Upside Down Orange & Fennel Cake

This upside down orange and fennel cake recipe is a showstopper for special occasions! The moist cake features blood oranges for a pop of color.

Fennel cake

This stunning upside down cornmeal 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. So we baked the cake, took 1 million photos of it, and then finally, tasted it. It was the most moist, flavorful fennel 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 Fransisco food writer and the face behind A Brown Table. Keep reading for the upside down orange and fennel cake recipe, and a special Q&A with the author.

Related: 10 Romantic Dinner Recipes

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

How to make this orange and fennel cake recipe

This fennel and orange cake recipe is something special occasions are made of. And take special note: it 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 the 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 upside down cornmeal cake is fennel seeds: fennel and orange are a natural pairing, but we’d never cooked them together in a dessert. After tasting the cornmeal 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.

Another tip: be very, very careful when you remove the cornmeal cake from the pan. Make sure to slide it gently out of the pan to avoid cracking or breaking. And a final note: This cake recipe requires a 12-inch pan, which we had to special order. 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

Looking for more fruit dessert recipes?

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

This recipe is…

This orange and fennel cake recipe is vegetarian.

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

Upside Down Orange & Fennel Cake

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (8 votes, average: 4.75 out of 5)

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


This orange and fennel cake recipe is a showstopper for special occasions! The moist cake features blood oranges for a pop of color.



  • 1 1/2 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 1/2 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
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 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 1/8 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 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon butter and remaining 1 1/2 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 1/2 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

Keywords: Cornmeal Cake, Upside Down Cake, Orange Cake, Oranges, Fennel, Dessert, Cornmeal, fennel cake

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Terry Covington
    October 17, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    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.

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