This post was created in partnership with North Coast.
March is tricky. It’ll throw out a few of those luxuriously warm days in a row, which cause collective memory loss about the fact that it’s still winter, and you’ll suddenly see a few dazed people out on the street wearing shorts. And then it gets cold again, and it might even snow soon, and the warm coat you so optimistically tucked away into your closet has to come back out. By this time, you might also be really tired of root vegetables and stews, and all things earthy and hearty. I am. Thankfully, there is citrus. Bright, sweet, lush, like little suns in fruit form. I’m continually amazed by the variety of citrus fruit available at the grocery store this time of year. Based on my last scan of the citrus section, there are at least three types of oranges, the blood variety being the star, about as many kinds of grapefruits (red, pink, white), and don’t even get me started on the numerous hybrids, smooth-skinned, wrinkled and everything in between. I wanted to make a treat that really captures that brightness and abundance, so an upside down cake was in order. It looks involved to those not in the know, but it’s actually the easiest kind of cake to make.
For the cake itself, I wanted a batter that would come out of the oven moist and fluffy, and I aimed for gluten-free and vegan, since that is what most of you guys seem to enjoy. There was a large jar of polenta in my pantry – there always is, since my eight year old is a polenta fiend – and I had the idea to go the corncake route. I’m really happy I did, and the cake was gone within a day as proof of its success. It’s sweetened with dates, apple sauce and orange juice, so nothing too sugary here. The mellow sweetness and crumbly texture of the cake combines really well with the fragrant, bright notes of the blanket of citrus on top. I like keeping the skin on the citrus slices, since its oils contribute lovely, complex notes to the overall flavor, but if you or your kids are not fond of a little bitterness, you can cut the skin off the slices.
One of the main challenges of vegan baking is coming up with the correct combination of ingredients for a moist batter that doesn’t fall apart, without eggs. I’ve found apple sauce to be the essential ‘secret’ ingredient that makes all of the above possible, while adding a bit of its subtle sweetness to the mix. It also seamlessly integrates into sweet baked goods, so you won’t be tasting apple sauce in the finished product. Plus, it’s a healthy, clean, plant-based ingredient, and we all love those here. I was excited to work with North Coast on this recipe, since their apple sauce is the best I’ve ever tasted and contains no preservatives and no added sugar, all the while being made with real, organic, non-GMO ingredients. Their sauce tastes incredibly fresh and crisp, and they offer well-considered flavor options, like plain, berry, apricot, pumpkin spice and more, made with all U.S. grown fruit. Besides this cake, I’ve been using North Coast apple sauce in so much of my cooking lately, from these brownies, to my morning oats, atop a cup of coconut yogurt and even in smoothies. The brand also offers apple cider vinegar, cider and juice, so there is a definite mastery of wholesome apple products, which I absolutely love.
- 1 cup non-GMO polenta
- 1 cup brown rice flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- sea salt
- zest of 2 organic oranges
- 10-12 soft Medjool dates - pitted and soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, soaking liquid reserved
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- ⅓ cup apple sauce
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus more for oiling the pan
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2-3 oranges - sliced ½-inch thick (You can use a variety of different kinds for a more colorful presentation. I used navel, cara cara and blood oranges.)
- Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C). Cut out a parchment paper circle to cover the bottom of a 9-inch spring form or cake pan. Thoroughly oil the sides of the pan with coconut oil.
- In a large bowl, combine the polenta, brown rice flour, baking soda, baking powder, a pinch of salt, and orange zest, and mix thoroughly.
- Reserve ½ cup of the date soaking water and add it to an upright blender along with the dates and orange juice, blend until smooth. Add the apple sauce, coconut oil and apple cider vinegar and pulse to combine.
- Pour the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir to just combine.
- Arrange the orange slices to cover the parchment paper-lined bottom of your pan and pour the batter over them. Even the batter out with a spoon. Lift and drop the pan gently a couple of times to get rid of any possible air bubbles.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before inverting the cake onto a plate or a cake stand and peeling off the parchment paper. Slice and serve with plain yogurt or coconut yogurt.