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Upside down cakes already bring an instant wow factor, but the combination of peak season citrus and speckled brown butter sauce give wintertime desserts a glow-up that will overcome any cold weather blues. Specifically, blood oranges burst with color and flair that make this tender cake shine at any table.
The brown butter sauce brings nuttiness and notes of caramel that pair perfectly with bourbon and bitters to create a bite truly reminiscent of everyone’s favorite nightcap, an Old Fashioned cocktail. The beauty of this sheet cake is minimal bake time and easy portability for instant sharing. Just don’t forget to mix yourself a glass while you’re at it.
- For the Cake:
- 5 blood oranges (zested)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature, softened)
- 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon blood orange zest
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- For the Bourbon Brown Butter Sauce:
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon blood orange zest
- A pinch of salt
- 2 dashes orange bitters
Steps to Make It
Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this cake is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.
Make the Cake
Gather the ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Generously grease a rimmed baking sheet. (See variations for pan size below.)
Thinly slice 4 of the oranges, discarding the ends. Lay the slices flat and use the tip of your knife to cut away the pith and outer layer, leaving the flesh intact. Cut the remaining orange in half, then slice and remove the outer layer from one half. Juice the remaining half and set aside for the brown butter sauce.
Stir to combine the melted butter, brown sugar, and bourbon in a small bowl. Pour into the prepared baking sheet, spreading into a thin layer. Arrange the sliced oranges across the top in a tight, even layer. Set aside while you make the cake batter.
Stir to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Cream together the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl light and fluffy. (You should be able to cream by hand with a whisk or rubber spatula if the butter is soft enough. You can use an electric mixer if that’s easier.)
Whisk in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides as you go. Stir in the zest and extract.
Alternate stirring in the buttermilk and flour mixture until everything is added and the flour is just combined.
Dollop the batter over top the orange slices in the prepared baking sheet. Using an offset spatula, gently spread the batter into a smooth, even layer. Bake the cake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes.
Make the Bourbon Brown Butter Sauce
Meanwhile, make the brown butter sauce. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to foam, then continue to cook until it turns golden brown and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar, bourbon, reserved orange juice (should be about 1/4 cup), orange zest, and salt. Cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to boil and the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the bitters.
Run a knife or offset spatula around the edges of the cake. Place an upside down wire rack over top the cake, then invert the cake onto it. You can gently slide the cake back into the baking sheet or transfer it to a serving platter.
Use a fork or toothpick to poke holes all over the cake. Pour the brown butter sauce all over top (you can reserve some for serving, if desired). Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, yogurt, or ice cream. Enjoy!
- When greasing the sheet pan, ensure you get the corners and it is evenly covered. This may seem excessive, but it’ll ensure a successful cake inversion!
- Ensure you zest your oranges before peeling and slicing as you need the zest in the cake and sauce. Any extra zest can be kept in the freezer to easily add to yogurt, marinades, drinks, etc.
- When arranging your orange slices, fill in the gaps with smaller orange segments.
- Invert the cake while it is still slightly warm, so the orange topping doesn’t stick the the baking sheet. Let it completely cool before attempting to slide it back into the sheet pan or transfer to the platter so that it doesn’t fall apart.
- Baking Times for Different Sized Cake Pans
- Fundamentals of Cake Baking
- This cake can easily be converted to different size pans.
- For a 9-x 13-inch baking pan, the measurements will stay the same, but bake time will increase to 35 to 40 minutes.
- For an 8-inch round or square cake pan, you can keep the ingredients the same for a tall cake and bake for about 50 minutes or halve the ingredients and bake for 35 to 40.
- Want to use another orange? Go for it! Everything from Cara Cara to grapefruit will work with this cake. You can even use a variety for rainbow of colors.
- Buttermilk works to give the cake a soft texture as well as slight tang. You can substitute this for equal parts plain yogurt or mix milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.
No Booze, No Problem
- Feel free to leave the booze out. The topping will work just as well without it, but you can substitute more orange juice or 1 tablespoon of extract for the sauce.