I’m really, really excited for this one. This cake was one of those perfect first time around recipes that just works. After my Oils for Cooking: A Basic Introduction post, I was really inspired to explore the world of extra virgin olive oils. I knew that as a delicious fat it could be used in a wide variety of cooking. Olive oil cake was born.
Okay, not born. I didn’t invent olive oil cake, there are lots of recipes that utilize olive oil as a fat. But, I wanted to learn the best technique for a fluffy, spongy cake, that didn’t overwhelm the flavor of olive oil with sugar. After some plotting and planning, I had a recipe I was ready to try, one that paired the delicate grassy notes of olive oil with fresh rosemary and just the right amount of sugar. The result? A light, subtly herbaceous cake that was simply perfect. I couldn’t believe how perfect it was! After a few more tests to be sure, I knew I had a winner.
Let’s Talk About Pans
Before we get into the recipe, let’s talk about pan choices. Cake pan or spring form? When it comes down to it, you can bake this olive oil cake in a cake pan, and it will work just fine. Personally, however I chose to use a spring form pan.
This gave me a few benefits I really liked:
- This cake cools best out of its pan. The easy removal of the sides and bottom make this very simple!
- Flipping the cake out of a traditional cake pan shatters the sugary crust that forms on the top. Rather than lose that, I prefer the springform pan.
- It’s WAY easier to line the bottom! Just tear off a square of parchment paper, place on the bottom of the springform pan and tighten the ring. Then trim the excess. Done!
In any case, please don’t let not owning a springform pan stop you from making this cake! I’ve done it both ways, and I promise it will taste great. But be careful during cake removal. Use a light touch and have a cooling rack ready to prevent any permanent indents in the top.
Ingredients: The Few but Essential
One of my favorite parts about this recipe, is the simple ingredient list. Start with the basics: flour, sugar, eggs, milk, salt, and baking powder. All that’s left after that are fat and flavor. Traditionally this would be butter and vanilla for a yellow cake. But, in this recipe, we’re substituting extra virgin olive oil and fresh rosemary.
The Oil of the Olive Oil Cake
Olive oil is a unique thing. The region that produces it, the way it’s processed, and the particular batch of olives all affect flavor. As such, using the cheapest extra virgin olive oil possible is maybe not the best idea for maximum flavor.
I recommend a cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. This information should be right on the bottle, and they’re sold at any grocery store. Extra virgin, unlike pure or light olive oils, isn’t processed or refined. This means maximum flavor, all the health benefits, and highest quality. For a cake as delicate as this one, getting the best olive oil flavor is really important.
Is it really extra virgin…?
Sadly, many extra virgin olive oils available to use at supermarkets aren’t the best quality, no matter what fancy terms the label claims. It’s a BIG topic to delve into, so for now, if you’re curious about understanding olive oil, and making sure you get a good one, check out Gastropod’s episode on Extra Virgin Olive Oil. These ladies are fantastic food reporters and it literally changed the way I shop for olive oil.
But if you don’t have time at the moment, here are some basics to know about shopping for olive oil:
- A lot of mass produced olive oils are actually rancid. American’s are so used to this flavor, we often don’t even know the difference. Good extra virgin olive oil is complex, fresh, and wildly different in flavor.
- Extra Virgin olive oil fraud is a real thing! With the prices charged for extra vrigin olive oil, there’s a huge market for fradulent olive oil production – marketing lower quality or mixed oils as extra virgin. It can say Italian imported, but that doesn’t mean it’s good quality or even extra virgin olive oil at all.
So how do you know what to buy?
- Look for a 3rd party certification on your bottles. DOP or AOC certifications on European imported oils are a signal of real extra virgin olive oils. In California, look for the California Olive Oil Council’s seal marks CA produced olive oils as good choices.
- Harvest date – high quality producers of olive oils realize that their product is best within a certain time frame. They will share the harvest date of the olives used on the bottle somewhere. This signifies freshness. If you can find that, that oil is a safe bet.
- Buy from somewhere you trust! I have 2 stores I love:
- Amphora Nueva – an AMAZING olive oil and vinegar store in the bay area of California (they do ship from their online store). They supply a lovely variety of high quality imported oils, and are happy to discuss flavor profile, harvest date, and seasonality of each of their oils.
- McCauley Olive Groves – a store also local to the Bay Area of California, their oil is grown here in CA. They’re happy to discuss harvest date of their olives, and let you taste their current selection.
Trust me when I say spending the extra money on a good oil is a huge difference. Not just for this cake, but your dressings, vegetables, and pastas will thank you too.
The Herb: Fresh or Dried
Fresh herbs are the way to go here. Dried rosemary is lacking the fresh, bright grassy notes that fresh rosemary has. It’s a woodier, almost bitter substitute for fresh sprigs. Because you’re using extra virgin olive oil for this cake, the fresh rosemary really draws out the subtle flavors in the oil.
If you’re worried about buying a whole bundle of fresh herbs for one recipe, let me reassure you. Rosemary is a hardy herb. It will hold up in your fridge a lot longer than parsley and cilantro. I have rosemary in my fridge I purchase two weeks ago, and it’s still beautiful and flavorful. It’s also really easy to use. Throw a sprig or two in with pan roasted chicken or a bubbling soup, or sprinkle a palmful of leaves over roasting vegetables.
If you’re not convinced, go right ahead and use the dried stuff, but be advised that you’ll need less. For this recipe, cut the herbs back to a teaspoon if you’re using dried.
The Process: Steps to Making Olive Oil Cake
Before we get into the mixing and cooking, turn your oven to 350°F and take a few minutes to chop your rosemary. You’ll need the leaves from about one sprig, and chop them finely. They don’t need to be uniform, but you’re looking for a teaspoon of fairly finely chopped herbs.
