12 Ingredients | 65 Minutes | Delicious upside down mandarin cake with caramel and optional chocolate. Inspired by traditional pig pickin’ cakes of the South, served best with a dollop of ice-cream or warm tea!
Winter is a time of citrus fruits. I’ve made upside down apple cakes and pineapple cakes, so why not an upside-down mandarin cake?! The idea took root, and so, we now have an upside-down mandarin orange cake. But it’s not just any mandarin cake – this one has a cocoa flavored cake base, and a deep caramel layer. Just imagine that with a scoop of vanilla icecream.
What is pig pickin’ cake?
This is inspired by a traditional Southern recipe called a pig pickin’ cake (that they used to make when they had pig roasts in the South). But most of these recipes called for a yellow cake mix. I don’t buy many pre-processed ingredients, so I wanted to figure out how to make this from scratch. Plus, I had a ton of cocoa powder from another baking project. So, this mandarin cake is inspired by the traditional recipe, and has a modern twist on it. After all, who doesn’t like oranges and dark chocolate together, amirite?
How do you make mandarin cake?
You have to slice the mandarins with skin on. Then, slowly using the tip of your knife, remove the peel after you have your slices ready. Or just make a small cut and then unravel the peel like you might a thread of yarn. Some of the pieces will probably still fall apart – but that’s okay! You can use those smaller pieces to fill the gaps once you have your citrus mosaic laid out.
How do you caramelize sugar without burning it?
I typically start on the stove, and don’t stir the sugar while it’s starting to boil. This way, I don’t get stuff stuck all over my spatula, and the sugar can finish caramelizing in the oven. Once the sauce starts actively bubbling, you can take it off the heat!
How do you keep caramel from sticking to the pan?
The science behind this is to make sure the pan is greased … plenty well. Almost to the point where you’re thinking it’s over-greased. But, when you pour the caramel sauce, as the cake bakes, the grease and the caramel also cook but it forms a consistency where it doesn’t stick to the bottom. My trick is olive oil and pre-cooking caramel on the stove before adding to the pan.
How do you flip cake upside down?
This is one of the best parts of making ANY upside down cake, but given the colors, I was particularly excited for this mandarin cake. When you pull the cake out of the oven, the top should mostly be set but a few parts can be a bit crackly (see picture below). This is perfect for a flaky cake, not too dense.
Once the cake comes out of the oven, let it rest outside for about 10 minutes. Then, run a butter knife across the sides of the pan to make sure there’s nothing stuck. The knife should run clean. Then, take a plate that’s slightly larger than the pan, and cover the pan with the plate. Now swiftly, you just flip the whole thing over and gently pull the pan off. Upside-down beauty. Your mandarin orange cake is ready to be devoured.
Can I use other citrus fruits?
Oh yes, absolutely! That’s the beauty of this cake – though this is technically a mandarin orange cake recipe, you can definitely just make this a citrus cake recipe. Blood orange, grapefruits, regular navel oranges will all work as the base, so go crazy!Print
Modern take on a traditional mandarin cake – this one has a gooey caramel layer, and a cake base with cocoa. Perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
For the cake:
- ¾ cup butter, softened
- 1 ½ cups sugar (granulated)
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup milk (sub almond milk, if desired)
- 1 ½ cups AP flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 6 –8 small mandarin oranges (I use the seedless varieties) – cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1 tsp of orange zest
- 2 tbsp of baking cocoa powder (optional)
- 2 tbsp of olive oil (for greasing the pan)
For the sauce:
- 1/2 cup of butter, melted
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar, loosely packed
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 F
- Slice the mandarin oranges into nice slices – see note above for a trick to make sure they stay together (save a few peels for the zest)
Mixing the cake batter
- In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, add 3/4 cup of softened butter and sugar and stir well
- Then, add the flour, eggs, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, cocoa powder, orange zest and milk – stir into batter like consistency
Making the sauce
- Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, melt 1/2 cup (one stick) of butter and once it’s melted, add brown sugar – wait until the sauce starts actively bubbling and take off the heat
- Grease a 9″ cake pan with olive oil (and don’t forget the sides) – almost until it looks like there’s too much oil (but don’t worry, it isn’t!)
Assembling the cake
- Pour the caramel sauce into the base of the pan and add the orange slices in a nice mosaic – you can use the smaller pieces that didn’t stick together to fill the gaps here
- Now pour the batter on top of the orange slices and spread gently to make sure it’s evenly covered
- Pop in the oven for 40 minutes and once it’s done, remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes
- Run a butter knife across the sides of the cake pan to make sure the cake isn’t stuck to the sides
- Cover the cake pan with a plate larger than the pan and invert at once; then slowly remove the cake pan and revel in the glory of the delicious mandarin cake!
- When making the caramel sauce, there’s no need to stir it – it’ll just stick to your spatula. If you just let it simmer until the sauce starts bubbling, you should be good to go!
- You can substitute the milk with almond or pecan milk for a nuttier flavor that goes well with citrus
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: mandarin cake, mandarin orange cake, upside down mandarin cake, upside down citrus cake, upside down orange cake