this is the story of a cake that almost wasn’t. well, no, that’s not true. in my head, this olive oil orange cake with cardamom glaze was going to be so good, i knew i had to figure out how to make it happen. but it took some doing. olive oil citrus cake recipes are plentiful this time of year, but the first few i tried weren’t quite right.
recipes with terrifyingly large quantities of sugar were dismissed offhand. the first recipe that i was actually willing to try had a pretty significant quantity of olive oil and just a small bit of yogurt. also? it made a fantastic mess all over the kitchen counter and my clothes as blood orange juice sprayed everywhere when i was breaking up the oranges as directed by the instructions. that cake turned out ok, but the orange flavor was milder and the the cake denser and spongier than the as-yet-uncreated one that i was determined to make. (and it wasn’t until later, of course, that i read that blood oranges actually have a milder flavor than other orange varieties. at least i was able to scrub all of the pink splatter stains out…)
round two was based on a recipe that basically flipped the volumes of yogurt and olive oil, which was, in theory, more aligned with what i wanted, at least from a nutrition perspective. and yet, despite the number of times that i have been unpleasantly surprised by the gummy outcome when i get overzealous with the quantity of yogurt in a recipe, i was STILL caught off-guard when this cake turned out to be gummy and squidgy.
at this point it was clear that i needed to head back to the drawing board, by which i mean internet. the cake in my head was light but not too light, and fluffy but not dry, and very moist but not spongy. after scouring all of my usual haunts on the interwebs, i concluded that no one else wanted olive oil cake that fit these parameters. everyone else was happily churning out pound cakes made with olive oil. which is great, except that it was not how the cake in my head was meant to be.
realizing that the internet was not going to solve this dilemma for me, i headed off to my local library (can we just take a moment to gush about how wonderful libraries are?! they are full of all sorts of interesting things that they let you take home with you for free! what could be better??). sitting on the floor of the cookbook section, i dutifully checked the indexes of probably 50 cookbooks, looking for olive oil cake recipes that seemed like they might possibly be manifestations of the cake in my head. my most promising lead came from thomas keller and sebastien rouxel’s bouchon bakery cookbook. in the headnotes, they describe the cake as having a “light, delicious crumb”, which sounded like exactly what i was trying to achieve.
now, a side note that will later become relevant: recently i read an interview with deb perelman of smitten kitchen in which she remarks on her skepticism towards recipes written by chefs who spend all of their time in professional restaurant kitchens, citing the unwieldy recipes that tend to result. as someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t follow closely many fancy restaurant chefs, i haven’t had much exposure to this phenomenon. two things i learned from this bouchon recipe: 1) deb is right, and 2) it’s worth it anyway, in this case.
with my third round recipe in hand, i headed to the kitchen. determined to create the cake i knew was possible, i dutifully followed the recipe, straining and weighing my eggs (oh yes). since the recipe that i had found was for a plain olive oil cake and i wanted one with a strong orange flavor, i opted to use orange zest and orange oil to create that flavor with minimal effects on the texture. it wasn’t until i had spread a relatively small amount of batter into a 9” x 13” pan that i began to question the recipe. i assured myself that the cake would rise in the oven and not remain this silly thin layer that it was presently. um, not so much.
round four! round four basically took the round three cake, added a tiny bit more orange oil, and put it in a smaller pan so that it would be a more reasonable height. i steered away from going all the way to a loaf pan as i wanted to maintain a good amount of surface area for the cardamom glaze and found a square pan to be a good compromise. success, finally! i dare say the real olive oil orange cake with cardamom glaze is even better than the one in my head (though perhaps that’s because real cake is always better than imaginary cake).