I had a good bot of blood orange juice leftover from the delicious Strawberry Blood Orange Rum Punch I recently made, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Sure, I could have simply drank it, but I wanted to try another recipe with it. I went in search of my pins and found this the recipe for these Upside Down Blood Orange Hibiscus and Polenta Cakes. They looked and sounded so good! Kind of similar to the Greek and Turkish revani recipes I have tried. This version features plenty of citrus flavor and is also soaked in a sweet syrup, but it’s made as mini cakes/muffins instead of one large cake. The recipe does include an option for a larger cake, but the mini cakes looked so cute that I had to give them a try.
This cake is soft, dense and crumbly but deliciously moist and zingy with addition of the Blood Orange and Hibiscus Syrup.
As I mentioned, I already had the bottle blood orange juice. I also had plenty of leftover cara cara oranges for the garnish since blood oranges weren’t available. A quick look through my pantry and refrigerator yielded a few more ingredients for my Upside Down Blood Orange, Hibiscus, and Polenta Cakes: almond meal (listed as ground almonds), polenta (aka coarsely ground corn meal), baking powder, and dried hibiscus leaves (I make tea with them).
Eggs and lemons were easy to find, but I couldn’t find sunflower oil and substituted canola oil. I also couldn’t find caster sugar, but that was easy to make. Caster sugar’s texture is just between granulated sugar and powdered sugar—finer than the former but not as fine as the latter. To make it I measured out 300 grams of granulated sugar and blitzed it in my food processor. That gave me a little more caster sugar than I needed for this recipe, but better to be safe and not come up short.
I actually ended up making this recipe twice. The first time I followed the instructions to the letter, and I wasn’t happy with the appearance. But they tasted so good that I decided to give them another try a few days later. I’ll tell you about both and what didn’t work the first attempt and how I fixed it.
My First Attempt at Upside Down Blood Orange, Hibiscus, and Polenta Cakes
This Upside Down Blood Orange, Hibiscus, and Polenta Cakes recipe doesn’t list total time, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Here’s how this try went:
- 36 minutes to measure ingredients and prep cakes
- 20 minutes to bake
- 6 minutes to prep the blood orange syrup (done during baking)
- 6 minutes to prep the hibiscus glaze (done during baking)
- 7 minutes to add syrup, turn out cakes, and glaze them
- 1 hour 3 minutes total
I converted the 170°C to Fahrenheit. It’s 338°F, but I had to set my oven to 340°F because it is programmed in increments of 5 degrees. Then I set about weighing and measuring the ingredients. Most are in grams, so my kitchen scale was a huge help. The blood orange juice was in milliliters, so I used my trusty measuring glass for that.
Prepping the Pans
After I sprayed 2 muffin tins with canola oil, I began slicing the oranges. Tip: I used my mandoline to get them as thin as possible, but I used 3 instead of the 1 1/2 listed so buy a few extra to be safe. The slices were a little too big to fit into the muffin cups, so I followed the author’s tip and cut a diagonal slice to allow them to bend in on themselves. That helped them fit, but they didn’t seem to be completely flat no matter how I fiddled with them.
Making the Batter
Next, I moved onto the batter prep by creaming the eggs and sugar in my food processor with the whisk attachment. I let it mix for several minutes until the mixture was fluffy and foamy. Then I mixed in the remaining ingredients per the instructions, but I noticed the lemon juice and zest and blood orange juice weren’t mentioned.
This is where a ran into a problem with the instructions. The ingredients call for the juice and zest of 1 lemon and 2 blood oranges. However, neither were mentioned in the instructions. I mixed them into the batter and hoped for the best.
I poured the mixed batter into a large pitcher and began pouring it into the prepared muffin tins. The recipe says to fill them within a couple of millimeters of the top. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough batter for all 24 cakes. I’d say I filled to 1/4 inch from the top.
