upside-down orange, almond & semolina cake

8    |   
Prep Time:
30 minutes    |   
Cook Time:
1 hour

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upside down orange cake
recipe adapted from the Wall St. Journal

Among my Christmas presents this year was a bag of semolina flour. Lest you think that sounds like a lump of coal in my stocking, let me assure you this was no ordinary bag of flour. It was grown and ground locally by my friend David at Capay Mills, whose mission is to bring back heirloom grains. Whoa. That sounds like PR speak, so let me just say this stuff is delicious and good for you.

My problem was deciding what to do with it. I love semolina in fresh pasta and bread, but that’s a big project. So I put the bag of flour on my shelf until the right recipe caught my eye and this one in the Wall St. Journal did: a buttery, almondy upside-down cake with pinwheels of citrus and a bright syrup poured on top. The original recipe calls for the Sicilian liqueur Solerno (hard to find), but grand marnier works, or leave out the liqueur and amp the flavor with almond extract. You can find almond flour and semolina from major producers like Bob’s Red Mill or look for David at the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market in San Francisco or Temescal in Oakland. And next year, give someone you love a bag of semolina.


1 lemon
3 blood oranges or other oranges, about 1 lb. total
2 cups semolina flour
2 cups almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch kosher salt
2½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2⅓ cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, optional


Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch nonstick springform pan with a round of parchment paper; set another round of parchment aside for later.

Zest and juice the lemon. Set juice aside. Zest 2 of the oranges and combine the orange and lemon zest in a small bowl or ramekin. Cut ends off these 2 oranges to expose flesh then, with a sharp knife, slice off remaining peel, removing any pith. Slice oranges crosswise into ¼-inch-thick pinwheels. Arrange on parchment in bottom of the springform pan. Slices should not overlap.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the semolina flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt. In a bowl with an electric mixer, whip the butter with 1⅓ cups of sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extracts and reserved zest and beat to combine. With a spatula, fold in the flour-baking powder mixture until no streaks remain. Spoon batter over oranges in pan and spread out gently with spatula. Bake in middle of oven for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

While the cake bakes, prepare the syrup: Place remaining 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons water. Zest and juice remaining orange and add both to sugar water along with reserved lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, then add Grand Mariner, if using. Continue to cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat, but leave saucepan on burner to keep warm.

When cake is done, transfer pan to a cooling rack. Use the tip of a sharp knife to pierce cake all over. Spoon half the warm syrup over the surface of the cake, letting it soak in. Set cake aside for 10 minutes then remove springform sides. Set reserved parchment round on cake (this will keep it from sticking to the platter) then place a platter upside down on top of the parchment and invert the cake so the orange-slice side is up. Peel off parchment that was used to line pan. Brush remaining syrup over the top of cake. Serve immediately or at room temperature; cake stands well for up to several hours and keeps well, wrapped in plastic, overnight.