Satsuma Orange Cake

Looks like an upside-down cake, doesn’t it? Tastes like an upside-down cake. Yet this cake couldn’t be more right-side-up, with no scary moment of reckoning—or wrecking that require you to alarmingly invert both cake and sticky sweet topping.

By the way, “satsuma” may sound sort of exotic and conjure notions of samurai or visions of sumo wrestlers, but it actually refers to those cute and ubiquitous little orbs of citrus found at grocery stores. Tangerines, clementines, even smallish navel oranges will also work just dandy, as each of these share the characteristics necessary for this cake: thin skins, nary a seed, and diminutive segments.–Renee Schettler Rossi

LC Peel Appeal Note

The most critical attribute of whatever citrus that you select for this recipe–whether satsumas, tangerines, clementines, or smallish navel oranges–isn’t the tartness of the segments so much as the thickness of the peel, which remains on the citrus to keep the lovely circles of segments intact and to impart a slight bitterness to the stunningly sweet glaze. Fear not, the rinds soften sufficiently to be fork-friendly and turn sweet enough to be palate-pleasing, but only if you use thin-skinned citrus. Thicker-skinned citrus such as regular oranges just can’t be coaxed to play nicely in the time allowed, and simmering them a little longer brings somewhat bitter consequences, as the citrus segments will tend to sag.

If you can only find thick-skinned citrus, we have a fix for you. One of our veteran recipe testers, Helen Doberstein, was so taken by this recipe–yet vexed by the thick peel situation–that she kept tinkering until she had an aha! moment. She nuked thicker citrus slices prior to simmering them. (Brilliant, right?) You’ll find all the essentials of her trusty trick in the recipe below.

Special Equipment: 9- or 10-inch springform pan

Satsuma Orange Cake Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • For the glazed oranges
  • 6 thin-skinned satsumas, clementines, tangerines, blood oranges, or small navel oranges, preferably organic
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the cake
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup semolina flour (or substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  • Make the glazed oranges
  • 1. Finely grate the zest of one of the citrus fruits, and reserve the zest for the cake batter. Cut the citrus fruit in half, juice it, and strain the juice; you should have 1/3 cup juice. (If you have an unusually small fruit, you may need a second citrus to yield sufficient juice. So be it.)
  • 2. Slice the remaining citrus fruits into very thin rounds— not paper thin but not more than 1/4 inch thick. Remove and discard any seeds. (If using thicker-skinned citrus such as tangerines, blood oranges, or navel oranges, slice the citrus 1/4 inch thick, place the slices on a plate, and microwave on high for 2 minutes if using tangerines or blood oranges, 3 minutes if using navel oranges.)
  • 3. Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and orange slices in a medium nonreactive saucepan over low heat and bring to a slow simmer. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until the peels are tender and the centers of the orange slices are starting to become tender and translucent but are not falling apart. If the peels aren’t yet tender enough to cut with a fork, keep simmering until they are. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the orange slices to a plate. Continue to simmer the syrup until it has reduced to 1/2 cup, anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, depending on how long you simmered the orange slices and the size of your pan. Set aside.
  • Make the cake
  • 4. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 9- or 10-inch springform cake pan.. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed until fluffy. While the mixer is running, add an egg and wait for it to be incorporated before adding the other. Add the grated orange zest reserved from the glaze and combine.
  • 5. In a bowl, sift together the semolina flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the batter mixture and mix until all of it is incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan and arrange the orange slices in one layer on top of the batter, allowing the excess glaze to drip from the slices. Reserve the remaining glaze. (You may have some extra citrus slices; this is intentional, as some of the slices may fall apart during simmering. Just nibble them as-is or drizzle them with melted chocolate and then nibble them.)
  • 6. Bake the cake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (176°C) and bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes more, for a total of 50 to 55 minutes, until the cake is an even golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack until warm, not hot. Then, using a wooden skewer, poke holes all over the surface of the cake. Brush the remaining glaze over the top using a pastry brush. Allow the cake to cool to room temperature on a wire rack before unmolding.
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Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Helen Doberstein

Jan 20, 2012

This is a very flavorful, pretty cake, for minimal effort. The effects of baking the semi-candied orange slices on top of the cake was very pretty, and there were no hold-your-breath moments when unmolding. I used a 10″ springform pan, and it really did make removing the cake much easier. I had to use clementines, since I couldn’t find the satsuma oranges called for. I also used only all-purpose flour. I would recommend cutting more orange slices than you think you’ll need to poach, as some of them will break apart when they come out of the poaching liquid. All in all, this cake was the hit of the party. It was so much more flavorful than the store-bought ones, and it was not overly sweet. The glaze gives it a real orange punch in addition to keeping it very moist. I will be making this one again.

