Upside-down blood orange cakeCelebrate Mother’s Day by baking this dressy cake that is surprisingly simple to make. Blood oranges combine with hazelnuts, polenta, maple syrup, and olive oil for a heart-healthy treat that tastes like it’s covered in orange marmalade.

I got my love of baking from my mother Dorothy, and this beautiful silver tray from my mother-in-law Corinna. This post goes out to both of you with love, and to all of you mothers out there, whether you are mothering children, pets, the earth, or your fellow humans.

This cake came into being because I had four blood oranges from our CSA basket, and it seems wrong to simply peel and eat them. They are so beautiful and sweet, with nice thin skins. I started thinking about an upside-down cake to show off their color, and remembered this amazing lemon olive-oil polenta cake I had at fellow blogger Sally Cameron‘s house last year.

So I looked at five or six upside-down cake recipes, and about five or six olive-oil polenta cake recipes, and started to meld them. Usually I pick one recipe that’s close to what I’m envisioning and go from there. I used Sally’s recipe as a starting point, because it was already gluten-free (she’d adapted it from a cookbook by Deborah Krasner to make it gluten-free for a client).

I wanted it to be vegan and have no granulated sugar, as I need to get back off the granulated bandwagon. Is there a Granulated Bandwagon? That actually might make a good name for a band.

I had to adjust the recipe considerably, as using a liquid sweetener instead of a dry granulated product can be tricky. I also had no idea if this would even work.

Would the blood oranges cook enough? (Yes.) Should I have peeled them? (No.) Would they caramelize enough with just vegan margarine and maple syrup? (Yes.) Should I throw some fresh thyme in? (Yes, although it was subtle.) Did the hazelnuts work with the oranges? (Yes!)
Blood orange slices arranged in the bottom of the panThe batter is made in the food processor, plus a small saucepan for the glaze, so it’s very easy. Kids could help with this by arranging the fruit on the bottom of the pan. It’s always fun to flip the finished cake over and see what it looks like.

How do you like to celebrate Mother’s Day? Do you have a favorite cake or tradition? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Blood Orange Upside Down Polenta Cake

Blood orange upside-down cake with hazelnuts and thyme

Delicious. Easy. Stunning.
3.7 from 10 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Total Time 1 hr 35 mins
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine American
Servings 12 servings


  • 2 tbsp chia seeds (10 g)
  • 1/2 cup corn grits (white, stone-ground) gluten-free cornmeal, polenta
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free) sifted
  • 2 tsp baking powder sifted
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt kosher salt
  • 4 blood oranges
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan margarine
  • 1-1/2 cups hazelnuts (ground) roasted
  • 10 tbsp maple syrup organic (165 ml)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
  • 5-6 sprigs thyme (fresh) optional


  • Pre-heat oven to 325F/160C/gas mark 3. Put top shelf in the middle of the oven.
  • Spray a 9" (22-24cm) round cake pan with non-stick spray and line with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom.
  • Put chia seeds in a small bowl with 4 tablespoons (60ml) filtered water. Set aside.
  • After sifting and measuring the flour and baking powder, whisk in cornmeal and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  • Wash and dry oranges.
  • Cut your orange slices and set aside: Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut a very thin slice from the center of the largest orange. That will be the center of your design. Slice the other oranges to create enough thin slices to fill the bottom of the pan. I cut some in half and some in quarters to create the pattern. The most important thing is for all slices to be the same thickness.
  • Juice at least one orange to make 1/2 cup (125ml) of orange juice. Add about half an orange cut into chunks (minus seeds or hard ends) to the food processor.
  • Put the margarine and 2 tablespoons (30ml) of maple syrup in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil, stirring well.
  • Pour it into the prepared baking pan, tilting to cover the bottom evenly. Create your orange slice design in the bottom, fitting pieces as closely together as possible.
  • Add orange chunks to food processor fitted with an S-blade and pulse until finely chopped. Add hazelnuts, 1/2 cup (125ml) maple syrup, prepared orange juice, olive oil, chia seed mixture, and the leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme. Pulse until well mixed.
  • Add flour mixture and pulse a few times to combine.
  • Pour batter on top of orange slices in the cake pan, smoothing the top. Bake 45-50 minutes until evenly golden, firm when pressed in the center, and a toothpick will come out with just a few crumbs attached, no goo.
  • Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife or thin spatula around the edge to release.
  • Place your serving plate face down on top of the pan, then flip the whole thing over and wait for that satisfying thunk as it drops onto the plate. Remove pan, peel off parchment paper.
  • Top with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves and orange zest right before serving.


Per serving:
  • 284 calories
  • 22 g fat
  • 0 g cholesterol
  • 187 mg sodium (139 mg sodium with salt omitted)
  • 142 mg potassium
  • 20 g carbohydrate
  • 5 g fiber
  • 5 g sugars
  • 4 g protein
  • 8 Weight Watchers Points Plus
Other healthy treats for Mom:
Raspberry-filled chocolate cupcakes from Cara's Cravings
Vegan chocolate layer cake from What Would Cathy Eat? (not GF, includes white sugar)
Lemon Almond Polenta Cake from A Food Centric Life
Lemon Polenta Cake from Let Her Bake Cake (traditional, includes sugar)
Lemon Polenta Olive Oil Cake from Cook Eat Live Vegetarian (not vegan, includes raw sugar)