This clementine upside down cake recipe is a light, citrusy dessert that is sure to impress. Crowned in paper-thin slices of glazed clementine, it is stunning yet deceptively easy to make. Make this clementine cake while these jewels are in season and enjoy this moist cake all week.
Upside down cakes are a favorite of mine. There is something so satisfying about turning it over and watching the reveal of the beautiful top. They are great to have around for a quick and easy treat during the holidays.
I’ll give you variations and substitutions where I can, plus helpful tips and tricks for success. Read on for this info as well as the recipe. If you’d like to skip straight to the recipe, use the jump to recipe button at the top of the post.
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Why you should make this recipe
This cake is uber-citrusy and very moist. It is perfect as is, right out of the pan and because it is so moist, it lasts for days. I think of upside down cakes as very rustic or “homey” desserts. If this sounds like your kind of sweet treat, I think you’ll like it.
- Easy to make – This cake is easier to make than it looks.
- Perfect for special occasions – A great addition to holiday dinners or special celebrations.
- Versatile – Mandarins are available year round, which make them a great option for this cake.
Clementine upside down cake
This is a cake that I make almost every Christmas. It looks like it took all day, when in fact, it did not. Made with buttermilk to give it a little tang, this cake is just barely sweet. It goes really well with a cup of coffee or tea as a breakfast treat or a dessert.
If you’ve only had a pineapple upside down cake, you are in for a treat! A very citrusy treat. This cake is bursting with orange flavor, it’s light and delicate, and makes for a perfect dessert.
This simple clementine cake recipe is made with common ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry.
- All-purpose flour – Weighing your flour is the most accurate way to measure. I highly recommend using a scale to measure flour.
- Butter – Use unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt in your baked goods.
- Clementines – Clementines are a type of mandarin orange. They are a hybrid of a sweet orange + a mandarin.
- Substitution: Mandarin oranges, like Cuties, are the perfect swap.
- Vanilla – Vanilla extract gives baked goods that familiar flavor we all love.
- Sugar – Granulated white sugar provides just a touch of sweetness. The glass canisters make it easy to see what you have.
- Buttermilk – Buttermilk gives the upside down cake moisture and tang.
- Eggs – Eggs provide moisture and structure to the batter.
- Salt – All baked goods need salt. I use Diamond Crystal in all of my recipes.
- Baking powder – Baking powder gives the cake a bit of lift.
- Baking soda – Baking soda reacts with the acid in the buttermilk to give the cake a fluffy interior.
This is the scale that I own and use daily. It is easy to use, plus it measures in pounds, ounces and grams.
Measuring ingredients by weight, ESPECIALLY in baking, is much more accurate than cup measurement.
How to make
Here’s a quick summary of how to make clementine upside down cake. Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the full recipe.
- Prep – Preheat oven to 350°F // 180°C // Gas mark 4. Mix wet ingredients in one bowl and whisk dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
- Slice – Boil the thin slices of clementine for a few minutes to soften them. Then arrange the slices in a circular pattern in the cake pan.
- Scoop – Using a large cookie scoop or spoon, gently scoop the batter on top of the sliced clementines.
- Bake – Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached. Let it cool slightly before flipping over and removing cake from pan.
Clementine upside down cake FAQ’s
I bake this cake in a standard 9×2 cake pan, but I suggest placing the pan on a baking sheet, just in case it bubbles over. If you own a 9×3 cake pan, use it.
Yes. This cake is perfect for making ahead of time. You can make it up to 2 days before.
You can store this cake in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to a week.
Variations and substitutions
- Add a little spice – Add in a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom for a little extra spice.
- Substitute – If you can’t find clementines, use mandarin oranges. Clementines are in season during the winter months, but mandarin oranges are available year-round.
I love this cake as it is, with a cup of coffee or tea. You can dust the top with powdered sugar, if you like, for a little decoration.
If you want a sauce to pour over the cake, try this crème anglaise from my bread pudding recipe.
Helpful tools and equipment
- Possibly one of the greatest things ever invented – 9 inch parchment paper rounds. These pre-cut pieces of parchment paper go directly on the bottom of your pan creating a layer between the pan and your cake making it easy to remove with no sticking.
- Cake pans – If you have a 9 x 3 cake pan, this is the time to use it. Those high sides will give your cake nice, straight sides and you won’t have to obsessively look through the oven glass to make sure it isn’t spilling over.
- Small offset spatula – When you scoop the cake batter on top of the clementines, you’ll need to smooth the top before putting the cake in the oven. This offset spatula is small enough to allow you to get in the pan easily without hitting the side of the cake pan.
- You’ll also need the basics like mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons and a hand mixer.
More holiday recipes
- Easy rum balls recipe
- Christmas sugar cookie bars
- Classic gingerbread cake recipe
- Maple cream sandwich cookies
- Peanut butter sandwich cookies with chocolate buttercream
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- 8 clementines, divided // 1 1/3lb. // 560g (You will need to slice 5 of the clementines for the top of the cake. Then zest and juice the remaining 3. You will need 1 tbsp. of zest + 4 tbsp. juice)
- 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp // 170g
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour // 156g
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C / Gas mark 4.
- Thinly slice 5 of the clementines, then set aside. Zest and juice remaining 3 clementines. Set aside.
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add clementine slices. Boil 3 minutes, then drain and arrange slices on a layer of paper towel to dry before proceeding.
- If using, place a parchment paper round in the bottom of your cake pan. Place 4 tbsp. of butter in a 9 x 2 cake pan and place in the oven to melt.
- When butter has melted, add 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tbsp. clementine juice. Whisk to combine.
- Arrange clementine slices in pan on top of sugar mixture, starting in the center and working out from the middle. Make sure to overlap slices to secure them in place. Set pan aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, beat butter with remaining 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp. clementine zest, and vanilla on medium speed with electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- With mixer on low speed, add eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated. Then add flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk and 2 tbsp. clementine juice.
- Gently scoop batter on top of clementine slices and smooth the top with an offset spatula.
- Bake until cake is golden and puffed, and a cake tester (toothpick) comes out with a few crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool in the pan for 10 - 15 minutes.
- Gently run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto cooling rack to cool completely. Let cool before slicing.
Please note - you'll need 8 clementines TOTAL for the recipe.
To serve later: If you are not serving the same day, wrap cake very well in plastic wrap while still warm and place in freezer. Thaw at room temp (not in refrigerator) for a few hours before serving.
Serving Size:1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 283Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 217mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 1gSugar: 30gProtein: 3g
Nutrition information calculated by a third-party company as a courtesy. It is intended as a guideline only.
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Originally published 1/3/14, most recent update 10/31/23.