Testers Choice
Lynne Brenner

Jan 20, 2012

This cake received positive comments from everyone who tasted it. It was buttery and not too sweet, due to the slightly bitter finish of the orange peel. The only negative was that the orange rind was a bit hard to get through, but then again, the tasters weren’t using forks! I found that I needed two satsumas, not one, to produce the required quantity of juice. Also, it took closer to 20 minutes to reduce the syrup to the indicated half cup — maybe a difference in temperature settings between cooktops? My syrup was much thicker and had to be spread in the 9″ springform pan. I was concerned about the amount of sugar indicated, because I find pineapple upside-down cake too sweet, but the citrus and the bitter peel factor mentioned above alleviated that worry. It is a very pretty cake and simple to make.


Comments
Comments
  1. Phil Miller says:

    Interesting post and recipe. I am wondering, in lieu of the fresh fruit (that is in season a limited time) do you think substituting Korean “citron tea” might work? Thanks.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Creative thinking, Phil. Love that suggestion. With baking, a substitution is always anyone’s best guess until you try it. But I’m thinking using preserves of sorts, such as Korean citron tea or a nice marmalade, may work well. I’d slather it over the batter after a few minutes of baking, though, and I’d keep a careful watch to see if it needs to be covered to keep from getting overly brown…or, even better (which is to say, safer, in my thinking) you could simply slather the preserves over the warm-from-the-oven cake so it turns into a glaze of sorts…please let us know what you decide to do!

      • Phil Miller says:

        Thanks, Renee–Will do! Because my wife and I avoid high fructose corn syrup, finding a good (not overly expensive) marmalade has been a problem. Until I came upon Korean citron tea (which of course is not a “tea” by definition). I think it’s the perfect accompaniment to toast, biscuits, and the like. (But, then, I like things on the tart side. I have, however, been told my taste buds are shot.)

        • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

          I know your difficulty in finding a proper marmalade…as for your taste buds, they sound quite sane to me.

  2. What a beautiful cake. Like golden rays of summer sunshine. A slice would be so welcome right now while it’s pouring rain and cold out.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Lana. There’s a very simple way to remedy that rain and cold, and it involves just a few satsumas and some pantry staples…

  3. Phil Miller says:

    One could make a Basbousa (the outrageously delicious Egyptian semolina cake, also known by other names throughout the Near East). I would slather a layer of Korean citron tea on the warm cake instead of the simple syrup the recipe calls for. (There are any number of Basbousa recipes on the web.)

  4. Ginger says:

    I made this cake over the weekend and it was delicious. Of course, it is citrus season and I seem to be making every citrus recipe you share! I highly recommend the semolina addition for the extra little crunch to the cake. While the cake was a nice, not-too-fancy cake, it is the glazed oranges that really take it the extra mile. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Our pleasure, Ginger. That’s what we do. Although the thanks truly belong to Andrea Reusing, author of Cooking in the Moment, who graciously shared this lovely cake with the citrus lilt with us…

  5. marla says:

    I am happy to hear there is no moment of fear to flip this beauty out of a pan. I spent a great part of my youth in the UK & satsuma’s were often enjoyed over there. They do sound so exotic here don’t they!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      They do, Maria. Somehow “clementine” just doesn’t carry the same sense of intrigue…though they definitely pack the same sweet-tart taste.

  6. Christine says:

    This cake is delicious! I made it with clementines, and 100% all purpose flour since I couldn’t find semolina flour. My husband is not a dessert person, and he had seconds of this cake. I will definitely make this again.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Christine, could you hear our collective whoop when we read your comment? It’s the ultimate in compliments. The uber comment, if you will. Many thanks for sharing your experience. Let there be Satsuma Orange Cake for all!

  7. Satsumas are my all-time fave citrus, right next to Meyer lemons. I am totally trying this one out. I cannot wait to find some Satsuma oranges so I can whip this up. So beautiful.

  8. Laura in Texas says:

    Being a citrus grower specializing in Satsumas, I can tell you there are flavor differences as well as other characteristic differences between Satsumas varieties and bigger differences between them and Clementines even though they can often be interchanged without most being the wiser. The older the fruit, the tougher and more bitter the peel and Satsumas typically are sweeter and more tender than Clementines. Having said that, this cake looks so good, I’d make it with either I had on hand! I’ll be making this come next Thanksgiving :-)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Wonderful, many thanks, Laura in Texas. And though we do state—and have found in testing—that you can swap one for another, we are aware of the nuances and characteristics of each variety. Thing is, many folks can only find one type or another in their local stores, so we simply wanted to make this as accessible as possible to as many as possible. Many thanks again for your tasting notes, and we look forward to hearing what you think come next Thanksgiving!

  9. Ariel Michael says:

    OMG, I made this cake today with some substitutions as I do not eat butter. I substituted coconut oil and used clementines instead. It turned out fantastic! I made it in a 9″ spring form and baked it in my toaster oven (as I do all my cakes) and it took only 35 minutes. It is absolutely delicious. There was some work in preparing the clementines but it is definitely worth it. Oooooh, so yummy. That’s two cakes I have made from this website (the plum one) and boy they were good. Oh yes, I did use semolina flour – actually I used Italian durum semolina which I use to make my pasta. This gave it an amazing texture. Just that little bite which made it different. I also used whole wheat all-purpose flour and not white which also added to the fabulous-ness!!!!!

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