Yesterday felt like the coldest day of the year. I think the high hovered somewhere near 16, and the wind chill prompted atypical alerts about dangerously cold winds and frostbite possibilities on my trusty Weather Channel app. Normally, this sort of bone-chilling weather would lead me toward the soup section of a cookbook, or at the very least the pastas or warm sandwiches. But I decided instead to let the transporting power of food take me somewhere where the sun was shining, birds were chirping and a light cardigan was more than enough to keep me warm. Yes, food, in all its mythical glory, can change the season with the simple touch of a particular flavor. Consider this an early spring.
Lemons shout of springtime, and I’ve been planning to try an olive oil cake for a while now, so this recipe from Gourmet (listed on the Epicurious site) fit the occasion perfectly. Taste-wise, I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’d never tried an olive oil cake before and wondered whether the flavor would be overpowering. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. This cake is super light on the inside, largely due to the folding in of peaked egg whites at the tail end of the batter-making process, and though Jared described the dessert as “one of those cakes that I can tell you everything that’s in it,” both the lemon and olive oil come off in delicate hints rather than a noisy bravado (actually, next time I think I’ll double the lemon zest and juice, just to give it more of that fresh lemony flavor). And all of that comes beneath my favorite feature of the cake, the thin and flaky crust that results from a generous top-sprinkling of granulated sugar right before baking, which doesn’t hurt the prettiness factor either.
Lemon Olive Oil Cake
From Gourmet (April 2006)
• ¾ cup olive oil (I used extra-virgin for its fruitiness, but regular olive oil works, too.)
• 1 large lemon
• 1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
• 5 eggs, separated, reserving 1 white (you’ll only need 4 whites)
• ¾ cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
Put oven rack in middle position, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with oil, then line the bottom with a round of parchment. Oil parchment, too.
Finely grate enough lemon zest to measure 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons, and whisk together with flour. Halve lemon, then squeeze and reserve 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
Beat together egg yolks and ½ cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric or standing mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, and beat until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture (do not beat) until just combined.
Beat eggs whites (from 4 eggs) with ½ teaspoon salt in another bowl with clean beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, and then add ¼ cup sugar a little at a time while continuing to beat until eggs whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Gently fold one-third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, and then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
Transfer batter to springform pan, and gently rap against work surface a few times to release air bubbles. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1 ½ tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean. [Note: The original recipe said to bake the cake for about 45 minutes, but it only took 35 minutes in my oven, so it might be best to keep an eye on it.]
Cool cake in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around edges, and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature (takes about an hour), then remove bottom of pan, and peel off parchment. Transfer cake to serving plate. If you’re looking for a bit more sweet with this cake, try topping it with powdered sugar right before serving. Fresh berries would be a great final touch, too.
Although this definitely isn’t your average noise-makers-and-party-hats kind of dessert, it’s a light and refreshing reminder that food-related labels, like cake for instance, are only as narrow as we decide to keep them. There are so many good eats to be had. It makes me happy (and hungry) just thinking about it.