Four Ways to Make Olive-Oil Cake That Is Moist, Dense, and Delicious

BY: Nathalie Lagerfeld | Apr 2, 2014
Four Ways to Make Olive-Oil Cake That Is Moist, Dense, and DeliciousAbout 75% olive-oil cake. That’s a guess for my score on a body-composition test right now. Last week, I made my first olive-oil cake, and I have been devouring it in big chunks every day since. I don’t make desserts at home too often, but last week left me with a bunch of leftover ricotta and a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook that promised to use it up. (The recipe isn’t on the Smitten Kitchen blog, but you can find a facsimile here.) When I was finished, all I could ask myself was: what had taken so long? At its best, olive-oil cake is as moist as can possibly be. A touch of sweetness and often citrus lets the bright flavor of the oil come through. Like pound cake, it works well with creamy or fruity garnishes—this recipe called for concord-grape coulis. But unlike pound cake, it’s not so dry that it needs them. I found I preferred my cake plain, with just a light dusting of sugar. It’s equally good as a breakfast pastry or light dessert, or a midafternoon snack, or … The fun thing about olive-oil cake is that it’s flexible—you can make it with different flours or swap out sweet fruits for savory herbs. Although I haven’t perfected my version yet, I have a long to-do list of recipes waiting once I get the technique down. Here are a few of my favorites, each labeled with the attribute that makes them stand out. Prettiest: Olive-Oil Cake with Candied Orange from Bon Appétit Maybe it’s the long Chicago winter, but I’ve really been feeling cardamom lately, whether in hot mulled wine or cold whiskey slushies. This iteration of the olive-oil cake is soaked in a cardamom syrup that reminds me of gulab jamun, my favorite Indian dessert. The candied oranges and syrup can be made a day ahead, which takes some of the pressure off if you’re preparing this for a party. Which you should, since the sliced oranges on top makes this cake look very special-occasion-worthy. Most savory: Polenta Rosemary Olive-Oil Cake from Turntable Kitchen (adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes) This herb-infused recipe would be a great way to dip a toe into 2014’s savory-dessert trend. In preparing this post, I looked at a bunch of other rosemary-garnished olive-oil cakes, including this parmesan-sprinkled one and this pine-nutty one recommended by former Gourmet editor in chief Ruth Reichl. But all of them still cling to citrus zest as if it were the only lifeboat in a stormy dessert sea. By contrast, this recipe goes all in on the herbs and throws in toothsome polenta flour to boot. Classiest: Maialino’s Olive-Oil Cake from Food52 All of my cooking to-do lists involve recipes from Food52’s Genius Recipe column, which usually lives up to its name. This looks like a pretty standard olive-oil cake classed up with some Grand Marnier. I’ll take the geniuses’ word for it that the addition makes a delicious difference. Most allergy-free: Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Chocolate Olive-Oil Cake by Baked Bree (adapted from Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson) Made with almond meal, this recipe seems like a good alternative to the flourless chocolate cake you’ve been serving to gluten-free friends since time immemorial. My mouth waters just thinking about the flavor combination of decadent dark chocolate with slightly floral olive oil. Mm-mm. A few runners-up: Add cherries! Add a glaze!