Delicious upside down mandarin cake with gooey caramel and a chocolate base. Inspired by traditional pig pickin' cakes of the South, and served best with a dollop of ice-cream or warm tea!
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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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Upside-Down Mandarin Cake (with Caramel and Chocolate)
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 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 6 - 8 small mandarin oranges, I use the seedless varieties - cut into ½-inch slices
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoon baking cocoa powder, optional
- 2 tablespoon olive oil, for greasing the pan
For the sauce:
- 5 tablespoons butter, melted
- ½ cup 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)
Make the cake batter
- In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, add ¾ cup of softened butter and sugar and stir well. Then, add the flour, eggs, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, cocoa powder, orange zest and milk and stir into batter like consistency
Make the caramel sauce
- Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, melt butter and 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
- Butter the cake pan and pour the caramel sauce into the base of the pan. Once the caramel has settled, add the orange slices in a nice mosaic at the base of the pan - you can use the smaller pieces that didn't stick together to fill the gaps here. Then, 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!
- No need to stir the caramel sauce - 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
I am no cake connoisseur, as cake baking is no easy task! I have only ever had pineapple upside down cake, the mandarin will give you a run for your money (with less than half the sugars and carbs)! Not only was the cake full flavored, but it was balanced with savory sweetness in every bite. 30 seconds in the microwave melted the caramel to make the cake moist but not spongy. The mandarins golden finish almost made it too pretty to eat - emphasis on ALMOST! If you are a pastries in the morning person, it is paired well with a cold glass of Vanilla Almond Milk or eaten room temperature with a nice strong bold roast coffee. I don't recommend sharing slices as you will feel no remorse for taking the last bite.
Waoh.........Such a lovely cake. I can't wait to try this.
Thought there was too much butter in caramel. Had to take about 1/4 cup out after putting batter in tin cos it was floating
Hey Claire! I typically use a stick of butter for half a cup of brown sugar and it's worked out well for me - please do let me know how the cake turned out with half the butter. I'll test another version with reduced butter (and different types of brown sugar, since sometimes the absorption can vary depending on the type of brown sugar used too). Thank you!
Ummm,.....eggs are listed in ingredients, yet no mention of them in the method?
Hi Kath - the eggs are added to the cake batter.
Made this today as we had a bag of mandarin oranges that were getting close to their end days and I'm trying hard not to waste food. My oven definitely required it to cook longer than the directions stated (might be helpful in the directions to give a description on how one might know it's done by visual or poking it with a toothpick). But even though I initially pulled it out too early, the flavor/taste was amazing!! So very yummy and fancy looking, yet easy enough for my 9 year old to do a good chunk of it on his own. Thank you!
Thanks so much for the comment, Rachel - really glad to hear both of you were able to enjoy it! I'm updating this recipe with some more helpful tips + step-by-step photos, so will make sure to include your suggestion 🙂 Appreciate you taking the time to share!