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Heavenly, soft naturally gluten-free blood orange polenta cake brightens up a cold winter's day. And you can mix it all up in one bowl too. Easy and colourful baking that the kids can help with too.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the only cake I know how to do is a polenta one. I do do others, but it is hard to get past the fact that polenta cakes are stupidly easy to make, easily gluten-free, keep phenomenally well and are extremely versatile.

Matcha tea and passion fruit? Yep. Vanilla and turmeric? You bet. Lemon and berries? Of course. Figs and walnuts? Obviously. Even Christmas gets a look in with mincemeat (which is not meat!), pear & almond.

You get the gist.

Today I am adding one of my most favourite fruits, one more tantalising because of its fleetingly brief season – the blood orange. Or rather oranges, plural; sliced and covered with scented cake batter.

Nature is most surprising. At a time when nothing much is ready to eat in the spring garden (at least here in the UK), some of the brightest, most nutritious fruits are at their peak. Throughout the bleak winter months, with root crops and cold-stored orchard fruits doing their best to sustain us, citrus is one of two bright spots, the other being pomegranates. A bowl of these bold and voluptuous fruits on the coffee table not only cheers, it restores and nourishes too.blood-orange.jpg

And now, within kissing distance of March, and spring warmth looming tantalisingly close, Spanish imports of oranges are still plentiful and cheap. All eating oranges are pretty special, but the jewels in the citrus crown are sparkling, fragrant blood oranges, with the lustiest specimens coming from their native Italy. Be quick though, they will be gone before you know it. The best ones are in the shops right now, picked when the winter chill has done the necessary task of producing the characteristic blood-red pigment (cancer-fighting anthocyanins). If you don’t see them in your supermarket, try smaller independents and farmer’s markets.

I am buying blood oranges every few days, boxing and coxing between supermarket (Lidl and Waitrose) and small corner shop, playing a happy roulette: will that mottled ruby flesh reveal a crimson, dripping interior or standard – but still beautiful – orange? Other than the arresting colour, it is the surprising overtones – not even hint: actual overtones – of ripe raspberries. Irresistible. Utterly irresistible. Get them while you can. Or, if you are in the US, California provides your blood orange fix from May to November. You lucky so and so’s.

Heavenly, soft naturally gluten-free blood orange polenta cake brightens up a cold winter's day. And you can mix it all up in one bowl too. Easy and colourful baking that the kids can help with too.

Upside-Down Blood Orange Polenta Cake

  • Servings: 12-16
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This is pretty healthy for a cake – no butter, no flour, and a relatively small amount of sugar for a cake. However, it goes without saying that for most of us (she says patting her belly) this is for an occasional treat, not everyday munching. We like this quite puddingy and a bit squidgy: if you like a firmer cake, leave it in a little longer. It will still be lovely and soft. This polenta cake keeps beautifully too. x

Blood oranges – about 5 (some for the cake batter and some for the tin itself)

1/2 lemon, juiced

150ml light rapeseed oil/light olive oil/melted virgin coconut oil

125g  unrefined caster sugar OR coconut palm sugar + 2 tbsp for optional glaze

100 g fine or regular polenta/maizemeal (available in the Asian section at most supermarkets)

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp turmeric (optional)

175 g ground almonds

1 tsp good quality vanilla extract

3 medium eggs or equivalent vegan eggs (e.g. 3 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water); I haven’t tried it with aquafaba but I’m sure this vegan technique would work well.

1. Oil and baseline an 11 x 7 inch/27.5 x 18cm (approx) pan. Preheat oven to 180 C/160 C fan/350F. Have your baking paper reach up from two sides so that you can pull the cake out easily when cool. Or use a loose-bottomed tin.

2. First of all, the blood oranges. Wash and zest one of the oranges; set aside or zest straight into a food mixer or bowl. Juice the zested orange and one other; add in the lemon juice and set it aside. Now peel the remaining oranges and slice no thinner than 1/2 cm. Keep the peel if it looks juicy – this is to help make the optional glaze. Lay the best slices over the bottom of the prepared tin, and eat the rest!

3. Beat together the oil and sugar. I use a stand-mixer and let it rip for about 3-4 minutes. Pour in the polenta, baking powder, turmeric (if using), almonds, orange zest and juice, vanilla and eggs. Mix well and pour into the prepared tin. Although I use a stand mixer for this, strong arms or electric beaters are fine.blood-orange-polenta-cake

4, Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes and perhaps covering with foil to prevent burning. I usually take it out at 25 for a slightly softer cake. You can also make this in a well-greased muffin tin (uses 9-10 holes); bake these for about 20 minutes, but check at 15. The top of the cake or muffins should be lightly golden brown in patches and just starting to pull away from the sides of the tin. Lightly press the top of the cake, if it leaves a small dent it is perfect – not too cooked (as for cornbread).DSC_0669

5. While the cake is baking, put the 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small pan, squeeze the blood orange peels of their juice and enough water, or water and lemon juice, to make a light syrup; heat just enough to melt the sugar.

6. After the cake has cooled for about 20 minutes, lift it from the pan, peel away the paper, carefully upend it onto a plate and brush the blood orange syrup over the upside-down cake. TIP: If the cake looks very pale on the bottom, carefully transfer it onto a tray and pop under the grill for a short spell – watching it like a hawk – then brush over the syrup.

