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


  • 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


  • 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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