fresh & out of the box! I cannot wait to make this again and again!
Do you think this could be made with gluten free flour?
This cake was perfection! The cornmeal added a lovely texture, and the orange flavor was so amazing! I can't wait to make it again!
I love the simplicity of this cake. It wasn't fussy to make but the outcome was SO stunning. Thank you!
Immaculate Ruému says
I didn't have the cara cara oranges so I used navel as you suggested and it was delicious. The addition of cornmeal and fresh thyme really elevated the flavour.
Hi!! Thank you sooooo much for this recipe!! I made it and really loved. I live in Brazil and had to make many substitutions, but it turned out amazing anyway. I used "laranjas bahianas" which is how navel oranges are named here. I replaced conrmeal with "kipolenta" and the crust of the cake was deliciously crunch. Buttermilk is not available in Brazil, so I replaced it with milk + lemon juice. I once read that the best substitute is milk kefir, but I didn't have it at the time. I also made the glaze but when I tasted the cake it was soo perfect that I chose to eat it by itself and save the glaze for pancakes. The glaze is as delicious as the cake, very acidic and sweet and is perfect with pancakes. I will save this recipe and pass it on to my future children. Thank you very much.
Beth in ATL says
I’m not sure what went wrong; I followed the recipe exactly. When I turned out the cake after 10 minutes cooling, the sugar whopping was still sandy and much of it stayed in the pan. It’s like it never melted which is hard to believe after 45 minutes in the oven. Any idea what went wrong?
Cheryl Norris says
Thank you for trying this recipe, and I'm so sorry it didn't turn out right for you. It sounds like the sugar may have recrystallized. I've seen this happen when making caramel on top of the stove, but not on an upside down cake.
What may have happened, is that at a spot in the pan the sugar started to recrystallized. Once that process started it set off a chain reaction that continued while baking. At this point, I'm just guessing based on your description and I can't say for sure what may have caused the recrystallization in your case. Impurities in the sugar can cause it - for example using the same scoop for flour and sugar.
I hope my answer helped even though it's not definitive.
Is it ok not to add cornmeal or any other ingredients to substitute the cornmeal.
Karen Vartan says
Very, very sugary. Reduce cake sugar (under oranges) by 1/2 and add walnuts to sugar in butter before adding ranges.
Cheryl Norris says
Thank you for visiting the blog. This a very sweet cake. I think the sweetness is a perfect balance with the bitterness of the orange rind. The nuts are nice addition for some crunch. Thanks for letting me know you tried that.