I often make this candied orange cake for Christmas, not because it is Christmas fare in the strictest of terms but because there is something about candied citrus—sharp and dripping in sugar syrup—that always feels so very festive; and I can’t help but think that the pretty star anise looks like a shooting star in a blazing, golden sky.
All of this has somehow made this simple almond cake a favorite in our household at this time of year. Part of its charm, of course, lies in its sheer simplicity: Like any other upside-down cake, you do little more than pour the batter over the fruit (here, lightly caramelized in the pan) and then bake in the oven. It doesn’t call for any greasing, lining, or flouring of tins, anything fiddly, and elaborate cleanup. I make this in a frying pan that is roughly 8 inches (20 centimeters) in diameter. Make sure that it has an ovenproof handle, as you will put the whole thing in the oven.
Use a very sharp knife to finely slice the oranges and set to one side. Pour the sugar and the water into the frying pan and set over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar, then add the orange rounds and star anise and leave to bubble away for 10 minutes or so, until the fruit has softened. Now take the pan off the heat and set to one side to cool.
Toss the butter into a small saucepan and set over a low to medium heat to melt, then set aside to cool.
Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl; add the sugar and cinnamon and whisk vigorously for 8 to 10 minutes until the eggs become light and fluffy, and have almost tripled in volume. Sift the flour over the egg mixture and gently fold through the batter. Add the ground almonds and pour in the melted butter, before folding through.
Pour the batter over the orange slices and set the pan in the middle of the oven to bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.
Leave the cake to cool in the pan for a few minutes, before gently loosening the edges with a knife and turning the cake out onto a platter. It's most delicious served still slightly warm, with brandy butter.