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Retro Rad Approved

Candied Fennel Upside-Down Cake

I was invited to pair up for a demo with Chef Raul Correa. It was my first time at Saborea Puerto Rico and we were going to be cooking together on the beach.  I wanted to really do something fun and different.  His dish incorporates a lot of colorful flavors, including citrus, fennel, annatto, chili, and blood sausage. Inspired by his ingredients, I decided to challenge myself and remix his dish into a sweet application. I hope you enjoy what I came up with as much as I liked making it.

This orange scented upside-down cake topped with candied fennel and bathed in a golden citrus syrup is quite sophisticated, but the cake’s buttermilk crumb is a welcomed nostalgic delight that tugs on apron strings and heartstrings.

When accompanied by the rich chocolate pudding this dish is elevated to another layer of deliciousness. The creamy pudding has a salty, slightly metallic flavor from the pig’s blood that pairs nicely with the spice from the chilies to enhance the flavor of the cocoa. This creates a delicious complement to the sweet fennel and orange of the cake. To add some crunch, I’ve included a festive fennel sesame brittle.




Candied Fennel:

  • 1 small fennel bulb, sliced into 1/4 –inch thick pieces or shredded fine (Finer cut yields easier slicing when serving)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 oranges, zest and juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds


  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground annatto seed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure orange extract
  • ¾ cup well-shaken buttermilk


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups blood (or, substitute 2 eggs, 2 egg yolk, 2 tablespoons cornstarch)
  • 1 cup of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground chili pepper (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon pure orange extract (or, zest of 1 orange)

Fennel and Sesame Brittle:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • ½ cup fennel seed, toasted
  • *Optional - Substitute half portion of seeds for ¼ cup candied fennel seed and ¼ cup crystalized fennel
  • 2 tablespoons candied orange, minced
  • 1 tablespoons candied plum, minced (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg


  • Crystalized Fennel Flower
  • Orange Ash


Prepare cake pan:
Lightly oil a 9-by 2-inch round cake pan and line bottom with a large round of parchment paper and line side with a 2-inch-wide strip around inside of pan to cover pleats, then lightly oil.

Make candied fennel:
In a medium sized saucepot add all candied fennel ingredients and cook until fennel is tender and translucent and the liquid is syrupy, about 40 minutes. If you have more than 1/3 cup syrup, boil to reduce; if less, add water. Lift fennel slices out with a fork and arrange decoratively in bottom of cake pan. Cool syrup slightly, then pour over fennel through a fine-mesh sieve.

Make cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

In medium sized bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground annatto seed, and salt. Cream together orange extract, butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, and mixing until just combined. Gently spoon batter over topping and distribute evenly.

Bake until cake is golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate and continue to cool.

For Pudding:
In a large pot, heat the milk and the blood together over a low heat. When it is warm, add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then the dark chocolate, broken into pieces. The mixture shouldn’t boil but heat and cook steadily, while you stir constantly. As the chocolate melts and the blood cooks, the mixture will begin to get thick like custard. Add the chili and orange, take off the heat and reserve for service.

For Fennel Sesame Brittle:
Line sheet tray with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.
Stir together sugar, ½ cup water, and the salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until sugar begins to melt and turn golden, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar has melted and mixture turns golden amber, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a glass or metal bowl, mix the seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in the seed mixture.  Working quickly, mix until incorporated and quickly pour it over the parchment paper and use an offset spatula to spread to a ¼-inch thickness. Let cool and break into pieces.

For Orange Ash:
Roast 2 juiced orange for six hours until they turn into a charcoal mass. Pulse in food processor until pulverized to dust.

Assemble and enjoy!