By MELISSA CLARK
Published: March 18, 2009
ONE of my favorite wedding gifts is a whimsical, undulating porcelain cake stand with a domed glass cover. Presiding over the counter like an elegant dowager, its presence whispers: ''Isn't it time to make some lovely cake?'' For a cake enthusiast like me, the answer is always ''yes,'' and I've been building up a small repertory of quick, easy cakes that I can whip up without turning on (and later cleaning) the food processor or electric mixer. The key is using liquid fat (oil or melted butter) that doesn't require creaming, and chemical leavening (baking powder or soda or both) to eliminate the vigorous beating of eggs.
Usually, I rely on melted butter for the fat. Although the cakes aren't as light-textured as oil-based ones, I like the butter's richer, more complex flavor. These sweets have kept my cake stand occupied for the better part of my marriage. But now that baby makes three, there's been a hitch. Our infant's diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease led to the suggestion that I, her breastfeeding mama, give up cow's milk dairy. And this meant butter. Of course, I could have just put my cake baking on hold for the month of my abstinence. But that empty cake stand just made me sad. Besides, I could still eat sugar and eggs and flour, so as long as I substituted oil for butter, my confectionery intake need not be affected.
As I read through recipes calling for vegetable oil, it occurred to me that my favorite oil is olive. So why not use that? Unlike the blander oils, good olive oil has character. I've had olive oil cakes and liked their pronounced flavor. I even baked one once, though it required beating yolks and whites separately with an electric mixer, which disqualified it from the quick category. Could I bake a similar cake without all the egg-beating? I turned to the Internet to find a recipe.
A few clicks brought me to Dorie Greenspan's extra virgin olive oil cake, which seemed like a cinch. The only catch was that she called for yogurt. But a quick substitution of sheep's milk yogurt fixed that. Her recipe called for lime zest, which I didn't have. But I did have some blood oranges, and grated their peels instead. That left me with two denuded oranges, which, I feared, would fossilize before I had a chance to eat them. A small wave of anticipatory guilt that I'd have to throw out fruit that cost $1.50 apiece made me decide to use them immediately. I juiced one and chopped up segments from the other, adding it all to the cake batter and reducing the yogurt to compensate for the extra liquid.
While it was baking, every corner of the house pulsed with the scents of citrus and olive. I could barely wait for my cake to cool before cutting a sliver. It was every bit as good as my more buttery confections, but with a distinct herbal flavor and juicy bits of orange strewn throughout the very fine crumb. Although the recipe also works perfectly with regular oranges, the cut loaf, dappled with ruby dots of blood orange, is much prettier. And looks better on the cake stand, too.
Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
Time: 1 hour 20 minutes plus cooling
Butter for greasing pan
3 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
Buttermilk or plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Honey-blood orange compote, for serving, optional (see note)
Whipped cream, for serving, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Grate zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until orange zest is evenly distributed in sugar.
2. Supreme an orange: Cut off bottom and top so fruit is exposed and orange can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away peel and pith, following curve of fruit with your knife. Cut orange segments out of their connective membranes and let them fall into a bowl. Repeat with another orange. Break up segments with your fingers to about 1/4-inch pieces.
3. Halve remaining orange and squeeze juice into a measuring cup. You will have about 1/4 cup or so. Add buttermilk or yogurt to juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in eggs.
4. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently whisk dry ingredients into wet ones. Switch to a spatula and fold in oil a little at a time. Fold in pieces of orange segments. Scrape batter into pan and smooth top.
5. Bake cake for about 55 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up. Serve with whipped cream and honey-blood orange compote, if desired.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Note: To make a honey-blood orange compote, supreme 3 more blood oranges according to directions in Step 2. Drizzle in 1 to 2 teaspoons honey. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir gently.