Saturday, October 4, 2014

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

I wanted cake. No, I really wanted ice cream, but cake or pie or even any sort of gooey pastry would do. And yet, I did not want to leave the house to buy ice cream or anything else. It was a stay-at-home Saturday of chores and hobbies and a bit of rest, and I simply didn't want to leave the house.

"I know how to cook," I thought. "I'll make something!" Even though I wasn't really in the mood to fuss about in the kitchen too much, it seemed like a reasonable activity for a Saturday afternoon. I then remembered that I had no butter. I flirted briefly with the idea of making my fudgesicles as I had all the ingredients, but I wasn't really in the mood for chocolate. No butter, no butter, how could I make a nice rich carby dessert with no butter?

I recalled that years ago I'd made an olive oil cake from Michael Chiarello from his first TV show on PBS. I'd never even heard of making a cake, or any sweet, with olive oil, but quickly learned that it was very common in Italy and throughout the Mediterranean. That cake was OK, but it used some cornmeal and the texture was a little more coarse than what I wanted. Besides, it used oranges and I had no oranges or orange juice. I always associate olive oil cakes with orange. I wondered if they were ever made with other flavors. I asked my friend Mr. Google and ...

Orange does seem to be the predominant flavor, but I found lemon, almond, chocolate, and even rosemary in just a cursory search. The recipes were as wildly varied in ingredients and techniques as butter cakes. I wanted something simple that I could make with what I had on hand, and none of these were a perfect fit.

I found a chocolate one that would have worked well -- one bowl, mixed by hand so I didn't even have to get out the mixer. But, again, I wasn't in the mood for chocolate. I love almond, but they all seemed to rely in part on almond meal. No almonds in the pantry, so out that went. The one that appealed to me the most, based on picture and reviews, was a lemon cake on Epicurious. The problem, again, was no lemon in the house. This one was a little more complicated that I'd want to get into, too, but I really wanted cake. I was hit with a dose of inspiration and decided to experiment a little.

In order to give the cake a good hit of flavor without having citrus peel or other exotica in the house, I turned to extracts. While as a single person I don't bake often, I do tend to have a good stock of basic baking supplies. The idea of combining orange and almond appealed to me, as well. So ... I substituted amaretto for the lemon juice in the original recipe, and I added orange and almond and vanilla extracts. This provided the right amount of liquid, with a little acidity and a punch of flavor that was promised by the original recipe.

The verdict? The texture was good -- a fine, somewhat dense but moist crumb. The astute observer will note in the pictures that the cake did fall a bit. I put that down to Operator Error, as I was only half paying attention as I made it, with no intentions of blogging about it until it was in the oven. Also, while the flavor was quite good, the orange was barely detectable. If I'd had an orange on hand, I would have certainly added some zest; failing that, a little more extract. I also think this would be great with a layer of sliced almonds baked on top, maybe drizzled with a basic glaze. As it is, though, it's a darn nice cake for something adapted for a sparse pantry.

Even though it was going to be a little more effort than I'd hoped, this cake uses one of my favorite techniques:  Whipped egg whites as the sole leavening, as you have with chiffon cakes, in a cake that also contains fat. Usually that fat is butter, creamed with sugar as you do with standard cakes, but of course this cake uses the olive oil. (I also discuss this cake technique in the most popular post on this blog:  Alice Waters's 1234 Cake.)

This single-layer cake is a nice dessert, plain or dressed up with whipped cream and perhaps some fruit. I think it would also make a nice breakfast or coffee cake.

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

adapted from Gourmet

5 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup cake flour
1 Tbsp amaretto (or water)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp coarse sugar ("sanding sugar") or regular table sugar
Olive oil spray or other nonstick cooking spray

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Spray the sides and bottom of a 9" springform pan with the cooking spray, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment.

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until the mixture is pale and very thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil, amaretto, and extracts, beating until just combined (mixture may appear separated). Using a rubber or silicon spatula, stir in the flour until just combined. Don't mix vigorously, just gently stir until the flour is barely incorporated, but be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to mix well.

In a medium mixing bowl with clean beaters (or a whisk attachment, if you have one), beat the egg whites with the salt at medium-high speed until foamy. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, continuing beating. Increase speed to high and whip until the egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes (it took a little longer with my little hand mixer).

Gently fold one third of whipped egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly; a few white streaks are OK, but again be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to mix well.

Transfer batter to the prepared springform pan and gently rap against work surface once or twice to release any large air bubbles. Sprinkle the top evenly with the 2 tablespoons coarse sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 35 to 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a table knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 hour. The cake will deflate as it cools. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer cake to a serving plate. Slice with a serrated knife.

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