Olive Oil Cake

In Making Food on May 25, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Week 14
Olive Oil Cake

We’d just gotten back from the farmers’ market, bearing all kinds of pink and green early-growing-season stuff: French breakfast radishes, green garlic, asparagus, baby spinach, rhubarb. We sauteed all of the green stuff and threw it into a bowl with pasta and a bunch of pecorino romano, then promptly forgot about the pink stuff. Until a week later, when I opened the crisper and saw the rhubarb staring up at me limply, reproachfully.

Rhubarb looks a lot like magenta-colored celery. It’s technically a vegetable, but in the United States, it’s classified as a fruit. It’s tart, tangy, and traditionally paired in desserts with strawberries, which makes sense, given that they’re both harvested at the start of the growing season. But all I had were frozen strawberries, and frankly, I’m not even sure why I had those, given that I share Nigella Lawson’s opinion that when defrosted, they’ve got the texture and personality of giant slugs. I opted for a bag of frozen raspberries instead, seasonality and traditional pairings cast aside in favor of non bug-like fruits.

Into a saucepan went the raspberries, the thinly sliced rhubarb, about 1/4 cup sugar, and the contents of a child-sized orange juice box I found in the fridge. (Your guess is as good as mine.)

I simmered the fruit-sugar-mysterious-juice mixture until the raspberries and rhubarb were totally broken down, indistinguishable from each other, about 35 to 40 minutes. Not coincidentally, this is about exactly how long it took me to make and bake the cake:

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup lemon juice, and 2 eggs. In another, slightly larger bowl, whisk together 1 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. (You could add some lemon or orange zest here, or some finely minced rosemary, or even a generous sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper.) Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir just until they’re combined nicely. Scrape the batter into a greased cake pan — I used a weird rose-shaped tinny bundt pan that, like the orange juice box that came before, I’ve no idea how I acquired it — but you could use a springform cheesecake-type pan, a brownie pan, or whatever other pan you’d like. Just be sure to grease amply.

Bake at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out cleanly. Do not do what I did, which was: roast a bunch of potatoes and radishes in the oven at 450, then shove the cake into the oven without turning it down first. My cake baked in about 14 minutes, and luckily I caught it before it burned (much). I did, however, have a hell of a time getting the cake out of the pan in one piece. Another way of saying that is that I did not, in fact, get the cake out of the pan in one piece at all:

Luckily, I’ve got lots of practice with things not turning out looking as nicely as I’d hoped. Once, I was charged with making my then-future father-in-law’s birthday cake, which turned out awesomely, save for the fact that I hadn’t greased or lined any of the three cake pans, and wound up having to dig the cake shards out of the pans in a decidedly unceremonial way. To save face (because this was, of course, the first time I was meeting my father-in-law-to-be), I piled the cake shards onto a plate and frosted the whole shebang into something that looked exactly like a perfect three-layer birthday cake, and no one was the wiser until they cut into it. Suckers!

So now we have lots of Piles at our house: Chicken Pile (a failed take on chicken cordon blue), Egg Pile (failed omelets), Cake Pile. I urge you to try a Pile soon. It’s delicious and low-risk.

But back to the the cornmeal cake pile. Despite looking a bit ragged, and a tiny bit, um, seared on the outside, it was delicious. The cornmeal gave it a crumbly-crunchy texture, and the olive oil combined with the lemon juice packed a summery-citrusy wallop like you wouldn’t believe. I did find it a tiny, tiny bit metallic on the aftertaste, though — next time I think I’ll try it with regular, not extra-virgin, olive oil, and I’ll also bake it in a less tinny pan at much lower heat — but I seemed to be alone in that sentiment.

Remember the raspberry-rhubarb mixture? Taste it for sweetness, and adjust the sugar level if needed. You can serve it as is, or you can puree it. If you puree it long enough, it’ll actually break down the seeds entirely and release their pectin, giving the sauce a sort of jam-like consistency (and thereby eliminating the need to strain the sauce).

I kind of glopped the sauce over the cake and a scoop of vanilla ice cream; we were eating on the porch in relative darkness anyway, so presentation wasn’t exactly what I was going for.

Since it was so warm out, the ice cream and sauce kind of melted right into the cake, which worked out well — since I’d baked the cake at such a high heat, it was a tiny bit dry on its own. I’ve got a ton of the rhubarb puree left over, and I think I’ll swirl it into some Greek yogurt for breakfast this week.

Oh, and I’d be super-remiss if I didn’t note that, for this week’s post, I ripped off two things I like a lot: the awesome BYOB restaurant Mado, and a fantastic food blog called Blue Kitchen. (The latter recently posted a cornmeal olive oil cake recipe inspired by the former.) If you haven’t checked out either, you should really check out both. Run, don’t walk.

This week I ripped off two things I like a lot: the Chicago restaurant Mado, and another food blog, Blue Kitchen. Blue Kitchen recently posted a recipe inspired by Mado’s cornmeal olive oil cake,
  1. I assume I was one of the suckers that enjoyed your father-in-law cake pile — and I have no complaints. 🙂 Wish you could come with Sam in June. We miss you guys. Sky needs to meet her coolest aunt and uncle.

  2. […] avid reader, these abandoned radishes were bedfellows with the rhubarb I discovered when making Olive Oil Cake a couple weeks […]

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