The Foaming Method
Because there is zero butter in this rosemary olive oil cake, the creaming method just doesn’t work. Instead, we’re going to use the foaming method. This involves beating the eggs and sugar together, rather than the butter and sugar. This is the method you’d use for a sponge cake. The foaming creates large bubbles, and leads to a wonderfully fluffy sponge.
For this olive oil cake, I’m going to ask you to make one extra step here though. Rather than beating cold eggs with sugar, I combined the two in my mixing bowl, and set it over a simmering water bath first. This dissolves the sugar, and warms up the eggs. Room temperature, or warmed eggs not only incorporate much better into a batter, but they aerate more fully than a cold egg will. Melting the sugar will also help it incorporate more easily with the liquid eggs. This extra step only takes about 6 to 8 minutes, and the result is a pale fluffy egg/sugar mixture that will triple its volume in no time, and result in the spongy cake you really want.
To do this, start by simmering about two inches of water in a large pot. Mix the eggs and sugar, and then set them over the pot. Then, just stir them occasionally with a rubber spatula.
Knowing when it’s ready is as easy as touching it. Once the mixture is just warm to the touch of your finger and you drag the spatula through without feeling or hearing sugar granules against the bowl, it’s ready. For those of you that need more precision, I measured the temp, and pulled the bowl off the water when it reached about 100°F.
Prepping: Sifting, Chopping, and Greasing
While the eggs and sugar are melting away, you’ll have just enough time to prep your other ingredients. Don’t worry about hovering over the eggs. they won’t scramble until they reach 170°F, and we’ll be back to them long before that.
Regardless of the pan you’re using, line the bottom with parchment paper. Then, using just a bit of the olive oil you’ve chosen for the recipe, grease the bottom and sides.
Next, using your kitchen scale, measure out 6 ounces of your extra virgin olive oil, and 2 ounces of milk.
Measurement by weight, rather than volume, is something I always recommend. It’s more precise, as measuring cups can vary in size. When baking, the ratio is essential. I always provide the volume measurements, but for fewer dishes, and consistent results every time, invest in a 20 dollar scale. It’s worth it, and you’ll get plenty of use out of it.
The next important step is sifting. Because, like a sponge cake, you’re creating lots of bubbles in the first step, sifting the flour will stop the collapse of all that beautiful air. The chopped rosemary will likely not all go through the mesh of your sifter, so any that remains on the screen when you’re done, be sure to empty into the flour.
Mixing your Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
By this time your egg/sugar mixture should be perfect, go ahead and take them off the water. The bowl will be hot though, so be careful. I returned it to my stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. You can of course use a hand mixer, but having the other ingredients prepped is essential if you do. Pausing too long after the eggs are fluffed will lose precious air.
Turn your mixer onto medium, and let the eggs and sugar aerate. After about 3 to 4 minutes, the mixture should have transformed into a pale, creamy yellow. You will be able to see bubbles forming as the mixer spins. Turn your mixer down to low and slowly add the flour. Once this is added, drizzle in the oil, and then the milk until it has come together. This whole process should only take another 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour the batter into the pan. As a final step dust the top with a tablespoon of granulated sugar. This will create a crusty, sugared top when the cake bakes adding just that perfect extra hint of sweetness to the cake.
Cool, Cut, and Enjoy!
Once your cake has baked for 35 minutes take it out and let it cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. This is just enough time to make the pan a little friendlier to handle. Then, remove from the pan and let it cool on a cooling rack for about 20 minutes at least. The cooling rack will help air circulate and prevent a steamed bottom.
When you simply can resist no longer, cut a slice and sample your rosemary olive oil cake.
I’m positive you’ll be impressed with the light texture, subtle flavors given by the rosemary and olive oil, and that perfect level of sweetness. Enjoy for a light dessert with a sauce (I recommend lemon or raspberry!) or take a slice with your morning cup of joe. Heck, have it for both! This cake will stay moist and yummy for about 3 days at room temperature, when kept in an airtight container.
I really hope you give this cake a try, it’s easy, delicious, and refreshingly unique. I think I’ll go have a slice right now…
- 6 oz eggs 3 large
- 6 oz sugar + 1 Tbs divided (almost 1 cup, see note)
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary chopped
- 8 oz flour 1 2/3 cup
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp table salt
- 6 oz extra virgin olive oil 3/4 cup
- 2 oz milk 1/4 cup
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Start by placing 2 inches of water in a large pot over medium heat. While waiting for water to simmer, chop fresh rosemary until you have 1 teaspoons worth.
- Once water is simmering, measure sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer (or regular bowl if using hand mixer). Add eggs and stir to combine. Place egg/sugar mixture over simmering water, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, until sugar is melted and mixture is just warm to the touch. (about 95°F).
- While waiting on egg/sugar mixture, prep 8″ springform or cake pan by lining with parchment paper and lightly greasing with extra virgin olive oil. Next measure out the oil and milk, set aside.
- Place sifter into separate bowl, and measure flour, salt, baking powder, and chopped rosemary into the sifter. Sift, and make sure to add any rosemary that did not pass through the sifter onto sifted dry ingredients.
- The egg/sugar mixture should be ready now, remove from simmering water. Place bowl under paddle attachment of stand mixer and turn to medium low speed. Beat for 3-4 minutes or until eggs have tripled in volume and become a pale yellow.
- Reduce mixer speed to low, and slowly add in the dry ingredients. When flour is incorporated, add the extra virgin olive oil and milk by drizzling it in slowly with mixer on.
- When the batter is a smooth, creamy pale yellow, pour into prepared pan. Lightly dust top with 1 Tbs of sugar.
- Place in preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes. Remove when toothpick comes out clean and cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan onto cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.