A Sunny Citrus Cake to Brighten Up Your Winter Doldrums

You can make this simple and yet elegant vegan cake with any favorite seasonal citrus, from tangerines to clementines

If winter citrus is part of your life, make the most of it with this extremely simple olive oil cake recipe. Whether it’s Cara Cara, Blood, or Mandarin oranges, grapefruit, or Meyer lemon, this cake works with the flavor of the citrus fruits for a pantry-friendly snacking cake that brings brightness to dreary days. It also looks beautiful, thanks to the supremed citrus on top becoming caramelized and getting jammy. This requires no frosting, not even a dusting of powdered sugar, because the fruit itself acts as all the texture, contrast, and acidic sweetness you need.

Making this cake begins with zesting the entirety of one piece of the citrus you’re going to use. If you’re using something small like a clementine, you’ll need two — but precision isn’t that important here. You just want at least an eyeballed teaspoon of zest, or more, in a small bowl. After zesting, juice the citrus into the same bowl.

Then take the piece of decorating citrus and supreme it, which means removing not just the skin but the white pith so that it is bright and glistening, without any icky inedible parts making their way into the cake. (You can candy the citrus peels for an extra treat.) To supreme, cut off the ends of the fruit so that it’s stable on the cutting board, then take the knife by slicing off all the outer layers of skin. I cut the citrus into rounds at this point, once all skin and pith is gone, but you can also do segments and cover more of the cake’s surface area — this is also truly supreming; my way is a bit of a cheat that I use because of the flowery look I prefer.

I adapted this cake from a New York Times recipe, making it vegan and a little more interesting flavor-wise thanks to the splitting of brown and cane sugar, but feel free to use one or the other depending on what’s available. Any non-dairy milk will work, and if you don’t have arrowroot starch, corn or tapioca will be just fine, and so would flax or chia eggs. This is very adaptable and forgiving, thanks to its simplicity. The only thing that won’t change is how delicious it is.

Your Favorite Citrus + Olive Oil Cake

Photo: Jonathan Pielmayer via Unsplash


  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 ¼ cup non-dairy milk
  • ¾ cup cane sugar, and extra for sprinkling
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • Juice and zest of 1 piece of medium-sized (or 2 small) citrus (such as oranges, grapefruit, or Meyer lemon)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons arrowroot starch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 extra piece fruit for decor
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and line an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with parchment.
  2. Zest and juice the citrus that you’ll be putting in the cake. Supreme the other.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the wet ingredients (olive oil through juice) until well combined.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients until well combined.
  5. Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients, and whisk until a lumpless batter is formed.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and place citrus pieces on top of it in any pattern desired. Sprinkle the citrus with sugar to make sure it caramelizes nicely.
  7. Bake for about 50 minutes. If using an 8-inch pan, the cake will dome and split — don’t worry, it adds character.
  8. Let cool, then enjoy as a dessert, breakfast, or afternoon snack.

I’m a food writer from Long Island based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter on food issues: aliciakennedy.substack.com

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