Lena is a foodie and home cook from the SF Bay Area with a passion for Spanish flavors and traditional cooking with a modern touch!
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 back yard, 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.
How to Prepare Your Cake Pan
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 Turn Out a Cake
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 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!
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on January 07, 2020:
Good recipe. Well explained. I would be trying its variation in India. Thanks.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 17, 2018:
I have never tasted one so I am intrigued and will try to bake this. I will share this with mys ister as in our old home we have several lemon trees.
Brittany Banks from Spokane, Washington on July 19, 2017:
This might be good to try!
Lena Durante (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on May 31, 2017:
How exciting that your son is visiting! I hope the cake comes out well and that you both enjoy it.
Yes, I fully realize that we are completely spoiled, especially since we get lemons all year round here, and the ground never freezes so we always have some vegetables growing, too!
Let me know how the cake turns out with the conversions, and whether there are any additional tips you think I should add once you've tried it yourself!
Glen Rix from UK on May 31, 2017:
Looks delicious! And no saturates from butter! I'm planning to bake it this weekend for my son, who is visiting from Singapore. I have some saffron from Spain in the cupboard so will attempt the ice cream too. We don't normally measure in cups in the UK so I need to find a conversion chart first. Lemons are wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer day ( we don't get many of those but for a few days it's been in the high twenties). How lucky are you to have a lemon tree in your garden!
Lena Durante (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on May 17, 2017:
Lemon is one of my favorite flavors for a dessert, too, Fern, especially in the summer time. It's a perfect finish to an evening of grilling; fresh and bright, not too heavy, but still satisfying. Let me know how it turns out!
Fern Bailey from Michigan on May 17, 2017:
I love lemons and looking at the images and reading the recipe makes my mouth water!
I am going to try this recipe! Thank you for sharing.
Lena Durante (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on May 01, 2017:
Glenis, we're spoiled here in Northern California, and how well I know it! The lemon tree really is lovely; I can run outside and grab one whenever I need it, which makes last-minute cooking and baking so much easier. We are also able to grow veg year-round in the back. I just planted some hot peppers this weekend!
Glen Rix from UK on April 29, 2017:
This recipe is intriguing. I must try it asap! How wonderful it must be to have a lemon tree in the garden- there's no way one would fruit outof doors in the UK.
Lena Durante (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on April 28, 2017:
Thanks, Peggy! It's really good with orange as well, but lemon is my favorite.
Let me know how it turns out!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2017:
I have heard of olive oil cake but have never tried it. The lemon flavor would be a good flavor. Pinning this for future reference!