A Cake to Start With

Christmas comes slowly to our house. I have many friends and family members who have decorations in place as early as the day after Thanksgiving and all their presents bought long before then. I simply stare at them in amazement, wondering how. My own procrastination gene is strong, and so even the day before Christmas, I’ll be scrambling to put the finishing touches on. Probably even Christmas morning. Maybe I’m afraid that once it gets started, it will all be over. So, I let myself delay, prolonging the fantasy.

But this week, the holidays became real, and progress has been made. The tree is up and maybe more importantly, the baking has begun. A stack of cookbooks, with recipes earmarked sits on the end table, awaiting a quick trip to the store for any last minute ingredients… bars of dark chocolate, raw organic walnuts, heavy cream. There will be cookies and tarts and pies a plenty. I’m not even sure who is going to eat it all!

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To start off, an olive oil pound cake was calling to me… yes, another recipe from Pure Dessert. I had the most lovely pleasure of meeting Alice Medrich at a book party last week. After falling soup over nuts for the sesame cake, I knew I wouldn’t go wrong with the olive oil pound cake recipe. I am simply fascinated by the use of ingredients we normally think of as savory becoming integral parts of sweets. Or maybe I just couldn’t resist the photo of the parchment wrapped cake tied up with a green and brown bow.

Like the sesame cake, this cake bakes up wonderfully light, with an underlying rich nuttiness. The sherry in the recipe becomes the primary note, with the olive oil playing harmony. It’s wonderful this way, and I really like it. It would also be interesting to play with a lighter note on top, something that lets the olive oil shine through a bit more. Next time, I’m going to use a light, sweet dessert wine such as Moscato.

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I want this cake cut into half-inch thick slices and drenched in freshly picked berries, but it’s December so I play with substitutes. A slather of orange marmalade is simply delightful.

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Olive Oil and Sherry Pound Cake
from Pure Desserts by Alice Medrich (p 86)

Makes 3 mini-loaves or 1 regular quick bread loaf

1 1/2 c (6.75 oz) all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 c fruity olive oil
1 t grated orange zest
3 eggs, cold
1/2 cup light sherry or Moscato

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line your loaf pans with parchment.

Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) and set aside.

Using a whisk attachment on a stand mixer if you have one, beat the sugar, oil and orange zest until it is creamy. Then, add the eggs, one at a time, until each is blended in and the mixture becomes a light yellow. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes.

Stop the mixer and add about a third of the flour. Then, with the mixer on low, blend until the flour is completely integrated. Pour in 1/2 of the sherry, and let it blend in completely. Repeat with the next third of flour, being sure to stop the mixer before adding. If flour sticks to the sides of the bowl, give the bowl a gentle tap to knock it down… but don’t use a spatula to push it into the batter or you may end up with lumps of flour in your batter. Add the remaining sherry, blend, and finalize with the remaining flour mixture.

Pour the mixture into the lined pans filing a bit over 1/2 of the tin. Bake on the middle rack for about 50 minutes, or until the tops are gold and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a wire rack before removing from the tins.

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