“Olive oil, in a cake?”
The baker looked at his apprentice and lifted a dripping spatula far, far too high. Batter rained on them both. “To bake, and to cook, takes a leap of faith, Geoffrey.” He scowled into the bowl and pushed the thick batter aside, searching for pockets of flour. “It is like love, that way.”
Sometimes, many times (most times), I make something I know because I quite simply do not want to fail.
I buy just enough food, and ingredients, for one week. This tendency is not born of ideology but of budget- I buy what I can afford and then I stop. I am that person in the supermarket with a calculator out, adding up prices as I tick ingredients off the list. (My apologies to anyone lagging behind me as I push the cart slowly past the herbs, my face buried in my phone. I’m not texting or updating my status on Facebook but trying to calculate fractions of weight version price per pound in my head.) When I hit my number, I have to stop and reassess the items in my cart, wonder which ones will have to go back to the shelf. Actually, this rarely happens- for some reason, I have become very attuned to my budget and what I can afford and rarely end up more than a few dollars over.
So when I come across a recipe that’s a risk, I pause for dramatic effect. Because, see, if it fails, I have to eat it anyway or there’s nothing else, really, to eat. If a recipe has too many pricey ingredients, it’s immediately out- I can’t make one $40 meal for the week when my budget is $50.
This strategy serves me well. It’s a lot of work and it’s sometimes painful. On those rare occasions when I’ve put things back at the register, it’s downright humiliating. But it helps me save money so I can travel, go out, buy concert tickets on a Monday night, see a friend for a long weekend. (Food is everything but yet not everything.) So it’s worth it.
I make an exception with olive oil. A big, gaping, ridiculous exception.
Brene Brown has a whole section in one, or multiple, books on scarcity and our great, clamoring fear of it. I recognize the feeling well- when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of olive oil, I pause and my chest gets tight. Watching the level of the olive oil bottle is frightening to me and it’s scarcity, that hum of a word, that’s behind it. I take a deep breath, remind myself how vigilant I am about food and price and ingredients and I say to myself, out loud, “When it runs out, I’ll buy another bottle.” And not a cheap bottle. A good bottle. The best I can find. The thing with olive oil, see, is that it’s important to me. I’m Italian American, maybe that’s part of it, maybe the biggest part, why that bottle is a source of comfort to me. I use it often and when I cook something spare and simple and good, the better the ingredients, the better the final product. Somewhere along the line, I decided to grant olive oil a pass. It sings, the stuff. If you know what to do with it, it goddamn sings.
Listen to me now- in this, you should not be afraid. Buy a really, really good bottle (imported or from California, pure olive oil, extra virgin, the best you can possibly afford) and use a giant-sounding, heaping 1/2 cup of it in a cake. This cake.
Do it. You won’t be sorry. It’s good.
You can always buy another bottle.
Almond Olive Oil Cake with Brown Butter Glaze
1 Cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup of almond flour or meal
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/2 Teaspoon of kosher salt
3 Large eggs
3/4 Cup of granulated sugar
1/2 Cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/4 Teaspoon of pure almond extract
Grated zest of 1/4 medium orange
1/2 Cup of orange juice
2 and 1/2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 Cup of confectioner’s sugar
3 Tablespoons of whole milk
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup of sliced almonds, toasted and cooled
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt, and set aside.
3. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in very thoroughly. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about a minute. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined, about 30 more seconds.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The
cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back slightly when touched, 9 and a cake tester comes out clean.
6. Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.
7. When the cake is almost finished cooling, make the glaze: melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.
8. While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.