The idea of an olive oil cake always sounded better than any I ever tasted in restaurants. But that IDEA was so enticing, I decided to try my hand at creating one. The result was a lovely easy-to-make cake without an overtly olive oil flavor; rather, the oil makes for a delicate texture and underpins the unique floral-herbal fragrance of orange and lemon zest with fresh thyme.

It’s a wonderful lesson in improvisational cake making.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Contrary to what most people say, it IS possible to improvise when baking if you stick to essential formulas and proportions. The essentials in a cake or cookie formula are: the amount and kind of flour and leavening; the amount of salt and sugar (whether white, brown, light brown, maple); the volume of liquid and fat; and the number of eggs.

If you look carefully, you’ll see that my Fragrant Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Thyme recipe (below) employs the basic formula of my Brown Sugar Lightening Cake (which I morphed into a Brown Sugar Coconut Layer Cake with Lemon or Dulce de Leche). It uses the same amounts of flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, sugar, liquid and fat. To shift the flavors (and effect) I substituted olive oil for the melted butter; white sugar for brown, and added grated citrus zest and herbs. The results are a very different, very wonderful cake.

I serve it with fresh summer berries, or warm fruit “stews” like Warm Fresh Cherries, or Strawberries in Beaujolais Sauce or whipped cream with a pinch of salt.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Recipe: Fragrant Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Thyme

Wondering what olive oil to use? It should be good quality, and nicely fruity.  For some recommendations and a strategy for doctoring vin ordinaire oil, click here.

Makes one 9-inch cake, 8 servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk OR 1/4 cup whole milk mixed with 1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 350’. Brush the inside of a 9-inch straight-side cake pan with a little of the olive oil. Spoon a teaspoon or two flour into the pan and tilt it until it is completely coated. Invert and tap to release excess flour.

Place a sifter or a strainer over a bowl and sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir again with a fork and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and add the orange and lemon zests, and the thyme, if desired; whisk until blended and frothy. Whisk in the sugar and beat until well blended, 1 minute.

Whisk in the flour using as few strokes as possible until mostly incorporated. Then, whisk in the buttermilk and olive oil.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake about 45 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake on a rack 5 minutes, then invert onto the rack. Cool completely and invert onto a platter. Sift some confectioner’s sugar over the top.

Note: When I made the cake, I only had to presence of mind to take a quick picture of it, not yet dusted with sugar. SO, I’ve borrowed one, with thanks,  from The Gold Lining Girl, whose cake, from above, looks very similar.

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