The morning that has passed seems far away as the afternoon advances, as the afternoon connects with the afternoon of yesterday of yesterday and of the day before, a repetition that must have a beginning somewhere but now is lost. -William Trevor ("A Day")
I've been feeling surprisingly happy these last few weeks. I say surprisingly not because I expect to be glum or miserable, but because it's not like anything has dramatically changed in my routine. For the most part, things are as they've always been: days spent speedily walking around Berkeley, dreaming of future projects and meals and, in the evenings, cooking, eating and reading until my eyes are too heavy to stay awake. But there has been a small shift in the universe; the glorious weather, the longer days and sight of blossoming flowers everywhere have all been helping both my mood and energy levels.
Although life continues to be busy--almost too busy at times--there have been a lot of small pleasures recently. I find the enthusiasm of the eight-year old ESL student I work with to be nothing short of infectious; we've been watching the fabulous Ratatouille for the past month and every time he laughs and shout "Coo(uuuu)ool" in his charming German accent, I'm reminded of how good it is to spend time with children, to view the world through their eyes. I also had a good discussion with one of my older students last week when we read one of my favorite William Trevor stories; it always amazes me how students miss the final twist, but it makes for that magical "aha!" moment that makes any form of teaching worthwhile. Teachable moments aside, perhaps the real joy of the past few weeks stems from the fact that the Greek and I, no longer under winter's spell of lethargy, have been going out more-- to new places and to the movies, as well as to various dinners with friends. These are always the nicest occasions because they allow me not only to feed people, an act that I relish, but also to try many of the recipes that I either compulsively bookmark or email to myself. While most of these recipes will most likely never be made (in some things, realism is essential), there are many that stick with me and come out of the "files" only on special occasions.
A recent special occasion was a paella dinner at a friend's house. I offered to make dessert and, given the theme of the evening--sumptuous Mediterranean fare--I decided that only one cake would do: the olive oil cake from New York's Maialino that Kristen Miglore featured in her "Genius Recipes" column on Food52 in early February. As she described the cake, it "has a crackling crust and an oil-rich middle" that is almost like pudding in terms of texture. Who can resist the promise of such a cake?
For a long time, the answer to that question would have been me. Before 2010, I'm ashamed to say (at least on behalf of the Italian blood that runs through my veins) that I didn't even know olive oil cake--olive oil dessert anything--existed. The cakes that I ate growing up were more often than not the frosted kind, chocolate-y and marbled, and always made of butter. But on a trip back to New York in the summer of 2010, my understanding of olive oil's potential was forever changed when my friends and I were at Otto and, stuffed from pizza, decided to share gelato for dessert. We were curious about the olive oil gelato, so we made it one of our three flavor choices; I think our thought was that if it turned out to be a disappointment, there would be two other flavors to balance it out. As these stories tend to go, the olive oil gelato, creamy, slightly salty and infused with the richness that only olive oil can impart, was the first to be devoured.
Ever since, I've been a convert to the olive oil cause. Using it in cakes cuts back on the dishes and the labor; all you have to do is whisk the wet ingredients together, then the dry and then mix them all together. This is the kind of cake that makes life easy. For a long time now, my go-to olive oil cake recipe has been Kim Boyce's Rosemary and Chocolate Olive Oil Cake, which might sound strange, but believe me when I say that it's nothing short of superb (the fact that it's been around the blogging block also attests to its quality. See here and here). Also, as far as olive oil cakes go, it's quite pretty to look at since it's studded with chocolate and flecks of chopped rosemary.
I've decided, however, that as far as cakes go, it may just be that the uglier the cake, the better it tastes. Amanda Hesser's Almond Cake is no stunner, but it's worth its weight in gold. The same can be said of Maialino's Olive Oil Cake. When it comes out of the oven, you may wonder what's gone wrong; it's so brown on the top and on the sides that it looks a little burnt. But don't worry! If you get a little closer and inhale, you'll suddenly feel like you've been transported to a sun-dappled grove of oranges. In fact, the cake is so fragrant that you won't want to step away. And once you cut into it (for me, this happened sooner rather than later since the Food52 instructions led me astray and the batter didn't fit into a 9-inch cake pan. This is why you see two cakes above--one a lightly golden and dimpled fluffy pancake and the other the real thing) and take a bite, you'll realize that appearances really can be deceiving. The cake is positively dewy and moist crumbed from the olive oil and, with the addition of some grapefruit supremes (my own addition since I had some leftover from this risotto; a supremed orange or blood orange could also do the trick), it's also got hidden bursts of color and flavor.
Maialino's Citrus Olive Oil Cake
Adapted slightly from Food52
Yields 8-10 slices
While I liked the texture and taste of this cake and so did my dining companions, in the comments on Food52, a number of people wrote to say that they thought it called for too much sugar and olive oil and that both should be reduced (often by 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup, respectively). I would play with the proportions and see what works best for you.
A quick note about olive oil: I usually bake with a California olive oil, Corto, but for this I splurged and bought a bottle of olive oil from Crete, Divina, which supposedly has hints of arugula and artichoke. Although those flavors might sound wrong for a cake, I can't say that either was strong enough to have a negative impact on the final product.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs, beaten
zest of two medium-sized oranges
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons of grapefruit (or other citrus) supremes
-Preheat the oven to 350 F and, with a small amount of olive oil, grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
-In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, milk, beaten eggs, orange zest, juice, Grand Marnier and grapefruit supremes.
-Then, add the dry ingredients to the wet, whisking until combined and no traces of flour remain.The batter will be slightly lumpy.
-Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes (mine was done in 50) or until the cake is golden and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
-Transfer to a rack and let cool in the pan for 30 minutes.
-Then, run a knife around the edges of the springform pan and, once certain that no part is stuck to the side, release the clasp on the side of the pan.
-Set the cake directly on the rack and let cool completely.