Mixed Seed Upside-Down Cake

Caramelized fennel, poppy, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds create a crunchy topping for this orange-scented olive oil cake.

  • Serves

    Makes one 9-inch cake

  • Prep

    1 hour 10 minutes

  • Cook

    40 minutes


By Alex Testere

Published on April 23, 2024

The tail end of winter citrus season meets the bounty of springtime seeds in this fragrant snacking cake. Some of my garden favorites—including poppies, sunflowers, pumpkins, and fennel—lend their edible seeds to a crunchy brown-sugar topping that contrasts with the tender, orange-scented olive oil cake. In trying to come up with a treat to highlight some of the seeds I plant in my garden each year, I reached out to my friend Katy Beyer, head baker at Florence Pie Bar in Florence, Massachusetts. She had the ingenious idea to bake the seeds in a brown sugar and butter mixture at the bottom of the cake, and invert it before serving, like a tarte tatin or an upside-down cake

The crunchy, chewy seed layer and the cake batter utilize both orange zest and juice: Two medium-size oranges, such as navel or Cara Cara, should produce enough. Hulled pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are often sold dry-roasted, but you can also use raw hulled seeds since they will toast in the pan as the cake bakes.


For the seed topping:

  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds, hulled
  • 3 Tbsp. sunflower seeds, hulled
  • 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds

For the cake batter:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1⅓ cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. poppy seeds


Step 1

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter and line with parchment.

Step 2

Make the seed topping: In a small pot over low heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar, orange juice and zest, and salt, and cook, stirring continuously, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is lightly bubbling, 1–2 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, and fennel seeds. Pour the seed mixture into the prepared pan, using a silicone spatula to spread the mixture into an even layer. Set aside.

Step 3

Make the cake batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Step 4

In another medium bowl, use your fingers to rub the sugar and orange zest together until the mixture is moist and fragrant. Add the yogurt, orange juice, vanilla, and eggs, and whisk to combine.

Step 5

Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Using a silicone spatula, fold in the oil and poppy seeds until fully incorporated.  

Step 6

Carefully pour the batter into the prepared pan, covering the seed mixture. Bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35–45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then run a butter knife or offset spatula around the edge of the cake to loosen, and invert onto a cooling rack. Remove the parchment, and allow the cake to cool completely before serving. 

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