One of the first times my friend Megan came to our dessert party she told me she loved everything I made but raved specifically about the Mediterranean Citrus Olive Oil Cake I had made. So when we recently had our friends Megan and Erik and their adorable child Brady over to our place a week or so ago, she requested it for dinner again. She wasn’t the only one, as it’s probably the one dessert that we don’t have leftovers of in our vast sea of desserts – which is all the more impressive as I usually make it gluten free for a few of my gluten/wheat sensitive friends (ok, I really only have one good friend who is wheat allergic, but it just gives me an excuse to play with flours that I normally wouldn’t play with – thereby expanding my baking palette).
We had talked about about having them over for dinner for awhile, but it just never got around to it. As with most ambitious plans (and in my crazed life, apparently having people over for dinner is what I currently have labeled “ambitious”), we just never get around to it. BUT a month ago, we went skiing (and whipped out our various iPhones) and found an appropriate time that fit into all of our schedules.
This time, however, I decided to try to make it a little more fancy, and plate it all pretty like. Most of the time when I bake desserts, I’m either bringing it over to friends places or baking 15-20 of them for a dessert party. Even when we have our bi-annual chili night (I’m calling it a bi-annual night, as we did it last year, but skipped doing it this year, so hopefully we’ll do it next year) we have so many friends over, that I can’t really make pretty plated desserts.
But now that I’m baking more and have been doing this blog, I have more reasons to make pretty desserts. The problem is, what to make to go with the cake. It’s a great cake on it’s own and pretty unique in it’s flavor profile. But I wanted to bring up a notch….
So I pulled out the Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, which is an awesome book that I can’t recommend enough. It’s not a traditional cookbook – it doesn’t have any recipes at all. Rather the authors went and interviewed and consulted numerous leading chefs and compiled a list of ingredients and compatible flavors. Think of having that awesome professional creative chef friend standing right next to you, the one where you turn to when you say “I’m making pork chops. What flavors go well with pork?” And your friend says, well people always recommend apple, but have you considered apple cider, or honey or brown sugar or ginger or vanilla?” and you think to yourself. “Vanilla. Ginger. Why have I never thought of those before? That sounds great!”
So out came the Flavor Bible. The version of the cake that I was going to make (I’ve made several variations of it, including the gluten free version) had almond flour, lemon, and olive oil. Cross referencing almond, lemon and olive oil, I discovered that basil went well with all of those. So I decided to try a recipe by Johnny Iuzzini’s Dessert Fourplay for basil liquid gel – which sadly turned out to be more of a sweet basil paste. The recipe called for too much agar agar. The recipe I listed here is a simplified version of what I did, because in truth, it’s totally not worth making the liquid gel and it takes forever to make.
I also wanted to plate the dessert with a black olive oil powder (fancy!), but sadly my attempt at molecular gastronomy and making powder was contingent on getting the ingredients in time, and they never did. So I skipped the black olive oil powder and made candied kalamata olives (fancy, but not as fancy as a black olive oil powder). They turned out pretty good, and AJ said he thinks he would have liked them even more if he didn’t know what they were (ie. candied olives sounds kinda gross, but in reality, actually paired well with the cake and were a snap to make). The reality was that the olives are fairly unique in flavor and some might not like them alone, but they pair really well with the cake.
In the end, we all a great time at the park where we learned that Brady was kinda scared of the slide (though he was a trooper and look great on it the few times we were able to get him on it), the grilled Korean inspired marinated short ribs (the marinate I threw together the night before) were a success and Megan got the olive oil cake that she loved,
with a little bit extra thrown in.
Note: Whilst baking, I was listening to the neo-retro-futuristic band The Bird and the Bee’s Interpreting the Masters Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. Yes, it’s as fantastic as it sounds.
Mediterranean Citrus Olive Oil Cake (gluten free version)
adapted from the New York Times Dessert Cookbook
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus a 1 Tbls for oiling the pan). Choose a really good fruity olive oil.
1/2 cup brown rice flour (extra finely ground) (see note)
2 Tbls potato starch (not potato flour) (see note)
2 Tbls tapioca flour (sometimes labeled tapioca starch) (see note)
3/4 Almond Flour/Meal (see note)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp of xanthan gum (see note)
1/8 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated white sugar
grated zest of four medium lemons, or other citrus fruit of your choice (see note)
2/3 cup of citrus fruit juice (fresh)
confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar) to dust the top of the cake
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and oil a 10″ spring form pan with the 1Tbls of olive oil (or use an olive oil cooking spray to oil the pan).
