Say it: cake. You picture layers of sugared buttercream. Forkfuls of tender, delicate vanilla-scented crumb. Or deep, dark, intensely rich chocolate ribboned with fudge frosting and a shower of chocolate sprinkles. Wax candles sparkling. The words happy birthday lettered in script. Celebration. Sneaking bites of dense, cold cake in the morning when the icing has crystallized, the sugar gritty between your teeth.
This is not that cake. It's not showy or fancy or bedazzled in sugar.
But it is decadent in its own right. Underneath that unassuming crust (which, by the way, pulls apart in muffin top-like chunks) is an exceptionally moist crumb. Made with a lot (A LOT, DON'T FREAK OUT ABOUT IT) of olive oil, the cake is sweet but in an earthy, fruity way. There's enough restraint with the sugar (I use even less than the original recipe calls for) to allow the olive oil to really shine, so be sure to use a very good olive oil here as you'll taste it.
Bake this cake when you have company, or you want to impress someone. The recipe comes from Maialino restaurant in New York City via Food52, and it's just what you'd expect of a dessert from a spare, sophisticated Italian spot. Elegant and understated, it feels decidedly European in comparison to this kind of classically American cake frenzy.
Another lovely thing about the recipe is that it requires you to buy some Grand Marnier, which means you are practically forced to go on and make all sorts of other desserts to use up the bottle.
I find it's best to serve this cake on the day of -- the olive oil can start to weep towards the bottom of the cake sometimes on the second or third day.
Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Food52
**The original recipe calls for orange zest, but I prefer using lemon to add a bright tartness to the cake.**
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9" round cake pan with parchment and butter the base and sides. Be sure that you use a deep (over 2") cake pan as this cake will rise.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, milk, eggs, orange juice, lemon zest, and Grand Marnier.
Gently mix the dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Pour the batter into your pan and bake for 1 hour. You'll want the cake to be golden brown on the top -- insert a skewer into the middle to check. The skewer should come out clean. It may take longer than 1 hour.
Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes before removing it carefully from the pan. Cool the cake thoroughly before serving (this will take several hours as the cake is verrry moist).