Thursday, April 2, 2009
The first time I grasped the fact that all olive oils aren’t created equal, I was sitting in the back office of the public relations agency where I worked, taking part in an olive oil tasting. We had just landed a new California olive oil company as a client and the owner was taking us through a tasting to point out the significant differences between oils. While up until this point I had been entirely happy to use cheap brands found in every grocery store, after having sipped a tiny bit of the stuff (yes you’re supposed to sip olive oil during a tasting), I swore it off for good. It was rancid. It would have been clear to the most unsophisticated palette that it was rancid and our taste test director assured us the bottle had just been purchased that morning.
The test went on and we were able to recognize the differences between the good oils as well. Some were fruity, some were peppery with an almost spicy finish felt just at the back of your throat and my favorite was a bright grassy one that luckily belonged to my new client. I was thrilled with my education on what had just hours before seemed a most basic and somewhat boring ingredient. Little did I know the bill I would run up in years to come as I sought out distinctive bottles of oil with varying characteristics.
Don’t think I’m suggesting that you must spend lots of money in order to have a nice olive oil. My standby, use-in-everything-oil, is the California Estate Olive Oil from Trader Joe’s. It costs just under six dollars. I save the more expensive oils for finishing dishes and salad dressings where I know the flavor will be most prominent. If you’re interested in learning more about California olive oils, visit the California Olive Oil Commission. You’ll find a wealth of information including locations in California where you can visit producers and have your own olive oil tasting.
Since I’ve developed this appreciation for olive oil I took note when recipes for olive oil cakes started showing up in a number of places. A few weeks ago it came up again when Melissa Clark wrote about her olive oil cake in the New York Times. I clipped the article and decided it was finally time to try my hand at one. The opportunity presented itself last weekend when my father was in town visiting for the wedding of a family friend. We needed a quick pick me up before the wedding and this, along with a pot of PG Tips, was the perfect solution. I would recommend eating this cake the same day you make it. It did not have the same delicious flavor the next day. It may have been my imagination, but it tasted as though the oil was off. Don’t let that deter you. It really was delicious the first day it was made.
Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
From Melissa Clark in The New York Times
3 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
1/3 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350*
Grease a loaf pan (mine was 9-by-4). Grate the zest from two of the blood oranges into a medium bowl. Add the sugar to the zest and rub together until the zest is well incorporated and the mixture resembles damp sand. Supreme the zested oranges (Clark gives great instructions for this in the New York Times article). Break up the resulting orange segments into small pieces in a bowl. Go small - I did not go small enough. Clark suggests 1/4" pieces. Mine were probably closer to 1/2" so make sure you follow her suggestion.
Juice the remaining orange into a glass measuring cup and then add enough buttermilk to bring the liquid to 2/3 cup. Add the liquid to the sugar mixture and then whisk in the eggs. In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt) and gently add them to the wet ingredients. Use a spatula to fold in the olive oil, a little bit at a time. Fold in the orange pieces and pour the mixture into your prepared loaf pan.
Bake the cake for 55 minutes (I started checking mine after 45 and it needed the full cooking time). Let the cake cool slightly in the pan and then unmold onto a cooling rack to cool completely before serving.