Serve with berries, coconut yogurt, creme fraiche, fruit compote or just on its own with a cup of tea. Enjoy.

Heavenly, soft naturally gluten-free blood orange polenta cake brightens up a cold winter's day. And you can mix it all up in one bowl too. Easy and colourful baking that the kids can help with too.

More blood orange recipes from Food To Glow:

Matcha & Blood Orange Breakfast Bowl

Blood Orange & Berry Smoothie

Vanilla Rhubarb with Blood Oranges

I also like to pop them in the freezer, pull them out when I get peckish, peel one and eat it as an instant blood orange sorbet! It sounds strange, but it is a great almost creamy texture. Strangely addictive. 🙂

Blood orange recipes from some great websites:

Massaged Kale & Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Blood Orange & Tahini Dressing

Kale and Blood Orange Cake

Blood Oranges with Fennel, Watercress, Olives & Burrata

Sugar-Free Blood Orange Cake

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40 thoughts on “Upside-Down Blood Orange Polenta Cake Recipe (dairy-free/gluten-free)

  1. How lovely is this!!! I love upside down cakes and very often make one with oranges,flour and almond meal…love the use of Polenta in this one..

    1. Thank you! I love blood oranges in any way shape or form, so why not cake? 😊😊

  2. I joked in a cooking class this week that funnily enough I have never made a polenta cake (yeah from a GF chef I know!). Pinning this for the list. I flipping love blood oranges too!

  3. Made in Rome says:

    My wife and I made a similar orange cake but candied the oranges. Your method is far easier! Love the buzz about polenta cakes on your blog… really aesthetically appealing and healthy stuff. Nice post!

  4. Yummy, this looks delicious. Seems Blood Orange is the new ingredient to have! 🙂

  5. This is such a beautiful cake Kellie! I have only ever tried polenta as fries before, but using it to make a cake with blood orange sounds amazing.

  6. ciaraattwell says:

    This looks incredible! I’ve never tried baking with polenta before but am very keen to give it a go now. Pinning this recipe to save it!

  7. Susan says:

    I will have to hunt down blood oranges as they are hard to find here…..I do have organic polenta from my farmers market though!

    1. Hi Susan. Cara caras perhaps instead? I know they’re not the same thing but I hear they are extra special ones from California. Wish I could try them!

  8. Jasmine S. says:

    Absolutely beautiful! I love the idea this combination of polenta and blood oranges!

  9. It’s a beauty!!!

  10. Just love how the blood oranges shine in this vibrant cake! You have done a scrumptious job of capturing their short, juicy season.

  11. monsansa says:

    Wow, this is stunning!

  12. Linnea says:

    So springy pic, lovely!

  13. I’m so intrigued by this – would never have thought to put these together. Can’t wait to try.

  14. choclette says:

    Oh Kelly, I am near swooning. This looks absolutely stunning. I adore blood oranges, the colour, the flavour and the name. I haven’t managed to get any this year. Stupidly I was in Lidl today (a once every 6 month visit) and never even thought to look – gah!

  15. superfitbabe says:

    JUST bought some corn meal! I cannot wait to make this!

    1. It’s meant to be! #serendipity

  16. missemzyy says:

    Gorgeous cake!!

  17. So stunning!!!!! I adore polenta cake with a citrus twist so I know I’d love yours!!!!

  18. Yes, it did cross my mind that you have a few polenta cakes in your archives. 😉 I’ve not been into polenta cakes in the past but I know you are going to be the one to convince me to get on board. Your recipes are always spot on. If I didn’t just finish baking way too much for my sugar cravings + baking with natural sweeteners workshop last Sunday, I would make this now! Saving to make in the near future though.

  19. Urvashi Roe says:

    D’you know I haven’t bought ANY blood oranges yet this season. We shall have to rectify that this weekend and make this lovely cake as I have a huge pack of maize meal which needs using up.

  20. II would not mind if this is the only cake I know how to make. It is gorgeous.

  21. Exquisite! If only you lived closer… one of my friends is a grower!

  22. It looks delicious!! 🙂

  23. I am so inspired by your blog posts. Beautiful as always. ..And what a coincidence, I was just thinking about polenta…but thinking of baking something difference. Now, with you recipe I may jump in and bake that instead.

    1. I hope you do. Let me know how you like it. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 😊

    2. Aw thank you. I hope you like it as much as we do. 🙂

  24. stateeats says:

    Boy, those are some gorgeous photos! -Kat

  25. mochafrappe says:

    Reblogged this on 0ReBlog0.

  26. fondufondue says:

    Wow! This recipe just sold me, I totally followed your blog!! So excited to discover more on your website:) I’m allergic to wheat, rice, and oats, so my whole blog is about whole foods. Maybe it would interest you, like you inspired me! Mind following?

  27. Niamh says:

    Blood orange polenta cake is one of my favourites! I had it in Gelupo when it first opened and have been hooked since. I have blood oranges in the kitchen for this purpose. I like the idea of using turmeric!

  28. Yum yum. Such a delicious recipe. Thanks for sharing this.


  29. chefkreso says:

    Just found this recipe and I’m glad that I did, it looks really delicious!

  30. Scaled this down and made a little cake (1 egg) just for my daughter and me. Delicious!

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