Sunday, November 21, 2010

lemon and olive oil cake

I know I'm not the only one who loves a plain-ish, not-too-sweet everyday cake. Fancy six layer super-cakes are great and all, but sometimes there's nothing more lovely than a Sunday afternoon cup of tea and an ever so slightly austere yet pretty, slice of home-baked cake. I'd been wanting to try this lemon and olive oil cake for a little while since spotting it on a couple of months ago, so today after a morning of gardening (hard work!), I thought a tea-time treat was in order.

I know it doesn't look like much, but hopefully those of you that understand the charm of the everyday cake will understand just how lovely this one is. It's a little sweeter than some of the other everyday cakes I usually make, but the tanginess of the lemon and the fruitiness of the extra virgin olive oil offset this sweetness nicely, resulting in a wonderfully soft and balanced cake that is perfectly delicious on it's own or warm with cream and/or fruit as a dessert. It contains flour, but no raising agent, relying instead on the fluffy lightness of whipped egg whites which are folded into the batter at the last moment.

The great thing about cakes made with olive oil (besides the delicious taste) is that they seem to stay fresh for a few days longer than those made with butter - and this is a big plus in a household of two where one "person" has four legs and doesn't eat cake. Slices of this cake will make it into the office and to the table for Monday night catch-up with friends over tea. There'll be a slice or two in my lunchbox this week and maybe a piece, rewarmed and served with lemon butter and/or ice-cream if I have a bad day (or a really good one!). If you're not into the idea of olive oil in desserts, try dialing back the olive flavour by using a light olive oil in place of the extra virgin. You'll get all the benefits of the oil with a less pronounced olive flavour.

lemon and olive oil cake

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or light for a more mellow flavour), plus additional for greasing pan
1 large lemon
1 cup cake or "00" flour
5 large eggs, separated, reserving 1 white for another use (5 yolks, 4 whites)
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350° F). Grease a springform pan with some olive oil and line the bottom with a round piece of baking paper. Oil paper also.

2. Finely grate 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest and whisk into your flour. Now halve your lemon and squeeze out 1 1/2 tablespoons juice; put aside.

3. With an electric mixer, beat together yolks (5) and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (original recipe states that mixture may appear separated at this point; mine was fine). Using a wooden spoon, gently stir in flour mixture until just combined.

4. Clean your beaters to beat egg whites (4) with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks (about 3 minutes).
Very gently, fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Your batter will have changed texture now into a foamy, soft mass.

5. Transfer batter to greased pan. Sprinkle top of batter with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean (about 45 minutes; mine took 40). Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan, peel off paper and transfer cake to serving plate.

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