While I was pouring I ran into another problem. When I got toward the last few I noticed the polenta had sunk to the bottom of the pitcher. I’m afraid the the last few pours has much more polenta that the rest. There was nothing I could do by the time I noticed this, so I finished up and put the tins onto the oven to bake for 20 minutes and hoped for the best.
I moved on to the blood orange syrup and hibiscus glaze while the cakes baked. They were both simple to prepare. Really, just adding the ingredients to a saucepan and stirring. The syrup didn’t have to thicken, so I only heated and stirred until the sugar dissolved. The glaze needed to thicken, but it didn’t take long since there was such a small amount.
The baking finished just after the syrup and glaze, and I removed the pans from the oven and placed them onto wire cooling racks. Then I took a toothpick and punched a dozen holes into each cake.
The pans felt cool by the time I was done with that, so I poured the blood orange syrup over each. I’d say a little more than a tablespoon per cake until the syrup was gone. then I ran a paring knife around the edges of each and turned them out to glaze.
This was when I ran into my final problem. I noticed that cutting into the oranges allowed batter to leak underneath them. Some of the cakes came out fine, but quite a few had at least a little batter over on top of the orange slices. Several were completely covered, and they all seemed rather short/flat. I have a feeling I over-mixed the batter and knocked out the air needed for them to rise.
My Second Attempt at Upside Down Blood Orange, Hibiscus, and Polenta Cakes
I felt more confident from having made this recipe once and having a plan to handle any difficulties. I expected things to take much longer, but it only took me a couple more minutes this time. Here’s how it went:
- 17 minutes to measure the ingredients
- 13 minutes to prep the oranges and muffin tins
- 9 minutes to make the batter
- 20 minutes to bake
- 9 minutes to make the syrup and glaze (done during baking)
- 7 minutes to add the syrup, turn out, and glaze
- 1 hour 6 minutes total
Trimming the Orange Slices
I learned some lessons from my first try and used them to make sure this batch worked. First, I cut the orange slices to the diameter of the bottom of the muffin tins. I was going to use my measuring glass, but it was a little too big. My next try was a round spice jar, but all of mine were too small.
I don’t know what made me try it, but my tea infuser ended up working better. (It looks like a small mesh jar similar to this type.) I removed the lid, turned it upside down, centered it on each slice, and cut away the excess with a paring knife. It removed mostly peel and rind and the slices now fit perfectly!
Tip: The bottoms of the cups were 2-inches in diameter. If you don’t have a bottle or jar that size I recommend a small 2-inch cookie cutter since they are inexpensive and easy to find.
Next, I mixed the egg and sugar for a little longer to make sure it was very light and foamy. I was also very careful not to overmix when adding the rest of the ingredients. I have a feeling my first batch didn’t rise because I either under mixed the eggs and sugar or overmixed when adding the rest of the ingredients and knocked out the air.
This time I also filled the tins nearly to the top. I also gently stirred the batter in the pitcher after pouring 2-3 cakes to keep the polenta mixed more evenly. I only got 15 Upside Down Blood Orange, Hibiscus, and Polenta Cakes this time, but all but the last one I poured baked up to the top of the pan. That last one didn’t have enough batter to fill the cup and it was still mostly polenta despite the extra stirring.
Baking, Syrup, and Glaze
The baking time was the same, 20 minutes. It’s not part of the instructions, but I made sure I turned the pans halfway during cooking so they would cook evenly. I even switched shelves to help things along. Since I had 2 muffin tins, I put one on each shelf with them arranged in the middle of the oven to allow for airflow.
I was also a little more organized, and I was able to make the syrup and glaze in 9 minutes instead of 12. And speaking of the syrup, I used a larger diameter metal skewer to puncture the cakes before adding the syrup to allow it to really soak in. I had about a 1/4 cup leftover this time since I had fewer cakes.
The extra syrup ended up being turned into a cocktail with a shot of vodka and some seltzer water. I needed it after all that baking!