It’s the only one I (really) know how to make. Like in my sleep. It’s a lemon olive-oil cake.
It has five ingredients. Six if you count salt. It requires the use of power tools, which is always a good time. It takes 20 minutes to throw together. The longest part of the process is the cooling (about an hour, undisturbed), during which time you can fold the laundry, unload the dishwasher, and do the other things you were planning to do before you remembered that you forgot that you promised a coworker you would throw together this Really Very Simple cake for her birthday, which is… tomorrow.
You can use other citrus for this – I’ve used grapefruit in the past, and would totally do it again in the future. I’ve also added a sprig of fresh rosemary on top of the cake before it hits the oven, so it infuses a little bit. That, too, is gorgeous.
You can also, as I learned last night, do this in an untidy kitchen – something I had never dared test until time and its pressing nature forced me to do so. I still treat baking with a certain degree of kid-glove delicacy, even though I’ve managed to convince myself that I’m Seriously Not All That Terrible At It. Call it superstition.
Turns out you don’t need much space. Just three mixing bowls: a real big, a pretty big, and a medium. And an electric mixer/beater (stand model not necessary – in fact I’ve never used one for this – though I suspect it would do a fine job). You don’t need all three bowls at once, either, so you can shelve the other two on top of your coffee maker or stack of cutting boards or whatever other graduated surfaces aren’t currently hosting dishes or mail or the latest 6-pack smuggled from Michigan. (Damn. I am not doing my image any favors here.)
This cake impresses people. But… I am going to admit that I’m not sure why. It could be the unusual ingredients. It could be the simplicity, and the absence of any sort of icing. It’s not a style of cake you see a lot of in the Midwest. It’s almost pound cake-like in texture, yet manages to feel miraculously not-at-all heavy or too rich.
|It only looks boring.|
I will tell you that it’s delicious, an smartly so, and that is what impresses me. (That, and it’s so dead simple and it makes people think I am much more talented than I am.)
It is a smart cake because the things that make it good are gorgeous and wonderful in their original form, so they cannot but create a lovely cake. When you can find solid logic in cake form, it is a thing of beauty.
If this is something that interests you, here is how you do it.
Gear you need:
- Those mixing bowls of varied size
- Hand mixer
- A springform pan
- Parchment paper
- A zester/microplane
- 5 eggs
- Extra-virgin olive oil. There are other versions of this recipe that call for regular olive oil to minimize the olive-oil-y flavor. But my thought is: if you’re making an olive oil cake, don’t you want it to taste like olive oil? Otherwise, why not just make a pound cake? Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.
- Cake flour
- A lemon
So here you are! At soft peaks! Put down the mixer, get your Real Big bowl with the yolk & flour mixture, and add about a third of the whites to that bowl. Here is where you truly want to fold, and gently. Mix the whites in until the color changes and gets paler and softer. Then you can add the next third, folding in the same way, and the final third.
Once it’s all gently mixed together – again, not overmixed, but also without major white streaks – pour that batter into your springform pan. I tend to drop the pan a few times from a few inches’ height onto the counter to get out any big bubbles, but you also don’t need to be too compulsive about this either. Finally grab a small handful of sugar and sprinkle it over the top.
At my house, in my oven, that cake bakes for about 35 minutes before it starts to get golden on top. I have made this at work a few times, though, and it takes about 45 minutes to get there. No rush – feel out your oven. Test the cake with a toothpick to make sure it’s done inside, then let it cool for a while before doing anything with it. Like an hour.
The cake is lovely when it’s warm (in which case you could wait about 45 minutes, instead of the full hour – this thing holds heat a long time), but I kind of prefer it room temperature or even a little cold. It travels well, since there is no icing involved, and keeps on the counter (covered) for several days if you want to make it and snack throughout the week.
You may still be reading and wondering, “Great, brilliant, but um, where’s the photo?”
I will confess: I was so ready for bed and done with kitchen-time the other night that I didn’t even remember to snap a photo. I will also confess that you’re not missing much – it’s a pretty humble cake. But maybe I’ll throw one together next week and give you a nice glimpse of the pretty, sparkly crust on top.
Or you could make it yourself and see it in its full, real-life glory.