blood orange olive oil upside-down cake

Welcome back! We’ve checked off our 15th bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person and continue to inch our way closer to the end of the Loaf Cakes & Single Layer Cakes chapter. This week, we made Claire’s Blood Orange Olive Oil Upside-Down Cake, which also happens to be the cover star of the book!

Lauren’s Take

We baked the cover!! I remember when I first got the book, I was surprised that I’d be baking the cover so soon—surely the cover bake must be something more extravagant and complicated than a loaf or single layer cake?! But once again, Claire showed me that for something to be utterly delicious and satisfying, it doesn’t need to be complicated. This olive oil cake is so rich, moist, and the deep flavours of the olive oil and semolina flavour combined with the citrus make this cake a winner.

The hardest part of this cake, hands down, is slicing the blood oranges. I am the first to admit that I may be the worst chopper, slicer and dicer in the world—I get too impatient and things are never sliced evenly or finely enough (I now chop everything in my food processor and it has been life changing). When my partner and I make meals together, he is always on chopping duty. So, being the resourceful person that I am, I called my boyfriend in to do the slicing for me. IT WAS TOUGH. We sharpened our knives, we put the blood oranges in the freezer… but regardless, it was so difficult to get a cut that was thin enough for the peel, but not too thin that the insides didn’t break off. Kudos to him for having the patience and the gumption to persevere for me! We ended up getting about 15 pieces that were thin, but many still had a significant peel to them. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to get around this and have no advice to offer other than it is super hard and make sure you have a sharp knife. What was super fun about slicing the blood oranges is that each one was a different colour inside which made me excited to create the pattern on top.

The blood orange slices are arranged on top of a sugar-y, citrusy juice that stabilizes them to make the upside-down pattern. The next step is to make the cake batter in the stand mixer, which was fairly simple but requires the most olive oil I have ever used at one time. You also have to slowly add it to the batter and I swear I was standing there, holding my JUG of olive oil for 15 minutes. I believe that this recipe may single-handedly contribute to the EVOO shortage happening in the world right now. Then you pour the batter on-top of the orange slices and bake!

Once the cake is done and still warm, you take it out of the pan and flip it over to reveal your upside-down topping. This was a nerve-racking moment for me, but the bottom actually came off super easy (probably because of all the olive oil and parchment paper) and revealed a beautiful pattern! I definitely had spots where the oil came through or where I could see the cake, but it still looked great.

THE HARDEST PART OF THIS BAKE is that you have to wait at least 24 hours before you can eat it. Okay, HAVE TO is a strong statement, but it was encouraged so that’s what I did. And I think it was worth the wait; this cake tasted better with each day it sat out. It tasted so light and rich—it was a winner for me. The larger peels were definitely bitter and could take away from the cake itself, so next time I just might make the cake and use a different fruit topping, but it was fun to explore with blood oranges for the first time! 4.5 stars from me!

Julia’s Take

Wow! I can’t believe we’re already at our 15th bake from the book—it feels like we just started this project, but also I don’t remember a time when my schedule and grocery list didn’t revolve around what I need to bake from Dessert Person each week. I was SO excited for this week’s recipe because we got to bake the COVER! I have seen soooo many people making this cake since Claire published the book, and couldn’t wait to finally give it a try myself.

Like Lauren mentioned, the trickiest part of this bake is definitely getting the blood orange slices thin enough. I kept my oranges in the freezer for quite a long time—almost a full day—and I did find that this really helped. I also used a paring knife, which has a curve to it and hugged the shape of the orange nicely; I’m no pro, but I think that this made a difference. There was the odd piece of rind that was still a bit too thick depending on the shape of the orange, but overall I was able to get pretty nice slices without my kitchen counter looking too much like a crime scene.

I love a recipe that involves a little bit of creativity and design work; one of the best parts of making the Pear & Chestnut Cake was getting to create the fanning of pear slices on top, and I found the same thing with this cake. A slurry of blood orange juice and sugar gets poured into the bottom of the springform pan, and after that I was able to arrange the orange slices into the pattern that would eventually become the top of my cake. Call me crazy, but I find that kind of thing sooo soothing. #pandemiclife

Upside-down component aside, the ingredients and flavours in this cake was INCREDIBLE. I’m not an experienced or knowledgeable enough baker to really know the difference between all the different kinds of flour floating around out there, but after making this cake (which specifically called for cake flour) I can absolutely see why someone would choose one over the other. I learned that cake flour has a lower protein content and a finer consistency which makes for a more tender bake; that, combined with the portion of semolina flour that the recipe called for, created such an incredibly light and soft texture. The recipe also called for orange zest, Grand Marnier, and orange blossom water (my new favourite ingredient), so the orange flavour REALLY comes through. I definitely want to try making this cake again with different liquors and flavourings and am already dreaming up different combinations!

It truly blew my mind just HOW. MUCH. OLIVE. OIL goes in this cake. It really does result in a pretty amazing flavour and super rich cake, but wow. I think my cake was slightly under-baked because there were a few places that remained more oily than I would have liked inside, and I did get some slight sinking in the middle of the cake after it came out of the oven, but overall it tasted incredible and just got better and better the longer it sat out.

There is no doubt in my mind why this cake made the cover. The reveal you get when you peel off the parchment and see those vibrant slices of blood orange is so beautiful, and it’s one of the most unique and delicious things I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to make this cake again. I’ve been on a major kick with the high ratings but I can’t help it—these last few weeks have just been top-notch, and this is a 4.5 star bake for me!

Check back next week for the Goat Cheese Cake with Honey & Figs!