By Chaya Rappoport
(The Nosher via JTA) — Upside down cakes are one of my favorite types of cakes to make, mostly because they are an easy way to impress. In an upside down cake, the fruit is layered on the bottom of the pan along with sugar, and a simple, fluffy cake batter is poured on top. Once it’s baked, the cake is inverted, and what was once the bottom of the cake becomes a gorgeously syrupy, fruity top. What could be simpler?
American upside down cakes are traditionally made with pineapple and cherries, but I gave that ’50s take on the cake a seasonal, Middle Eastern twist by using blood oranges, saffron and semolina flour in the batter. Blood oranges are typically in season from January until early spring, and they are some of my favorite citrus fruits to bake with: bright, not too sweet and seriously flavorful. Here they add a vibrant pop of color to the cake.
As for the saffron, you might already know it by its notoriously expensive reputation. Derived from the crocus flower, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, which makes sense considering the difficulty involved in harvesting it. But fear not: While Indian Kashmiri and Iranian saffron are definitely pricey, the more commonly available Spanish saffron is affordable, easily found at online spice retailers (even Trader Joe’s!) and thankfully still delicious and flavorful.
In this cake, the sweet, floral and honey-like saffron threads are infused into sugar along with zest from the blood orange. The sugar turns extra fragrant, and when combined with orange blossom water and the semolina flour yields a cake that is intensely flavored, crumby and dense in the best way possible. The oranges on top are syrupy and candy-like (keeping the rind on, thinly sliced, adds even more flavor and fragrance) and best of all, it comes together in under an hour, just in time for an afternoon cup of tea.
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