Upside-Down Orange and Fennel Cornmeal Cake, by food writer Nik Sharma
Food writer Nik Sharma, curator of the award-winning food blog A Brown Table, shares 100 delicious and intriguing Indian recipes with an American twist in his debut book, which Nigella Lawson has praised as “inspiring and infused with an enlivening and generous sensibility”.
Upside-Down Orange and Fennel Cornmeal Cake
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 caramelised. 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. 12 servings (one 30.5cm cake)
345g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 55g melted unsalted butter, to grease the baking pan
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp plus 300g sugar
2 blood oranges, unpeeled
1 Valencia orange, unpeeled
280g fine cornmeal
280g all-purpose flour or whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp grated orange zest
1 tsp ground fennel
¼ tsp fine sea salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
180ml fresh tangerine or orange juice (any type of orange)
Using a pastry brush, liberally grease a 30.5cm 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 4mm 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 345g butter and remaining 300g 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 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.
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 caramelises the sugars and toasts the fennel seeds. These flavours infuse the cake as it bakes. And the caramelised fruit adds a dimension of beauty and a layer of concentrated sweetness.
* Extracted from Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma, published by Chronicle Books, £26.
Photography by Nik Sharma