Friday, March 29, 2013

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

I like to have a few simple cakes in my repertoire to serve with all the great fruit of the spring and summer months.  They make perfect partners when you want the ripe freshness of the fruit to be the star.  I also love the use of olive oil in pastry and this cake really demonstrates why.  It adds an assertive flavor and moisture that is unmistakable in plain cakes and complements the fruit in a way that adds another interesting dimension to dessert.  I serve it here with fresh sugared plums and the bright tart acidity is a great pairing.

Since there's no leavening in this cake, it's important to beat the egg yolks and sugar to ribbon stage.  The egg whites are also beaten to soft peak and folded into the batter to lighten it and give it more volume.  As a result, the cake souffles a bit as it bakes and then deflates slightly as it cools, giving it its buckled and crackled surface.

The cake has a density a bit like a pound cake but is airy like a sponge cake and light as angel food.  I like the full-bodied richness of extra virgin olive oil but you can use regular olive oil if you want a subtler flavor.  The cake would go well with just about any spring and summer fruit served plain or poached in wine.  A dollop of whipped cream, lightly flavored with vanilla or kirsch, is also a very welcome garnish.

Bench notes:
- The cake rises considerably so you need a springform pan with sides that are at least 2 1/2" high.
- I used wonderfully fruity California Olive Ranch Arbequina olive oil.
- The recipe calls for cake flour but I also tested it with all-purpose and it's delicious.
- Fat is the enemy of egg whites, so be sure you've thoroughly cleaned your whisk after beating the egg yolks before you start beating the egg whites.  If there's any fat present, the egg whites will refuse to whip!
- To beat the egg whites to soft peak, start with the egg whites and the salt and whisk them on medium speed.  When they've reached a thick and opaque foamy stage and doubled in volume, slowly add the sugar.  They will stay at a soupy stage for a couple of minutes but then start to incorporate more air.  Keep beating until they are cloud-like and about tripled in volume.  When you lift the whisk, they should stand up in a soft peak with a slight lilt.  They won't be as shiny or stiff as a regular meringue because there is less sugar.
- The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest, which is approximately 1 lemon, but I think it needs more lemon zest.  I used the zest of 1 1/2 lemons.
- Don't skip sprinkling the sugar on top.  This is not a very sweet cake and it needs that extra 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar.
- The recipe calls for baking the cake for about 45 minutes but mine was done in 30 minutes.  So check the cake when the aroma is pronounced and test for doneness.
- The cake can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
- I sliced 4 plums into thin wedges, sprinkled them with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and then set them aside for 15 minutes to macerate.   I also added a couple of drops of good quality kirsch.  
- For whipped cream, I usually use about 2 - 3 teaspoons of sugar per cup and about 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Or as a nice alternative for summer fruit, add just a couple drops of good kirsch.
- I've started a Tools board on Pinterest for quick sourcing of basic tools and techniques for pastry making.  You'll notice that I prefer uncoated pans and baking sheets.  I think they're the best for even baking and consistent results.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake
adapted from Gourmet
Makes 8 servings

5 egg yolks
1/2 C sugar
3/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 T lemon juice
zest of 1 large lemon [I used the zest of 1 1/2 lemons]
1 C cake flour [I used all-purpose]

4 egg whites
1/2 t salt
1/4 C sugar

1 1/2 T sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9" x 2 1/2" springform pan and line the bottom with parchment.

Beat the yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar until thick and pale.  When lifted from the whisk, the batter should cascade in ribbons onto the surface and hold for a couple of seconds.  Reduce to medium speed and drizzle in the olive oil.  Combine thoroughly and then add the lemon juice and zest.  The mixture may look a bit broken.  Take the bowl off the mixer, sift half the flour onto the batter and fold it in gently but thoroughly.  Sift in remaining flour and fold until combined, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Beat the egg whites with salt until they are foamy and expanded in volume.  Slowly add the sugar a little at a time and continue beating until they hold a soft peak.  Fold a third of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten the batter, then fold in remaining whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and gently rap the bottom on the work surface once or twice to release large air bubbles.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake until the cake is puffed and golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 - 40 minutes.  Place on a wire rack to cool.  Run a thin-bladed knife or metal spatula about the edge of the cake to release any areas that might be sticking to the pan.  Cool 10 minutes and release the metal ring of the springform pan.  Cool completely.  Gently invert the cake and remove the parchment.  Invert again onto a serving plate.


Victoria said...

This is exactly the kind of cake I absolutely LOVE. And since I like almond flavoring with lemon, don't you think that whipped cream flavored with Amaretto would be delicious with this? Do you think you could adapt it to orange also?

pastry studio said...

I think we must have very similar palates! Amaretto would be delicious with the whipped cream. I'm imaging that with fresh peaches or apricots......

I think to adapt for an orange cake, you would still need to add some lemon zest to make sure it has enough punch. Just guessing, I'd maybe try the zest of 1 orange and 1 1/2 tablespoons of orange juice and then add zest of 1/2 lemon. Sounds like a fun experiment!


