Clementine Cake

This clementine cake recipe is rich, buttery, and can be made with any sort of small, seedless, easy-peeling citrus fruit, whether satsuma, tangelo, or clementine. It's both simple and stunning, which pretty much satisfies all our prerequisites for a spectacular winter dessert.

Clementine Cake Recipe

This clementine cake may look like an upside-down cake and taste like an upside-down cake but it couldn’t be more right-side-up, with no scary moment of reckoning—or rather, wrecking—that requires you to scarily turn out the rich, buttery cake and its sticky sweet topping from the pan while preventing it from crumbling or cracking. Incidentally, this clementine cake was originally called a satsuma cake, which sounds sorta exotic but “satsuma” simply refers to all those cute little orbs of citrus that are ubiquitous at grocery stores each winter, including clementines, tangerines, even smallish navel oranges. The cake works spectacularly with any citrus with few or no seeds and thin peels that are easy to slip off underlying diminutive segments. This recipe has been updated. Originally published January 20, 2012.Renee Schettler Rossi

How To Select The Right Citrus For This Recipe

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, both in terms of taste and the inescapable fact that the citrus segments tend to sag and fall apart.

That said, 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 simple and stunning recipe—yet vexed by the thick peels she was finding in grocery stores—that she kept tinkering until she had an aha! moment. She microwaved 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

Clementine 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 clementine 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. (There’s a slight chance you may need a second citrus to yield sufficient juice.)
  • 2. Slice the remaining citrus fruits into very thin rounds—not paper thin, mind you, but no more than 1/4 inch thick. Remove and discard any seeds. [Editor’s Note: 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 for tangerines or blood oranges, 3 minutes for navel oranges. This helps softens the thick peel without turning the citrus segments soggy.]
  • 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.
  • Make the satsuma orange cake
  • 4. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 9- or 10-inch springform cake pan.
  • 5. Toss the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until fluffy. With the mixer still running, add an egg and mix until it’s completely and indisputably incorporated before adding the second egg. When the second egg is similarly incorporated, sprinkle the grated orange zest reserved from the glaze recipe over the batter and mix until combined.
  • 6. In a bowl, sift together the semolina flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Gently mix the flour mixture into the batter, a little at a time, and mix just until everything is incorporated and no white streaks of flour remain. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan and smooth the surface. Arrange the glazed oranges on the batter in a single layer, allowing any excess glaze to drip from the oranges back into the pan before draping them on the cake. Reserve the remaining glaze in the pan. (You may also end up with some extra citrus slices, which is intentional, as we want you to have plenty despite the fact that some of the slices may fall apart during simmering. We like to nibble the glazed citrus as is or spoon it over yogurt.)
  • 7. Bake the cake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°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 removing it from the pan or simply slice and serve the cake straight from the pan.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Hey, there. Just a reminder that all our content is copyright protected. Like a photo? Please don't use it without our written permission. Like a recipe? Kindly contact the publisher listed above for permission before you post it (that's what we did) and rewrite it in your own words. That's the law, kids. And don't forget to link back to this page, where you found it. Thanks!

Recipe Testers Reviews

This is a very flavorful, pretty clementine cake with 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-inch springform pan, and it really did make removing the cake much easier. I used clementines. 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.

This satsuma orange 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 2 satsumas, not 1, to produce the required quantity of juice. 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

  1. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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.)

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

    1. 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…

  2. 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.)

  3. 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.

    1. 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…

  4. 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!

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

  5. 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.

    1. 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!

  6. 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 :-)

    1. 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!

  7. 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!!!!!

  8. This orange cake looks amazing! Not hard at all. I will surely make this for the family for Sunday dessert.

  9. I need to correct my earlier post. The reason my Satsuma sliced sank to the bottom is because I read the recipe too fast and where it said to let the excess glaze drip from the slices I took it to mean drip on the batter. So this was my error but still there was none left at the party WOO HOO!!! Thanks for the best I mean, most YUMMIE recipe I have ever eaten. AWESOME!!!!

  10. We have an ole’ satsuma tree in our backyard. It’s about that time of year when we go back and pick a good 3 to 4 plastic shopping bags a week worth of fruit off it. We normally give them all away, but I’m tempted to actually put them to use in our own kitchen for once. This dessert has my name written all over it for just this fix.

    1. Jes, I think, too, this satsuma cake is calling out to you. It’s a winter must for us. Hope it becomes the same for you.

  11. man, I have to say my hopes for this cake were dashed. :( i’m gonna give it another try tomorrow but it really is heart wrenching… i followed the recipe, but the cake before me was burnt around the edges, the middle over cooked…I don’t know how different our ovens are, but never had this happened. I even took it out 10 min before the timer chimed. it just wasn’t in the cards…

    again the cake has potential… the smell was superb… but bake time was way off for my oven… perhaps that led to the dryness.

    well i’m going empty handed to the dinner party.

    1. celia, I’m truly sorry to hear the cake didn’t work out for you. But before you try it again, I suggest buying three of those small oven thermometers. (Yes, three!) I’m not trying to break the bank with this suggestion, but with one you have nothing to compare it to; two can be a fluke; but three will give you a very good sense of how hot or cold you oven is running. And if the cake was so burnt and overcooked 10 minutes before the recipe said it was done, if your oven is out of calibration, I’d hate to see you ruin another cake.

      Sometimes this temperature wackiness can happen after a self-cleaning cycle.

      Please write back and let me know.

  12. I made this recipe because my boyfriend was gifted actual satsuma oranges for Christmas. The orange rind provides an amazing blast of orange flavor with a nice bitterness that is instantly cut by a pop of juicy candied orange pulp. The semolina provided a lower gluten content to make the cake crumbly with the perfect texture, absolutely genius! I brought it over to new-years black-eyed peas dinner and served it with lightly sweetened home-made whipped cream; not a bite was left over. I’ve made so many types of cakes, but dang, this one is definitely a favorite.

    1. Follow the instructions above and you’ll be good to go, Bethany! And there are many kinds of satsuma—clementines, tangerines, and so on. Just pick your fave.

    1. Some varieties of satsumas have more seeds than others, cookinmom. Best to pick out any seeds from the slices prior to placing them in the pan to ensure a lovelier experience later on when eating the cake.

  13. I made this yesterday but didn’t have a 9inch tin. I used a 7inch tin but was still surprised at how little batter there was. My cake seems very thin, is that right? It tastes great though.

    1. Hayley, glad you love the cake! In terms of its height, the cake isn’t going to be as towering as a stacked layer cake, which is what many folks think of when they think of cake. It’s more about the thickness of brownies or a typical single layer cake. Does that sound like what you experienced? We rather like the relative thinness of the cake because it means a higher proportion of sticky candied orange topping to rich buttery cake. So often the amount of cake seems to overwhelm any sort of topping or frosting. But then, I was always the kid who ate the frosting and left the cake on the plate…

  14. I’d say mine was thinner than a single layer cake. I’m sure it’s a case of user error! There’s nothing for it, I’ll have to have another go ?

    1. Grins. Well, I’m not certain about the user error, although yes, I do think you definitely need another go at it!

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Rate this recipe!

Have you tried this recipe?
Let us know what you think.