This orange and Campari cake comes from one of my all-time favourite cookbooks ‘Polpo’ by Russell Norman. Not only is it the most exquisitely designed and made book – and by this I meant the instantly recognizable exposed binding, I want to eat every single recipe between the covers. It’s a book that celebrates Venice and all its flavours, Campari being one of them. I’ve also eaten at Polpo in London and had the most delicious meal that will stay with me forever. It’s also where I bought my copy of the book.

orange & campari cake

The recipe uses Blood oranges but we rarely find those here, so I opted for the ripest and best oranges I know, namely the ones hanging on my tree. I’m not entirely sure of their cultivar, but I think they are Navels as their skins are soft and the fruit seedless. They also have the distinctive navel looking bump at the bottom. They tend to change from year to year and sometimes their flesh is drier and denser. Weirdly this year, despite the drought, my oranges have been particularly soft and succulent, and I have a lot that need eating. This recipe uses eight of them so yay!

Campari originates in Milan but is a key ingredient of the famous Venetian Spritz. It’s also the boozy component in the iconic Negroni. Personally, I’m not a fan as I find it way too bitter for my taste but tempered with a good dose of orange and sugar it kind of evens out.

This cake is delicious. It’s dense but very moist from all the syrup that gets soaked in. The texture is slightly grainy as it’s made with semolina flour and feels ironically Italian. The orange flavour is perfect and robust and this cake goes down as a winner for me.

Recipe wise, the only thing I changed was a swapped 300gms of the caster sugar for regular granulated sugar. I totally love caster in cakes as it has a big effect on the texture, but when you are boiling it with liquid it’s unnecessary to use so I also opt for regular. I’ve also changed the cooking time. The original recipe indicates a 20 minute bake, which I can only think is a typo. No single layer cake of this magnitude would ever take 20 minutes to bake. I baked mine for 40 minutes and it’s was still a smidge raw in the very middle. I would opt for 45 minutes next time. I used large eggs whereas the recipe calls for medium eggs so either or I would say.

The syrup takes quite long to thicken, so do this while the cake is baking. You are looking at around 25 – 30 mins here over a low heat. You essentially want to reduce the piqued by roughly half. It thickens up more as it cools. Not all the syrup goes into the cake, so I reserved what was left over in a jug to over when I served.

The book mentions that this cake is excellent served with vanilla ice cream, and I’m sure it would be as it’s the kind of cake to serve as a dessert vs. at tea. I think cream would be wonderful too, but I also think it it’s perfect straight up as it is in all its syrupy soaked goodness.

I just started shooting the process as I went along in the kitchen so the shots aren’t really styled. It was a rainy day and the light quite moody, so I quite enjoyed capturing these images in a different way. 

orange & campari cake

orange & campari cake

orange & campari cake

orange & campari cake

orange & campari cake

orange & campari cake

orange & campari cake from Polpo

orange & campari cake from Polpo

Recipe ~ from Polpo by Russell Norman, Bloomsbury

  • 8 seedless oranges (blood or otherwise)
  • 350g Greek Yoghurt
  • 300gms caster sugar
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 250gm butter, melted and then cooled
  • 350g semolina flour
  • 100g almond flour / ground almonds
  • 100ml Campari
  • 300g granulated white sugar

Preheat the oven to 170C and grease and line a 23cm spring form cake tin with baking paper.

Finely grate the zest of four of the oranges.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the yoghurt, the zest, and the caster sugar and beat until well combined. Pour over the cooled melted butter and mix to incorporate.

Add the semolina and almond flour and fold through until it’s well mixed. Scrape into your prepared cake tin and flatten out the top with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes and until golden brown. You will know your cake is done when I sharp knife comes out clean.

While the cake is baking juice the 8 oranges and strain this through a fine sieve. Add the juice along with Campari and 300gms of granulated sugar to a medium bot and bring to the boil. Allow to simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until it becomes syrupy. It would have halved in volume.

When the cake comes out the oven, prick it all over with a toothpick or skewer and pour over the syrup in batches until most of it is absorbed.

Because I’m rather a fan of cooking and baking with oranges, here are a few more of my favourite recipes with oranges in case you have a glut like me, or just love cooking and baking with oranges like me. 


Quick & easy cranberry & orange scones

Blueberry pancakes with ricotta & orange

Oven roasted sweet potato fries with orange salt

Orange cake with orange buttercream frosting

Baked yoghurt with spicy brandy oranges

Carrot & coriander soup with cumin & orange

Roast chicken with Italian sausages, herbs & orange

Sweet potato ‘noodles’ with chorizo & orange


orange & campari cake




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  1. This is absolutely compulsory to make again!
    Made it as my birthday cake and everyone wants the recipe. I added some of the orange sauce to the cream once it was nearly firm and it was delicious.
    Thanks Sam.

  2. Sam

    Hi Daphne – thanks so much for dropping by to let me know and I’m so glad you enjoyed the Polpo cake 🙂

  3. Sam

    Ah, thank you so much for the kind words – made my day. Sam x

  4. Sam

    Hi Mich – I havent tested this recipe with cake flour but normally nut flours are not always directly interchangable with regular flour. The whole cake texture comes from the almond flour. I would suggest finding another cake that uses cake flour rather

  5. Hi, I made this yesterday. I couldn’t find semolina anywhere in the stores in my area. After a google search for a substitute… I decided on on oat flour. Taste: very good. Cake texture is very dense and stodgy though. I need to find semolina flour! ?

  6. Sam

    Hi Maxine – Yes oat flour is definitely not a good substitute for semolina. It is a dense cake but should not be stodgy.

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