Some desserts seem to catch the collective imagination and become popular overnight. For instance, olive oil cakes have been popping up everywhere lately—one minute restaurant menus were full of chocolate lava cakes and crème brulee, and the next instant rustic olive oil cakes had taken over. At first I thought it was a new fad, dreamt up by some young chef, but it turns out that olive oil cakes have been a staple of Italian households for generations—and with good reason!
Homey olive oil cakes are the ultimate comfort dessert—the oil gives them a rich flavor and keeps them moist for days on end. This particular almond olive oil cake recipe uses darkly toasted almonds to deepen the flavor, and includes whole citrus fruits for a vibrant citrus flavor. If you’ve never tasted an olive oil cake before, you owe it to yourself to try one, and see what all the fuss is about.
Almond Olive Oil Cake
yield: one 9-inch cake
- 6 oz raw almonds (about 1.25 cups)
- 1 medium orange
- 1 lemon
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 1.5 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup good-quality olive oil
- powdered sugar, for dusting
- A food processor
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
This recipe is really unusual, in that it incorporates whole pieces of fruit into the batter. To prepare the orange and lemon to be cooked, we have to boil them for a while to soften them and reduce the bitterness. So, put the orange and lemon in a medium pot, and cover them with water. Place the pot over medium-high heat, and once the water starts boiling, turn the heat down and simmer the citrus for 30 minutes. Drain the pot and let the orange and lemon cool. If you want to speed this process, you can put them in a bowl of ice water.
While your citrus is boiling (gee, you don’t hear that phrase in recipes every day, do you?) spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven. So much of the flavor from this cake comes from the almonds, so it’s important to get them good and truly toasted: you want them to be very fragrant and to have gone from a light, beige nut (if you’re using blanched almonds) to a dark golden brown color. It takes me about 20 minutes of toasting, and I stir after every 5 minutes so the nuts don’t burn in one place.
Once they’re roasty-toasty, take them out of the oven and let them cool completely. If you’re lucky, your toasted almonds and boiled citrus will be cooled at about the same time, so you can finish up the rest of the cake.
Place the toasted almonds in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse them until the almonds are finely ground. Watch the processing carefully so your almonds don’t turn to nut butter. Remove the almonds from the bowl of the food processor.
Cut the orange in half, and take out any seeds it might have. Cut the lemon in half and use a knife or a spoon to take out the pulp, leaving the rind. We’re going to process the orange halves and the lemon rind in the food processor–don’t bother washing the bowl with the almond crumbs, it’s all going to the same place eventually.
Process the orange and lemon rind in the processor until it’s a slightly chunky puree. I promise, this is the most work you’re going to do for this recipe. It’s all coasting downhill from here.
In a large bowl, whisk the four room temperature eggs until they’re nice and frothy. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until it thickens.
This, my friends, is what thickened eggs and sugar should look like. A be-yoo-tiful ribbon of egg artfully dropping from the whisk!
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk until they’re well-combined.
Now for all the fun stuff! Add the ground almonds, the citrus goop, and the olive oil, and stir with a spatula until everything is well-mixed.
I must pause here for a confession. Usually I’m a cake batter fiend, and looove licking the spatula and bowl. In this case, I didn’t really like the taste of the batter. (I know!) I was worried it would bode ill for the olive oil cake, but the cake still turned out fabulously–it’s just that the batter was a little strong for my taste. So never fear if you give it an exploratory lick and aren’t immediately in love.
Back to business! Spray cooking spray in a 9 or 10 inch springform pan, or cake pan with removable bottom. Pour your batter into the pan, and bake it in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, or until it is set in the middle and does not jiggle when you move the pan.
Check to make sure the cake is done by inserting a toothpick–if it comes out clean, or with just a few crumbs attached, you’re golden. Let the cake cool in its pan, and once cool, run a knife around the edges and take it out of the pan.
Now for the really fun part. Dust the cake with powdered sugar before serving it. If you have a doily handy, lay the doily on top of the cake and sprinkle powdered sugar on top of that, then carefully remove the doily–you’ll have beautiful, lacy powdered sugar design on your cake!
This almond olive oil cake is perfect paired with a cup of afternoon tea. It is also one of those cakes that gets better with age–I actually prefer it on the second day, as the almond, olive oil, and orange flavors have a chance to mellow and blend together. Well-wrapped, you can keep this cake at room temperature for up to four or five days, or it can be frozen indefinitely.
All text and images (c) Elizabeth LaBau