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!
The post contains helpful tips and tricks to make sure you're successful in your first attempt. But if you're in a rush, please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end!
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 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 6 - 8 small mandarin oranges, I use the seedless varieties - cut into ½-inch slices
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 2 tbsp baking cocoa powder, optional
- 2 tbsp 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