Whenever I’m asked for recipes that don’t include gluten-producing flours and/or dairy, my first impulse is to suggest looking to food cultures that don’t use these products much or at all: there, you’ll find dishes that have been refined over centuries and that are as delicious as anything produced in northerly climates.
One of the best cakes coming from such foodways is the Mediterranean olive oil cake—a moist, melts-on-your-tongue cake made all around the Mediterranean Sea, using the fruits of trees that grow there abundantly: olive, almond, and citrus trees. Cakes made with these ingredients need little else, for olive oil, almond flour, and citrus peel/juice are so intensely flavored that additions are superfluous.
This is one of those celebrated foods using few ingredients; the one below contains only six. The key to success with it is the almond flour. If you’re in a hurry, Bob’s Red Mill makes a fine almond flour, though it isn’t as fluffy and otherworldly as the one you can make very easily with a little rotary cheese grinder. The Bob’s Red Mill flour has had its thin skin removed before grinding and makes a uniformly colored, golden cake, thanks to the olive oil; I like leaving on the coat for added color and texture.
You can vary this cake almost endlessly. The icing can be warmed marmalade or another jam; a thin syrup of lemon juice and sugar, providing pleasing tartness; a thin coating of bittersweet chocolate, applied once the cake has cooled; sifted powdered sugar with long shreds of citrus. The flavor of the cake itself can be varied with different citrus zests or juice (try blood orange juice in winter!) or by adding cardamom or another spice. Once you’ve made this cake twice, you’ll find it takes you no longer than 10 minutes to prepare it for the oven. Kept in a covered tin, it will stay moist and delectable for weeks (not that you’ll leave it in there that long).
Olive Oil Citrus Cake
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Oil an 8” spring-form pan with olive oil; dust with a bit of almond flour*
1 c. extra-virgin olive oil**
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
200 g. sugar
150 g. ground almonds or Bob’s Red Mill almond flour***
1 tsp. baking powder
For the citrus icing:
lemon or orange marmalade
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
*The tinned-steel spring-form pans sold at Frattallone’s (Cambridge & Grand in St. Paul) have worked far better for me with this cake than much more expensive nonstick ones.
**My current favorite for baking is California Olive Ranch’s Everyday Olive Oil.
***Pricey but useful, because ground nut-based cakes are light and rich. Home-ground almond flour is almost indescribably superior to the mill-ground. If you have leftover flour, keep it in the freezer to avoid its becoming rancid.
- Beat eggs until ropey and pale yellow (about 4 minutes), using flat blade of stand mixer; add olive oil and incorporate. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, beat for 6–7 minutes with small mixer or a whisk; the paler the eggs become, the loftier and more tender the cake will be.) The cake will only be successful if the eggs are very thoroughly beaten.
- Add citrus zest and sugar, then ground almonds and baking powder.
- Whisk until combined; pour into oiled spring-form pan.
- Bake until straw or cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean, roughly 40–60 minutes. Check frequently toward the end of baking.
- Melt about ¼ cup of marmalade in a small saucepan while the cake is completing its baking; you’ll use this to brush across the top or Squeeze ½ cup of lemon juice, add it to ½ cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and cook only until the sugar has completely melted.
- Spread across the top of the cake thinly; in a minute or two, add another layer; keep doing this until you’ve used up all of the syrup.
Set pan on cooling rack, and while cake is still hot, brush its top with the melted marmalade.
Leave cake in pan until it’s completely cool.