A simple stunner.
This easy French orange cake recipe combines a moist orange and ginger vanilla cake with bright, poached oranges for a lovely dessert that tastes as fabulous as it looks.
It is hard to overstate how much I am in love with this simple little cake. From the moist vanilla cake to the bright citrus arranged on top like gems, this orange ginger jewel cake takes, well, the cake. This recipe brightens any table, especially in winter when citrus is in season. This recipe has quickly become a favorite.
All About This Easy French Orange Cake Recipe
I developed this recipe in early March, when everything seemed at its coldest, bleakest, and most dull. Late February/early March is that tough time of year — at least for me — when winter has completely lost its charm, and I feel very, very ready for bright, fresh food.
The problem: Even though we may feel ready for fresh fare, all of the good spring produce is still several weeks (even months) away. Enter citrus. Anyone who goes to a standard grocery store knows that citrus is widely available year round. Peak citrus season, however, runs fall through spring, with peak varieties available from January into spring — ie, February, March, and April.
Baking with citrus in dark winter months brightens up the season like nothing else. Citrus also pairs with spring and summer, adding a sunshine freshness to match the sunny weather. This cake combines the ease of a simple vanilla cake with gorgeously-arranged oranges for one of my favorite cakes ever. I think the oranges look just like jewels, hence the name.
A Little Slice of Paris
Unlike an orange upside-down cake, which hews all-American dessert, this orange cake recipe has distinctly French flair. A French orange cake is generally soaked with an orange simple syrup until fairly water logged and ultra-moist.
The orange ginger simple syrup here pulls double duty. First, the simple syrup is used as the poaching liquid for the oranges, giving them added softness and sweetness. Then, the simple syrup — now infused with orange and ginger flavor — soaks the cake.
French Orange Cake Recipe Notes
You will not use all of the poaching liquid for this orange ginger jewel cake, but I like to use a generous half, maybe a little more. Poke the cake with the tines of a fork before adding the poaching syrup, as though you were docking a pie dough. This helps the syrup soak in. I spoon most of the syrup into the cake before adding the oranges, and then pour more on top of the fruit once that is arranged.
Try to use a variety of oranges for a particularly stunning result. My ideal combination:
- One Cara Cara orange for its pink, sweet fruit
- One blood orange for its deep purple hue, and
- A small navel orange for that classic orange color
Most cakes are better the next day, but this one tastes excellent warm or at room temperature.
Love this French orange cake recipe? Here are some more bright citrus and fruit dessert ideas:
French Poached Orange Cake
For the Simple Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup cold water
For the Cake
- 4 medium ripe oranges, preferably a variety such as Cara Cara, navel, and blood orange
- 1 stick (4 ounces; 1/4 pound) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
- 2 teaspoons freshly-grated ginger, from a 2" knob of fresh ginger (peeled), or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
For the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8" round cake pan.
- Zest and juice one orange. You should have a shallow 1/2 cup of juice. If you are short, add more juice, or even water, until you reach just shy of 1/2 cup.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and butter until fluffy and light. Scrape the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla, orange zest, and grated ginger. Mix on medium until smooth and lightened. Scrape the bowl
- Add the baking powder, salt, and flour. Mix just until fully combined. Stir in the orange juice just until smooth.
- Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top of the cake springs back gently.
- Let the cake cool for about 5 minutes, then invert it onto a cooling rack, then back again right-side up onto a cake plate.PRO TIP: Run an offset spatula or a knife around the rim of the cake to loosen the sides from the cake pan before inverting.
For the Poached Oranges and to Finish
- While the cake bakes, slice the top and bottom from each orange, then use a sharp paring knife or serrated blade to cut the rind off the sides of the orange, so you have peeled, whole oranges. Then cut each orange horizontally into 1/4-inch slices.PRO TIP: To cut the rind from the orange, cut the top and bottom from each orange. Sit the orange on a cutting board and slice downward from top to bottom, following the natural curve of the orange. Rotate the orange and slice downward until you have gone all the way around the orange. It should take about 5 or 6 cuts total to go all the way around.
- Bring 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water to a boil in a small pot, along with any leftover ginger. Lower to a simmer. Add the oranges (you may have to do this in a couple of batches) and cook at a very low simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Remove the orange slices with a slotted spoon and drain them on a cooling rack with a baking sheet underneath to catch the dripping syrup. Reserve the the syrup, continuing to steep it with the ginger as it cools.
- Poke numerous holes all over the surface of the cake with a fork, as though you were docking a pie dough. Spoon about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of orange syrup onto the surface of the cake.
- Arrange the orange slices on top of the cake, pressing them very close together. You may have to trim the oranges into halves or small wedges to fill out the edges.
- Spoon an additional 1/4 to 1/3 cup of syrup over the orange slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.