Spanish Olive Oil Cake
When most people think of Spanish desserts, they immediately picture flan, or maybe churros con chocolate. But believe it or not, one of my favorite sweets at the end of a night of perfect Spanish food and sangria is actually olive oil cake.
What you may not realize is that Spain has a long history of olive cultivation, which makes for some really delicious oil. The country actually produces more olive oil than Italy or Greece: about 1.2 million tons, or about 44% of the world's total production. Spaniards also consume more of it than anyone else, averaging 2.5 gallons per person per year!
Spanish or Italian Olive Oil?
- Spanish vs. Italian Olive Oil
What is the difference in flavor between Italian and Spanish olive oils?
Before You Start Baking . . .
Since this cake relies on eggs for its height, rather than a rising agent like baking soda or baking powder, it is a little more finicky than other cake recipes. If you keep a few things in mind, you'll be primed for success!
- Pick a fruity olive oil for the best results. The stronger the flavor, the more you will taste it in the final dessert, so if you've never tried olive oil cake before, opt for extra virgin.
- Properly greasing and flouring your pan will make all the difference in your final presentation. Check out the video below from the folks at America's Test Kitchen if you're unsure how to do it.
- Read the recipe through entirely before you begin making it. This will ensure you understand where you'll be using different parts of the ingredients (like separated eggs, divided sugar and lemon juice vs zest).
- Decide ahead of time how you want to serve your cake: with powdered sugar as shown in the photo above, with a lemon simple syrup poured over top, or naked with fresh fruit.
- Experiment with flavors. I tend to use lemon because I have a tree in my backyard, but it's wonderful with orange instead if that's what strikes your fancy. You can also incorporate 1-2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs, like tarragon, sage, or lavender for an aromatic touch.
Lemon Olive Oil Cake
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
1 hour 10 min
1 9-inch cake or 12 mini cakes
- 5 eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup sugar, divided
- 2–3 lemons
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup fruity Spanish olive oil
- 1 cup cake flour
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a 9-inch springform or traditional cake pan by cutting a circle of parchment paper for the bottom, greasing and lightly flouring, or grease and flour a muffin tin for individual mini cakes.
- Separate your eggs into whites and yolks, and divide your sugar roughly in half. Combine one half of the sugar with the egg yolks, salt, and the zest of your lemons. Keep whipping this mixture until it is thoroughly homogenous, thick and pale.
- Beat the egg whites and the remaining sugar until it is glossy and starts to hold peaks (but not totally stiff!).
- In a measuring cup, juice lemons until you have 1/4 cup, then add your olive oil, for 1 cup total.
- Drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice into the egg yolk mixture slowly while whipping until fully incorporated. Gently scoop the egg whites in as well, and sift the cake flour over top.
- Carefully fold together the cake batter, scooping under and lifting (rather than simply stirring), to keep as much air in the egg whites as you can. Continue folding gently until most of the streaks are gone.
- Spoon into your prepared pan (or pans) and smooth the top without pushing down.
- Bake 25 minutes (12 minutes for mini cakes), then turn down the temperature on your oven to 325 F and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
How to Cool Your Cake
To properly cool your cake, place the pan on a wire rack for 10–15 minutes before you try to turn it out. If you have properly prepared the pan before baking, it should be pretty easy to release from the sides, and the parchment paper ensures that it won't stick at the bottom.
- If you are using a springform, simply release the clamp and lift the sides away. Then place a flat, clean plate over the top and flip the whole thing over to remove the bottom. Turn it right-side up again back onto the wire rack and let cool completely.
- If you are using a traditional cake pan, after the initial ten minutes, run a knife gently around all the edges. Then use the same technique as above, inverting it onto a plate and then back onto the rack to finish cooling.
- If you made mini olive oil cakes in a muffin tin, run a knife around the edges after the first 10 minutes, then carefully pry the cakes out and transfer them to the cooling rack, right-side up.
How to Serve
There's really no wrong way to serve olive oil cake. I just don't recommend putting frosting on it: This isn't that kind of cake! Sifting some powdered sugar over the top is usually a good place to start, but you can also simply top a slice with whipped cream, as seen in the photo from Italian restaurant Maialino in New York above. Use creme fraiche instead if you're like me and prefer your desserts not too sweet.
I also love the presentation below from La Marcha Spanish restaurant in Berkeley, where they have grated some additional citrus zest over the top and paired it with a saffron ice cream. I have to admit, I haven't even attempted to make saffron ice cream, but plain vanilla or pistachio both compliment the cake really well, too!
When they are in season, fresh raspberries look beautiful on the plate and go really well with the lemon flavor. You can also chiffonade some fresh basil or mint leaves to add a fresh, herbaceous note for the more sophisticated palate. I've even candied whole sage leaves for garnish!
But the beauty of this cake is that it doesn't need a lot of frills, because it tastes so good already. Share how you serve it in the comments below!