Bryan said...

In a word, WOW.

Although i used this olive oil, it was really special here.
The texture of this cake is lovely, i used cake flour for kicks.
The flavor is amazing, I'm glad you recommended extra zest.
And the kiss of sugar on top is exactly what it needs.
I baked one cake with a cake strips and one without. The strip actually worked really well here.
A great spring or summer cake, this one.

pastry studio said...

Bryan, isn't the texture interesting? I wasn't sure how to describe it. And it's such an easy cake to make. Your meyer lemon oil must have added a nice extra citrus kick. Did your cake bake in 30 minutes or did it take longer? I was surprised by the 45 minute instruction in the original recipe.

Bryan said...

Well, baking is where i didn't follow directions.
I made the whole recipe but split it into two 6" rounds.
The one without the damp cake strip was done in about 40min, which is long even for small rounds at such a moderate oven.
I left the one with the strip in barely longer than about 45min, though the strip kept deep color off the sides of the cake.

pastry studio said...

Thanks for the invitation, Kyra.

Thanks for the interesting feedback, Bryan!

Anonymous said...

So strange, I read this blog post a few weeks ago and forgot about it. I was clearing old magazines and saw this recipe in (I think) a 2006 issue of Gourmet. The photo of the cake, especially the top of the cake captivated me and I made the cake a few dys ago. I wish I had remembered that I read this blog post, because I baked it for 45 minutes without checking. It looks fine, not burned at all, but I think the texture is on the dry side. I will make it again and bake it for 30 minutes. Your cake looks exactly like the photo in Gourmet, beautiful cake top!

pastry studio said...

Thanks, Anonymous! When you bake the cake again, start checking it at 30 minutes and see if it's done. If not, just keep adding 2 minutes until you get a good test. Hope you enjoy it!

Nicole said...

This looks amazing!! I want to make it for an outdoor birthday party. Is it something that can be outside under an umbrella for a few hours and how many days ahead can it be made?

Thanks! Love your blog!

pastry studio said...

Thank you very much, Nicole! The cake can certainly sit out and can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Happy birthday to your guest!

Jorge Bizarro said...

I have seen exactly this recipe in Epicurous and tried it. It is very good and being from Portugal I do prefer Olive Oil cakes. However, I did had trouble in seeing the cake deflate tooo much after removing from oven. Than I realized this is very much like a chiffon cake and did it again having this in mind, without greasing the pan sides. After taking from the oven, I immediately inverted the cake pan. I did this 3 times: the first one, the cake felled apart immediately (nice trifle), the second one it didn't and the result was perfect (I did left it more time in the oven baking). The third time it was ok... but after some 5 m it felled apart again (I guess the batter was more gelatinous because I added a bit more lime juice and milk instead of a fifth egg yolk). I think the extra egg yolk could be substituted by an extra amount of cream (20g)??
Any tip for following the 'non-chiffon' guidelines and have a cake not so awfully deflated??

pastry studio said...

Hello, Jorge. Wow, you've certainly tested this cake quite a bit!

What makes this cake work is the method: you really need to take the yolks and sugar to the ribbon stage and the egg whites need to be beaten until they hold a soft peak. Milk has a tenderizing effect so substituting it for an egg yolk - which really contributes to the structure of the cake - is going to cause some problems. And removing it from the pan when it's just out of the oven and fragile may also contribute to it falling apart.

So I wouldn't recommend adding any milk and taking care to let the cake cool for ten minutes before removing.

I hope this helps!

Jorge Bizarro said...

Hi... Again
After may be two years (mostly because my favourite olive oil cake is David Leite's Portuguese Orange Olive Oil cake), I've just made this cake again following your advice, especially on the need to properly beat the egg yolks with the sugar to perfect ribbon stage (this time I used a 'kitchen aid' like mixer) and it did work beautifully. The cake baked ready after 30 minutes and came exactly as in your picture, it didn't 'fall' at all after taking it from the oven and the most amazing thing is that it shrunk away from the lateral rim of the baking pan almost 10mm after cooling (much like a sponge-cake would do)! - I could send you a picture if I had how to post it here.
Besides, I have also use the extra egg yolk, instead of milk or cream... I have tasted the batter and it was a bit like a lemony mayonnaise... for me it is ok, but the cake might turn a bit 'eggy' in taste for some people. Yolks have a emulsifying effect, the same applies to condensed milk. The cake is now cooling, I haven't tasted it yet... but if too much 'eggy' for the Brazilian palate, I might try substitute that extra egg yolk for 20 g of condensed milk and diminish the sugar amount... or may be not, because the cake isn't that sweet. Anyway... just letting you know that this time I've got it exactly as it should be, with the craggy top and all! - Thanks!

pastry studio said...

Hello, Jorge! I admire your tenacity. I'm so glad you got a great result. Enjoy every bite!