This blood-orange, rosemary & olive oil upside down cake is named for the donnas di fuori, or “ladies from outside”, of Sicilian lore. The donnas (who could be of any gender, because they were apparently queer af) were actually two distinct sets of beings: the fairies themselves and fairy doctors, humans who served as intermediaries between the magickal and quotidian worlds.
The donnas played a role in the witch trials of 16th and 17th-century Europe. Around sixty-five fairy doctors were convicted of sorcery by the Spanish Inquisition (Sicily was ruled by Spain at the time), although charges rarely stuck because the accused almost never brought up the Devil, the figure that the courts and rulers of this era most associated with witchcraft.
According to Gustav Henningson:
The typical sabbath in Sicily, according to the accounts, would involve a company of fairies and human beings touring a town at night, and invisibly entering houses “like a breath of air.” If there was a party in progress, they would eat and drink without being seen. In the houses of rich people, they would open the clothes-chests and dress themselves in garments they found in them. If there were small children in the house, they would take them out of the cradle to play with them, and then put them back again.
Sicilian fairies liked to curse people with illness and misfortune, and the fairy doctors tried to heal and lift these curses. Henningson continues:
Sometimes, a member of the company who was a fairy doctor would take them to the house of a patient, where a special table with delicacies for fairies had been prepared, in order to make them cure the patient by taking away their curse.
I like to imagine that this cake, which uses pretty magickal Sicilian ingredients (including blood oranges, a citrus variety that arose on the slopes of Mt. Etna from a genetic mutation in the 18th century) could have been set out to tempt the fairies.
- 7 medium sized blood oranges (for transformation)
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1/3 cup almond or corn meal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary (for protection)
- 3 tablespoons Marsala or other liqueur
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil (for memory)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Oil a 9′-ish cake pan or tray with olive oil. Place parchment paper on the bottom and oil that as well. Smooth it down to eliminate air bubbles. Sprinkle pan with sugar.
- Supreme the blood oranges and remove any seeds. Lay them down on your cake pan so that it is full and the oranges overlap. Sprinkle with sugar and set aside.
- In a bowl, whisk or sift together the cake flour, meal, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and chopped rosemary. Set aside.
- Whisk Marsala and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl, then set aside.
- Using a hand or electric whisk, cream together four eggs and the sugar until thick. With an electric whisk, this takes about 5 minutes on medium-high. With a hand whisk, put on your favorite tv show and get to work! It can take 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry if the resultant mixture isn’t perfectly thick, it’ll still be delicious.
- Slowly pour in olive oil and continue whisking until even thicker (just a couple minutes on medium-high with an electric whisk, an additional ten with a hand whisk).
- Add the flour mix and the Marsala/acv into the whisked mixture in five parts, starting and ending with the flour. Whisk on low or by hand until just combined.
- Pour the batter into your pan. Slide the cake in the oven, and drop the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife can be poked into the cake and comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Dissolve a half cup sugar in a half cup water over medium heat on the stove top. Add in the rosemary and simmer for about 5 minutes, or to taste. Let the syrup cool and set aside.
- Once the cake is done, let it cool for 15 minutes, then flip! (You don’t want to wait too long, or the oranges will start to stick to the parchment.) You can serve it immediately or wrap it up and serve it the next day.
- About 1/2 hour before serving, brush the top and side of the cake with the rosemary syrup. Garnish with a rosemary sprig if you would like!
This recipe was built upon and modified from an olive oil cake recipe in Bon Appetit.