Bells of St Clement’s Cake

Sponge cake topped with orange slices and syrup on a wooden board

One of the joys of cooking is using fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season. It really does make a difference if your ingredients are at their prime: there is nothing better than the first home-grown artichoke of the year; or biting into a crisp Autumn apple; or the pungent smell of basil as it is crushed to a pulp for pesto in July; or cutting into a pomegranate at Christmas time and seeing the deep red juices run out. I had been planning to make a pomegranate cake for a while, but their best days are nearly over and right now oranges are some of the best fruit you can eat. We have a fabulous local green grocer who provides us with entire crates of oranges. As you can see, ain’t nobody getting scurvy in this household.

Crate full of oranges

We use most of the oranges for juicing – freshly squeezed orange juice is one of the best things you can have on your breakfast table – but it also seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a baking experiment. I gathered the ingredients I had to hand, plus a pile of oranges, and the results were delicious. The structure of this cake holds very well and the brown sugar gives it a rich, caramel-y flavour. The topping adds moisture and a burst of freshness. If you have oranges in the house then I encourage you to give it a go…if not, then go out and buy some! They are the fruit moment.

Ingredients for orange cake laid out on table - flour, sugar, eggs, oranges, lemon, vanilla, butter

200g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g light brown muscavado sugar
3 large eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ a lemon
250g plain four
2½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:
Juice ½ lemon
Juice of 2 oranges (200ml)
50g sugar
3-4 oranges

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3.
2. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line with a circle of baking parchment at the bottom.
3. Beat the butter with the two sugars until fluffy and pale. An electric whisk will be your best friend here, but if you don’t have one then give it some welly with a balloon whisk.
4. Beat the eggs in one at a time.
Pouring lemon juice into cake mix of butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and lemon zest
5. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla extract.
Flour in a bowl on electric scales weighing exactly 250g
6. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well until all the ingredients are combined to a thick batter.
Cake mixture in a glass bowl with a wooden spoon
7. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and spread flat. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 50 minutes. The cake is ready when it is golden brown in colour and a skewer comes out clean from the middle.
8. Place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
9. While the cake is cooking, combine the lemon juice, orange juice and sugar and heat in a pan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid to a thick syrup.
Orange syrup simmering in a metal pan with wooden spoon to mix
10. Peel and slice the oranges. I learnt the following trick years ago and it was such a revelation when using peeled oranges in a recipe. It will be much, much easier if you use a serrated knife.
6 pictures showing the steps of peeling an orange with a serrated knife
11. Make holes in the cake with a thin skewer and spread over the orange syrup, reserving a little of it for the very top.
Cake on the right in it's tin and orange syrup on the left with a pastry brush
12. Remove the cake from the tin and decorate with the orange slices. Finish by brushing the remaining syrup over the oranges as a glaze.

Sponge cake with sliced oranges decorating the top

This cake is perfect served with crème fraîche or natural yogurt, and will keep in a tupperware box for a couple of days.

I’ll just leave you with the little nursery rhyme which inspired the name of this recipe…

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!