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This upside down orange cake recipe is a showstopper! It’s a cornmeal cake that stars the classic pairing of orange and fennel.

Fennel cake
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This stunning upside down orange cake recipe is from the cookbook Season by Nik Sharma, and the moment we saw it Alex and I were intrigued. The design of the jewel-toned oranges against the yellow cornmeal was too striking to pass up. We baked the cake, took 1 million photos of it, and then finally, tasted it. It was the most moist, flavorful orange cake we’ve ever had.

Season is a cookbook featuring a fusion of Indian and American cuisine from author Nik Sharma’s two cultures. And if the recipes are all like this, you’re in for a treat! Nik is a San Francisco food writer and the face behind A Brown Table. Keep reading for the upside down orange cake recipe, and a special Q&A with the author.

Season Nik Sharma

An interview with the author, Nik Sharma

1) You grew up in India and then lived as an adult in the United States; Season is a fusion of influences between the two cultures. What are a few of your favorite Indian foods and American foods that you like to cook on an everyday basis?  

I try to look at how I cook as more of an adaptation to what I have available around me, while I try to bring in my influences from India and the different parts of America that I’ve lived in. Like most folk I love sweets and fried food! So yeah, fried chicken when we visit my in-laws in the South is always on my mind, I love making chili (I went to grad school in Ohio) but I also live for making kheer (a type of aromatic rice pudding made with basmati rice and seasoned with spices and dry fruit and nuts) and biryani (because it is essentially a one-pot dish and requires just a bit of yogurt and or a salad on the side).

2) You’ve noted that being gay and a person of color in an online world has brought some unpleasant anonymous comments on your social media at A Brown Table (we’re so sorry to hear that!). What helped you through that challenge to keep doing what you do today? 

I had to move on, I had no choice. I could either let negativity take over my life and take away something I enjoy so much, cooking. That would have been a shame to lose something I love for nothing. In the end, I had to be true to myself and I wasn’t going to change or hide my identity.

3) The Foreword of your book beautiful speaks about you inviting us to your table, “a place where everyone belongs”. What can the everyday person do to support tables and communities that are inclusive to all? 

Start by talking to people who don’t look and sound like you, it will pleasantly surprise you as to how similar you might be and the common interests you might share. In the food world, it’s easier, try and read articles written by authors you might have not heard of, you could purchase a cookbook written by someone from a country you’ve been eager to visit or learn about, celebrate them and their work.

Cornmeal fennel cake
Orange upside down cake

What to know about this upside down orange cake recipe

This fennel and orange cake recipe is something special occasions are made of. Here are a few things to take note of:

  • This recipe requires refrigerating the cake batter overnight before baking. Nik indicates in the book that this is his grandmother’s trick so that the cake batter absorbs as much liquid as possible. It gives this orange cake a very tender crumb, which we enjoyed immensely. So don’t skip this step: and make sure to plan ahead!
  • A unique ingredient in this orange cake is fennel seed. Fennel and orange are a natural pairing, but we’d never cooked them together in a dessert. After tasting the cake, it was just as we’d hoped: the fennel adds just the right amount of complexity and pairs well with the lightly moist cake. And the thin orange slices come out perfectly sweetened, almost tasting like a candied orange.
  • Be very, very careful when you remove the orange cake from the pan. Make sure to slide it gently out of the pan to avoid cracking or breaking.
  • This cake recipe requires a 12-inch pan, which we had to special order in order to make it. But it was well worth the purchase!

With lots of butter and sugar, this cake is a little outside our standard healthy fare, but it’s a perfect treat for a special occasion and makes a massive cake!

Get the book

Get Season by Nik Sharma here

This orange cake recipe is…


Orange cornmeal dessert
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cornmeal cake | orange cake recipe | orange upside down cake | orange cornmeal cake

Upside Down Orange Cake

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  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 9 hours
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 10 hours
  • Yield: 18 servings 1x


This upside down orange cake recipe is a showstopper! It’s a cornmeal cake that stars the classic pairing of orange and fennel.


  • 1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 4 tablespoons, melted, to grease the baking pan
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 blood oranges, unpeeled
  • 1 Valencia orange, unpeeled
  • 2 cups fine cornmeal
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour or whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoons grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup cup fresh orange juice (any type of orange)


  1. Using a pastry brush, liberally great a 12-inch 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 tablespoons of the sugar over the bottom of the pan. Using a sharp knife or mandoline, slice the oranges ⅛ inch thick. Arrange the orange slices over the sugar and fennel seeds, covering as much surface area as you can.
  2. 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 1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon butter and remaining 1 ½ cups 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 1 ½ minutes. Beat in the orange 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, preferably overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes , rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the center is firm, yet spongy, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
  4. 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, then gently tap the bottom of the pan to unmold the cake. Peel off the parchment paper and cool completely. To serve, cut the cake with a sharp, serrated knife.


Reprinted with permission from Season by Nik Sharma. For a decadent treat, top this cornmeal cake with our Homemade Whipped Cream.

  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American

Looking for more fruit dessert recipes?

Outside of this upside down orange cake recipe, here are a few of our favorite fruit dessert recipes:

Last updated: January 2021

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. MPG says:

    I have tried this recipe today. The cake smells amazing but is uncooked in the middle. Does the batter poured in cake pan need to be brought to room temperature before baking? It isn’t mentioned so I didn’t do that. Let me know so I can make it better next time. Thank you!!!

    1. Sonja Overhiser says:

      Thanks for asking! You shouldn’t need to bring it to room temp before baking. If it’s not cooked in the middle, we’d recommend baking longer. What was the bake time that you went with? This is an author friend’s recipe, so we can consult him if necessary.

  2. Terry Covington says:

    Thank you! I always love to be introduced to cooks I have not come across before. This cake looks beautiful. And I am extremely happy that your interview included questions about inclusiveness – very close to my heart.