Much as I love my butter cakes, this Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake is a cake I could eat every day…if I could eat cake every day, that is. It’s rich, not too sweet, tangy and has just a little crunch of cornmeal.
There are a million olive oil cake recipes on the internet (and that might not be an exaggeration. There could actually be a million) and I’m sure some are better than others. This is a good one, if I do say so myself.
My recipe came about because I had a bunch of Meyer Lemons in the fridge that were going to go bad if I didn’t do something with them. It was my turn to host book group and I needed to bake something to serve. I hadn’t posted an olive oil cake recipe yet, so decided it was time to use the Meyer Lemons and create a new olive oil cake recipe.
Olive oil cake is, essentially, a chiffon cake. Chiffon cakes are oil based cakes, no butter in the batter. Because oil stays liquid at room temperature oil based cakes are soft and moist and have a very, very tender crumb. The problem with chiffon style cakes is that if there’s too much oil in the batter the cake can have an oily, pasty texture that’s not at all pleasant. It’s imperative to have a balanced recipe.
I started my recipe knowing I would use both the zest and the juice from the Meyer Lemons. Most of the flavor comes from the oils in the zest and most of the tang comes from the acidic juice. In order to keep the tangy flavor front and center I decided not to use acid-neutralizing baking soda. Instead I used baking powder to leaven the cake. To keep the style of the cake a little on the rustic side, I planned to add just a little cornmeal to the batter for a little crunch and color.
The first attempt at the recipe was not bad, but the texture was more like corn bread than cake. I’d added a little too much corn meal and not enough oil. Also, I’d separated the eggs and whipped the whites which made the crumb too open. This should be a slightly dense cake, like a pound cake. While it was an acceptable cake, it was not good enough. Back to the drawing board. (Of course, that meant I had to buy even more Meyer Lemons, oh well.)
For the second cake I changed the mixing method. I “ribboned” the eggs with the sugar, then added the oil, dry ingredients and lemon juice. “Ribboning” means you whisk the whole eggs with the sugar until they aerate and lighten in color. When you lift the whisk and drizzle the eggs into the bowl they’ll leave a “ribbon” on the surface. Hence the term, “ribbon” the eggs. You can see that in the photo below (despite the terrible lighting-I was baking at night).
The second cake was much better. With just a 1/2 cup of cornmeal I got the crunch and the nice yellow color that I wanted but the texture was still tender and cakey. Adding an extra 1/4 cup of olive oil made the cake very moist with a barely discernible olive oil flavor in the background.
Bake the cake in a 12 cup Bundt or tube pan. The batter may not bake up properly in a round or loaf shaped pan. It is a very wet batter and might not have enough structure without the opening in the middle of the pan.
Not only does Olive Oil Cake keep well at room temperature, it actually gets better the first day or two after it’s baked. This cake is so moist it doesn’t need anything but sprinkle of sugar for a pretty finish. Of course you could plate it with some fresh berries for a fancier presentation.
- 3 cups (15 oz, 420g) All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 cup (2.75 oz, 80g) corn meal
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 lb (about 5) Meyer Lemons, zest and juice
- 6 large eggs
- 2 1/4 cups (17 oz, 475g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 cups (10 oz, 300 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 12 cup Bundt or tube pan with pan spray, or butter and flour.
- Combine the flour, corn meal, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together to distribute the baking powder, set aside.
- Put the granulated sugar into a mixer bowl. Grate the lemon zest right onto the sugar and mix the zest through the sugar (see note). Juice the lemons into a measuring cup, you should get about 3/4 cup of juice (see note). Add the eggs to the sugar. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the eggs aerate, thicken and lighten in color.
- With the mixer still running, drizzle in the olive oil. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the lemon juice
- Take the batter off the mixer and mix by hand to ensure there are no lumps in the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake until the cake springs back lightly when pressed or a toothpick inserted in the cake comes away clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert the pan onto a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
- Serve sprinkled with a little powdered sugar
The sugar will absorb the oils in the zest so you'll get more flavor from the zest.
If you don't get enough juice from the Meyer lemons you can add regular lemon juice or orange juice to bring the amount to 3/4 cup.
The cake keeps well at room temperature for several days.
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