A simple and subtle olive oil cake
My life in the kitchen began as a baker. I was eight years old and had been following my grandmother around her kitchen well before that. She was a great cook and food enthusiast, having spent time in France and also growing up with her grandmother Gesine, who was another amazing lady in the kitchen. Marjorie was a renegade around food, making up dishes and playing loose and fast with recipes. But she told me this about baking: “the first time, follow the recipe exactly, as though you are a scientist in a lab. After that, you can make changes until that recipe becomes your own.”
I have always followed her advice and recommend that you do too. In general, I also think it’s smart to read a new recipe a few times before starting out, particularly with baking, because there will always be one small, unexpected detail waiting to trip you up. Another habit I have is to gather all of the ingredients before I start working (paying attention to the minutiae of things like room temperature eggs and how chilled or not your butter should be).
All that said, this is a simple and elegant little cake. She looks a bit underwhelming at first glance, but a few bites in and you will become seduced by the subtle citrus and olive oil flavors and the slight crunch of cornmeal. It’s also a beauty in that it gets better and better with each day (really!). You can pretty her up with some berries and soft whipped cream or just cut a plain slice and have it as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea or glass of sherry, as my grandmother would have done.
Olive Oil Cake
3 large eggs at room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1¼ cups olive oil
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour or GF
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup grand marnier
- Juice and zest from 1 goodorange (about 1/4 cup of juice)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean if you are feeling rich
Oven to 400°
Grease a 9 inch spring form pan with either olive oil, butter or cooking spray, and stick a round of parchment in the bottom (use a pencil to trace the bottom of the pan). Grease some more and if you like, sprinkle with some sugar.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, powder, soda and salt together in a small bowl. In a very small bowl, combine the grand marnier, orange juice, zest and vanilla.
If you have a stand mixer, this is the time to lug it out and use the whisk attachment. If not, use a regular hand mixer and it will just take a little more time. In a big bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they become very light colored, thick and creamy (think ribbons of batter that leave trails). A few minutes in a stand mixer, a few more than that with a hand mixer. Have your olive oil ready in a cup with a spout and very gradually drizzle it into your egg mixure (still mixing) until incorporated.
Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, mix in the flour and liquid mixtures (alternating). Scrape the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is mixed and pour into the pan. If you have any kind of decorative sugar, this is a good time to use it. If not, sprinkle the top of the cake with regular sugar and stick in the oven.
Immediately turn the heat down to 350° (or 325° convection) and bake for 30-40 minutes, checking early. It is done when the top is just springy and light golden brown. I have not had luck with a cake tester for this cake, but luckily it is pretty forgiving. Leave to cool for 10-15 minutes and then release from the pan and continue cooling on a rack. Carefully slide a spatula under it and move to a plate. It will keep for days, covered in plastic wrap or an air tight container.