Italian orange & campari cake with syrup

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orange & campari cake

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. They are seedless navel oranges so are perfect for all cooking or baking applications. 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!

orange & campari cake

Campari originates in Milan but is a key ingredient of the famous Venetian Spritz. It’s also the boozy component in the iconic Negroni. 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.

orange & campari cake

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.

orange & campari cake

Recipe-wise, the only thing I changed was a swapped 300gms of the caster sugar for regular granulated sugar. I 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 my 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 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.

orange & campari cake

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

orange & campari cake
orange & campari cake

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 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 styled. It was a rainy day and the light was quite moody, so I quite enjoyed capturing these images differently.

orange & campari cake from Polpo
orange & campari cake from Polpo

A few more recipes with oranges:

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

Recipe ~ adapted from Polpo by Russell Norman, Bloomsbury

orange & campari cake

A syrup-soaked dense orange & Campari cake recipe.
Print Recipe
orange & campari cake
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:45 minutes


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


  • Preheat the oven to 170C and grease and line a 23cm springform 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 a boil. Allow to simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until it becomes syrupy. It would have halved in volume.
  • When the cake comes out of the oven, prick it all over with a toothpick or skewer and pour over the syrup in batches until most of it is absorbed.
Author: Sam Linsell


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  1. Would kill for a slice!

  2. I hope you are feeling better B x

  3. Hi Sam, I always find your photos beautiful but I had to say the images you’ve captured for this post are absolutely stunning!

  4. 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.

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

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

  7. May i just replace with cake flour?

  8. 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

  9. I love the use of orange syrup as an enhancer to the cake recipe.

  10. 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! ?

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

  12. I just made this cake and it is absolutely divine! Sooo yummy!
    I made the following substitutions:
    – cake flour for semolina flour because I couldn’t find it anywhere
    – added 2 tsp of baking powder so the cake would rise
    – lactose free yoghurt instead of Greek yoghurt
    – had extra large eggs so only used 3 instead of 4

    The cake with all the substitutions came out very moist and a little fluffy.

    The orange and campari syrup is really nice.
    – I put 100g less sugar than the recipe asked for (because I only had 200g left, lol!) and compensated by putting about 70/80ml of Campari.

  13. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe Mutsa and were able to adapt it.

  14. The recipe calls for 300g caster sugar to go in the cake mix itself, and 300g white sugar to go in the syrup. In your description you mentioned that you swapped “300g of the caster sugar” i.e., presumably all of it. I’m not clear on this bit – did the original recipe have 600g of caster sugar, and does your recommendation have 300g of caster sugar still go in the cake and 300g white sugar still go in the syrup? Thanks in advance.

  15. HI Yak. Its 300gms caster sugar in the cake and 300gms granulated sugar in the syrup. I do don’t see the point in using more expensive caster sugar when making syrup as it is dissolved into the liquid anyway. so regular sugar works to get the exact same result. Thanks

  16. Thanks for that info. Since we’re unlikely to eat the whole cake in one sitting, I presume it would be best to just pour the syrup over our individual slices and refrigerate what remains? Giving this a go this weekend, looking forward to it.

  17. HI Yak -this is a soaked cake recipe so you must soak it all after baking and then store or freeze the cake. The liquid is part of the whole cake experience if this makes sense it’s not like a separate thing

  18. Made this last night – turned out great – thanks for taking the time to help. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe too – I’m in the US and converted all the measurements from metric to ounces and cups, but after cooking it for 40 minutes realized that I’d set the oven to 170F like a dope…..bumping it up to 350F for about 20 minutes did the trick and it still came out fine. We were a bit impatient by then and pulled the cake out while it was too hot, but it still came out well, lovely grainy texture and great flavor. Just had a slice with coffee over breakfast too. Thanks again Sam!

  19. Thanks Yak and so lovely to get your feedback. Glad you loved this cake 🙂

  20. Oranges do fine with a little dryness, it’s *frost* that ruins them.

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