2. Whisk the dry ingredients (brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt) along with the citrus zest together in a bowl.
3. Mix the juice and the olive oil together in a measuring cup.
4. Beat the eggs and gradually add the granulated white sugar until thick. Add the 1/3 of the juice/olive oil mixture and beat then 1/2 of the flour mixture and beat. Repeat, ending with the juice/olive oil mixture.
5. Pour into pan and bake for 50 minutes or until the a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes and then run a thin knife around the side of the pan and remove the side. Cool completely and then dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve with the sweet basil drizzle and candied kalamata olives, or all by itself.
Note 1. Brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour/starch and xanthan gum can all be found in a health/natural food store or via the internet. Increasingly you can find them at your local grocery store too. They are probably the most common “gluten free” flours and additives that you can find. You can also use guar gum interchangeable with xanthan gum, but I don’t like guar gum as much – it can sometime impart an odd “bean” flavor and smell to the baked good (though I might just be a little sensitive to it, as I don’t really like legumes all that much). Guar gum is good to use as an alternative to xanthan gum though if you are allergic to corn or soy (both of which are part of creating xanthan gum). Also guar gum is usually cheaper than xanthan gum. It can be substituted one to one in terms of measurement.
Note 2. If you aren’t making this gluten free, leave out the brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour and xanthan gum. Use 3/4 cup All Purpose Unbleached Flour.
Note 3. If you are making this gluten free, be sure to check to make sure your almond flour/almond meal is gluten free and processed in a gluten free factory. A lot of times there is cross contamination because the almond flour/meal is processed in the same factory as a wheat or some other gluten product. In fact, though it goes without saying, make sure all your ingredients are gluten free (nowadays it usually it says it on the product box if it’s gluten free).
Note 4. Almond flour is made from raw blanched almonds that have the skin removed. Almond meal usually has the skin left on, so the flour is mottled with flecks of darker bits. They taste virtually the same, and are really a cosmetic choice. You can even make your own almond meal/flour by grinding the almond in a food processor or blender. The problem is often you won’t get it fine enough, and you’ll have chunks in homemade flour. Just sift the powder through a mesh sieve to remove any chunks, and make sure not over grind them or you’ll end up with almond butter instead of almond flour.
Sweet Basil Drizzle
adapted from Johnny Iuzzini’s Dessert Fourplay
Packed 3/4 cup fresh basil
1/3 cup simple syrup (see note)
1/3 cup water
1 tsp superfine sugar
1. In a saucepan boil some water. Throw the basil in once it boils, and blanch the basil for 30 seconds. Drain the basil in a colander and rinse the basil under cold water to refresh. Squeeze the basil to get all the water out.
2. Take a large bowl out and fill 1/4 the way up with a cold water and some ice. Put a smaller bowl in the water (this is called “an ice bath”).
3. Put the basil, the simple syrup, the water, and the sugar in a blender/food processor and puree until bright green, smooth, and thin. Pour out into the smaller bowl set in the ice bath. Let steep for 20 minutes.
4. Drain the green liquid through a fine mesh sieve, discard solids. Sweet Basil Drizzle will keep in the refrigerator for three days (but keep mind the longer in the fridge, the less bright green it becomes).
Note 1. Simple syrup is something that EVERYONE should have around the house. It’s super easy to make and is great to use for cocktails, for adding to tea or coffee, or for making desserts additives like this. It also is great to have for a fast lemonade (just add water and fresh squeezed lemons to taste – impress your friends!). To make it , all you need to do is add equal parts granulated sugar and water (for instance 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar) into a saucepan, bring to a simmer until all the sugar has dissolved, and then cool. It store practically indefinitely in the refrigerator (the sugar acts as a natural preservative)
Candied Kalamata Olives
adapted from Johnny Iuzzini’s Dessert Fourplay
1/4 cup of pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup of simple syrup (see note)
granulated white sugar
1. Rinse olives, drain well, and cut in half lengthwise.
2. Put the olives and the simple syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Simmer for 1 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and let cool in the syrup.
4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees while olives cool in pan.
5. Drain the cooled olives and toss with white sugar to coat lightly. Put on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or aluminum foil. Put in oven for 3 hours to dry out. The olives should still be a little meaty, but not crisp.
6. Cool olives and store olives in a small airtight container or ziplock bag with more sugar (so they don’t stick together). Keeps for about 3 days in the fridge.
Note 1. See the note above for simple syrup and how to make it.