An olive oil cake is one of the easiest cakes you can make with nothing more than a couple of bowls, a whisk, and a handful of good quality ingredients. Thanks to the olive oil, which remains liquid at room temperature, the cake will stay springy and tender for longer than a cake made with butter.
Light, packed with a bright lemon flavor, and with a crackly sugary top, this lemon olive oil cake is a back pocket recipe that will serve you well for any occasion. Dress it up or down, serve it plain or with peak season fruit such as oranges, peaches, and berries.
Yummy Olive Oil Means Yummy Cake
There isn’t any one type of olive oil that’s best used for this cake—the only measure to bear in mind is to use a great quality olive oil that you would enjoy tasting on its own or on a salad. The flavor will translate into the cake.
Always choose extra virgin, which is the oil from the first pressing of olives and thus the purest expression of the fruit. Beyond that requirement the choice is yours! Don’t be scared to try any variety–Greek, Californian, Spanish, or Italian, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s delicious.
A properly made olive oil cake will not taste overly oily or greasy! You may have already eaten cakes made with oil and just didn’t know it—think banana or pumpkin bread, both of which are usually made with a neutral oil. As long as the ingredients are in the right ratio and the eggs are whipped well, this cake will never feel or taste oily.
2 Ways to Super Lemony Flavor
- Squeeze in a full tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest—make sure the zest is tightly packed in the spoon.
- Add a touch of lemon extract for a double whammy of bold lemon flavor. Use a good quality lemon extract such as Nielsen-Massey for the most natural flavor.
Use a Square Pan or Make Muffins
This cake calls for a 9-inch round cake pan, but it can be baked in an 8-inch square cake pan instead. It will take about the same amount of time to finish baking.
Or turn them into muffins! Scoop 1/2 cup batter into each muffin cup, sprinkle the top with about 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and omit the hot water. Start checking for doneness at about 18 minutes.
My Tips for the Best Olive Oil Cake
- For the best, most consistent results, weigh your ingredients rather than use volume measurements.
- Vigorously whisking the eggs and sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy will make for a light, tender cake. Don’t skip this! You could even use a handheld mixer if you prefer to make it even easier.
- As with any cake, only fold in the flour until you see no large streaks. Enthusiastically beating or whisking the batter for too long will make the cake heavy, dense, and full of large holes and tunnels.
Small but Mighty Ingredient Swaps
- Use orange or lime zest in place of the lemon zest. If using orange zest, replace the lemon extract with orange extract.
- Leave out the cornmeal if you’d like. The cake will have a little less texture, but it’ll still be delicious.
- For a milder flavored cake, use a neutral oil such as canola or peanut oil.
Served Simply or Topped
To best enjoy the nuances of the olive oil and the fragrant lemon, eat the cake by itself in thick slices, perhaps with a cup of tea. It’s also lovely with a cloud of whipped cream and a spoonful of jam, fresh strawberries, or good quality maraschino cherries, such as Luxardo.
If, in the rare chance, the cake lasts until day three, griddle thick slices in a cast iron pan with a spoon or so of butter until golden brown and eat it warm.
More Sweet and Puckery Treats
Lemon Olive Oil Cake
- Non-stick cooking spray or softened butter, for greasing the pan
- 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 cup (165g) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest, packed (from about 2 medium lemons)
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup (225g) sour cream
- Whipped cream, for serving (optional)
- Fresh strawberries, for servings (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325°F:
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Spray the sides of the pan with cooking spray or use a paper towel to rub softened butter around the sides.
Combine the dry ingredients:
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda. Set it aside.
Combine the wet ingredients:
In a large bowl, vigorously whisk the olive oil, sugar, salt, vanilla, lemon extract, and lemon zest until very pale and slightly fluffy, about 2 minutes. You can use an electric mixer if you’d like.
Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition, about 30 seconds each. Whisk in the sour cream until combined well.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients:
Add the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until incorporated and no dry streaks of flour remain. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
Sprinkle sugar on top:
Evenly sprinkle the surface of the batter with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Pour 1 tablespoon hot tap water over the sugar and tilt the pan to spread the water and moisten the sugar as evenly as possible. This will feel wrong, but you will be rewarded with a crispy, crackly crust in the end!
Bake the cake:
Bake the cake until golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 40 to 50 minutes.
Cool and cake and serve:
Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cake to separate it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and peel away the parchment paper. Allow cake to cool fully. Transfer the cooled cake onto a platter, turning it right side up. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and sliced fresh strawberries on the side.
Store the cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. The crackly sugar top may be slightly less crunchy by day 3, especially if it’s humid out. The cake won’t take well to freezing because the sugar crust will become soggy upon thawing.
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