Orange Upside Down Cake Posted by: | April 4, 2011

It is my baby nephew Daniel’s 1st month on earth, and as a ritual, we would have a Full Month celebration, offering food to the “Baby God” (Bà Mụ), so that She would bless him with health and strength. Our family couldn’t celebrate together, as me and my Mom are here in Vietnam, while my Dad, my sis & brother-in-law and baby Daniel are in the States. So we each did our own little ritual at two different time zones. My Mom bought fruits, sticky rice and chicken while I was in charge of making a nice dessert to offer to the “Baby God”.

I was very inspired to make a fruit upside down cake (under the influence of a colleague who made Pineapple Upside Down cake and brought it to office last week). I just love Upside Down/Turnover cakes, as there’s no better way of incorporating fruits flavors so well into the cake, while still have it as a beautiful, juicy layer on top. The most common Upside Down cakes are made with Apples, Plums, Cranberries, Pears, Peaches/Nectarines etc (Read about my Plum Upside Down Cake here). However, the only fruit I had abundantly in my fridge was Orange. So I set out to make the not-so-common Orange Upside Down Cake, with typical Vietnamese green-skin oranges, that are sour and more citrusy in flavor. Anything with orange tastes good, so this can’t go wrong either. And indeed, it blew us away.

Those in Hanoi would be very familiar with our local oranges, that come with thick, green skin, looking more like a giant lime. It’s also sourer, with much more seeds than usual western oranges. Its pungent citrusy zest has always made me want to try baking with it. It definitely doesn’t remind you of the usual comforting orange smell, but more of a fresh lime sorbet that can wake up all your senses.

The orange flesh, in total contrast with the skin, is a bright deep orange that is very juicy, but unfortunately also very chewy. (Mom insists it’s good fibre source for our diet, but I sometimes run out of patience and spit the unchewable part out, to my Mom’s disgust). So I knew that for this cake to work, the oranges had to be cut into really thin slices, to make it less of a choking hazard, and also to help it absorb the honey syrup as much as possible. I left the skin on, as it would impart more flavor into the cake, though it should be removed while eating later on, as it is very bitter.

After baking, these normally not so welcoming oranges became a beautiful, caramelized but still juicy topping that infused the entire cake with its citrusy juice, and just looks like happy sunshine:

I can almost bet that your mouth should be watering by now, because mine is.

Orange-Honey Upside Down Cake

(adapted from Sunset Magazine, September 2003 issue)


  • 1/2  cup  honey
  • 1/4  cup  orange juice
  • 2 unpeeled medium sized oranges, cut into very thin slices (discard ends)
  • 3/4  cup  (170g) butter, at room temperature
  • 1  cup  sugar
  • 2  large eggs
  • 1  tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/3  cup whole milk


1. In a skillet or sauce pan over medium-high heat, stir honey and orange juice until boiling, then let simmer until mixture is foamy, slightly thickened, and amber-brown in color. Pour the orange honey syrup into an 8″ round baking tin and chill for about 15 minutes in the fridge. Slightly overlap orange slices in concentric circles over the syrup.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in orange zest.

3. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold half the flour mixture into butter mixture just until incorporated. Stir in milk, then the remaining flour mixture, just until incorporated. Pour the batter over orange slices in the baking pan and spread evenly with a spatula.

4. Bake in a 180°C or  350°F  oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes for regular, or 25 to 30 minutes for convection oven. Let cool for 5 minutes.

5. Invert a flat plate over pan. Swiftly invert cake onto plate and and slowly lift pan off, being careful with the hot syrup as it will spill. Let cool completely and serve.

You can refrigerate the cake overnight and serve the next day as well, but the cake will absorb all the syrup by then and be a tad too moist for your liking, but it will still taste as good. I would definitely make this cake again, but maybe without the orange skin next time, so the eating can be less messy. This is probably the best way to use up your oranges if they are too sour to eat, and is probably the cake with the most Vitamin C too. Such a win-win.

I hope “Baby God” liked it as much as we did.


7 Responses to “Orange Upside Down Cake”

  1. Awww that’s sweet. I know about the one month celebration thing but didn’t realise it was for “Baby God”

    • Chi Anh says:

      Phuoc: Yeah… Apparently all healthy babies gotta thank “Baby God” who bless them since their new born days :P (provided that their parents did a good job at honoring and praying to “Baby God”)

  2. I’m so intrigued by your local oranges! This cake looks delicious! Thanks for sharing :)

    • Chi Anh says:

      DessertForTwo: Thanks :) stay tuned to the Orange Creamsicle Pudding I’ll be attempting with these local oranges next!

  3. Phuong says:

    Interesting. I didn’t know that the one month celebration is to offer food to the baby god. The cake looks yummy, but thought I will substitute the oranges with other fruits. We haven’t been eating oranges for quite a while now being concerned about chemicals and the fact that oranges that taste really sweet are very hard to find these days. Sour or b/w sour and sweet just not my cup of tea.

    • Chi Anh says:

      I know. I hate sour or in-between tasting oranges too. Hence I bake them or glaze them to enhance their flavor and get the best out of their citrusy essence. Chemicals? Sigh that’s always a concern with local produce these days. I’m really praying for safe & reliable fresh produce in Vietnam soon :(

  4. I wonder if these are the same “sour orange” that’s used as rootstock for most of the hybrid citrus trees here in southern California? I’ve never seen the fruit, so I can’t be sure. In any case, the green-skinned oranges are so unusual to look at – what a beautiful cake!

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