Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cake to Covet

Some people fantasize about dessert. I'm not one of them. I fantasize about pizza and Pappy Van Winkle 23-year old. But dessert? Not until now. I've long believed there are two kinds of people: sweet or savory. I'm definitely in the savory camp. I'd covet a croissant over a cupcake any day. But then I was introduced to the olive oil cake....

I'm perhaps the anomaly who prefers the after dinner drink instead of the after dinner dessert. But a few months ago I lunched with some ladies who are foodies with impeccable taste and when they ordered a dessert to share I half sat up with interest. I knew it would be good because they only do good. But still it had to be a really good dessert to get me to dig my fork into it. Plus it seemed too borderline alcoholic to order an "after dinner drink" when it was only 1 pm.

They brought this out . . .

. . . and I literally almost came fisticuffs with my lunch mates over who could have the last bite of this olive oil cake. It was served over a pistachio pesto, I think, with some perfectly sweet yet firm pears on top. It was amazingly sublime. For me, the perfect amount of yummy savory with the right kiss of sweetness. It was dense yet airy unlike a pound cake but the olive oil added a richness to it you normally don't find in a pound cake. It was incredibly delicious and also incredibly memorable. 

So when I saw a recipe for a blood orange olive oil cake on this site shortly after my olive oil cake introduction, I felt like it was a sign from the gods. I needed to make this cake.   

Although I consider myself a polished person, I'm very drawn to rustic desserts. Nothing too fancy or frilly (as if the added icing and panache is covering up for a lack of taste). But the truth of the matter is I'm lazy and don't like the fussiness and precision required of most baking. So I love trying to capitalize on the concept of the homemade dessert being less than perfect in presentation but over the top in taste. Honestly I think this delivers. It's kind of a stroke of genius. It feels very grown up and sophisticated. The crunchy outer layer and super moist interior offers the right amount of indulgence yet is so light. The addition of blood oranges pretty much seals the deal. 

I do admit I'm a bit enamored with anything involving blood oranges. I don't know why but God are they sexy. Seemingly exotic and a tad out of your (fruit) league, they offer a unique favor profile. As expected they are citrusy but have an almost raspberry flavor. And don't even get me started on their gorgeous color. This recipe showcases the blood orange in a number of ways: the zest, the juice and the segments. It's easy on the eyes for sure and also easy on the palate.

It's a cake with character and class but like your friend who rolls out of bed, dresses effortlessly and looks enviably cool (not a cake with a stylist and crew who spent hours fawning over you to make you look like you stepped out of a fashion magazine).

While you should use a good olive oil in this recipe (because the quality does influence the taste), the actual cake doesn't taste like olive oil. It's more of a cross between an angel food cake and a pound cake. But way more interesting—in both taste and texture. I'd go with something light and fruity, and definitely nothing peppery. And I stole the idea from the restaurant to drizzle the cake with good honey for serving. I personally love this brand. I think it does add a final note of perfection. Serve it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but it's pretty great solo too. 

In the south, butter is the standard for cooking and baking, but in the Mediterranean cooking with olive oil is common. And cooking with olive oil makes it seem healthier than butter because it's a "healthy fat," right?! That's the lie I told myself as I ate my third slice....

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
from Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

6 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
Buttermilk or plain yogurt (less than a cup)
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Honey and vanilla ice cream (or whipped cream) for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Grate the zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with the sugar. Using your fingers, rub the ingredients together until the orange zest is evenly distributed in the sugar. 

2. Peel and cut the orange segments from 2 blood oranges. This technique is called "supreming." This is done by cutting off the bottom and top of the orange so the fruit can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away the peel and pith, following the curve of the fruit with your sharp knife. Cut the orange segments out of their connective membranes and place in a small bowl. 

3. Half one of the remaining oranges and squeeze the juice into a measuring cup. You should have about 1/4 of a cup of juice. Add enough buttermilk or yogurt to the juice until you have 2/3 cup of liquid. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the sugar and whisk well. Whisk in the eggs until well incorporated. 

4. In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Gently whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ones. Switch to a spatula and fold in the olive oil a little at a time. Fold in the orange segments and then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. 

5. Bake the cake for about 55 minutes, or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. I'd start checking around 50 minutes. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right side up. 

6. To serve, supreme the remaining blood oranges and mix them with 1 Tbsp of honey. Spoon the ice cream (or whipped cream) onto a slice of cake, top with some blood oranges and drizzle with more honey. 

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