Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Olive Oil and Orange Cake

   Hello Friends :) The cake featured in this entry is certainly delicious and different, but we'll get to that in a minute. This poor cake deserves a blog post if only because of how badly I treated it and how well it performed despite my bad treatment. This Olive Oil Orange Cake was originally going to be served at an Italian themed potluck dinner party I was supposed to attend two weeks ago. Unfortunately, that was not to be. The morning of the potluck I was making this cake when I suddenly started to feel very sick. There had been a stomach bug circling around the daycare where I work and I began to fear the worst. My fears were confirmed. Before the cake came out of the oven I was violently ill and was in bed for the rest of the day. The bug was short-lived, lasting only about 24 hours, just long enough to wreck my plans for the day and keep me from attending the dinner party I had been so looking forward to :( Thankfully, I was well again by the next day. My mother decided to save the cake for a later occasion. She put the cake on a plate, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and put it in the freezer, where it stayed for two weeks, until this past Saturday evening when we pulled it out and served it for an informal birthday gathering for my neighbor.

  Holy Cannoli, this cake can take some abuse. After having been frozen for two weeks, it was every bit as moist, dense and full of citrus flavor as I assume it would have been on the day I baked it. It sprang back to life immediately and if I didn't know it had been frozen, there's no way I would have been able to tell the difference. I think several factors contributed to this cake's ability to bounce back. Firstly, it was frozen immediately after cooling, which means it didn't really have any time to get stale. Secondly, as you will see, there is a good bit of olive oil in the recipe (hence the name), which probably also had a hand in retaining the moist quality of the cake.

 The recipe for the cake itself came from *Molto Italiano*,written by one of the rock stars of the cooking world and one of my biggest inspirations, Mario Batali. This book is one of the best Christmas presents I ever received. Mario Batali is an incredibly lyrical writer, very engaging, effortlessly tying food into literature, history, music and art, and the photography is absolutely gorgeous. One of the things I love the most about Batali's recipes is that they are not "Americanized". His food is food that people living in Italy actually eat, nothing watered down or altered. It is Italian food in the very literal sense of the word. The Honey Orange Compote drizzled over the top of the cake is from the always amazing Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

 I really loved this cake. I have no idea why olive oil cakes aren't more popular. The olive oil gives the cakes a lovely, deeply layered flavor and the citrus keeps it bright and fresh. It is a very simple, unfussy dessert. It is just barely sweet and does not need to be dressed up in any way, though you certainly could if you wanted to. It is Mario Batali's recommendation to serve this cake as a late afternoon snack, and I am inclined to agree. It's the perfect post-luch, pre-dinner nosh, the sort of thing that would be served with afternoon tea in other parts of the world. This is a *sitting at the kitchen table chatting with your besties over coffee* kind of cake :) Also, as I indicated above, it freezes well, so it's a perfect make-ahead dessert.

Olive Oil and Orange Cake with Honey Orange Compote

- cake recipe from Molto Italiano by Mario Batali, the compote is based on a Honey and Blood Orange Compote from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

- 6 medium oranges or 3 large oranges (any type of orange can be substituted here, Seville, Blood Orange, etc. Actually, this cake would work with any type of citrus fruit, lemon, grapefruit, or a blend of several, depending on your taste.)
- 1/3rd cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (no need to use anything expensive, as this a baked dessert, any decent brand will do)
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. baking powder

- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 9-inch round cake pan.
- Using a grater, zest all of the oranges and juice one of the oranges. Reserve the fruit for another use (i.e. in the compote). In a small bowl, combine the zest, juice and olive oil. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the eggs and salt until frothy and light, about two minutes. Slowly beat in the sugar and continue to mix until pale and thick, about two minutes more.
- Sift the flour and baking soda together and gradually beat into the egg mixture. Fold in the citrus zest mixture just until incorproated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. 

- This cake can be dressed up with whipped cream, Greek yogurt or creme fraiche (which is what I used, along with a drizzle of the compote). But honestly, it really doesn't need it. As good as those toppings are, this cake really can stand on its own.  All it needs is a drizzle of the compote and perhaps a light dusting of confectioner's sugar, and it's ready to go :)

Honey Orange Compote
- Juice 1 large orange or 2 small oranges into a bowl. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of honey and whisk together until blended, pour over cake and serve. (This is a very flexible recipe, you can increase or decrease both ingredients to your taste).



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