This is one of my favorite cakes of the past ten years. It's a rustic, incredibly moist, golden-crumbed olive oil cake. Flecked with rosemary, and dotted throughout with big and small chocolate chunks you're looking at a perfect picnic treat. It's one of those cakes that is both distinctive and memorable in an understated way and a breeze to make. We have Kim Boyce to thank for the recipe, and you might remember it from when I originally posted it here after Kim released Good to the Grain in 2010.
What Makes this Olive Oil Cake Special?
The rosemary is the wild card factor here. And it's so good. It heats up in the oven as the cake is baking and permeates the cake in a subtle but steady way, not at all overpowering. The other thing I love about this cake is that it is such a breeze to make. You're looking at ten minutes tops to get it in the oven. This is perfect when you're trying to pull things together for a road trip, or picnic, or flight.
Why are Olive Oil Cakes so Good?
There are a number of reasons people love cakes made with olive oil in place of butter. You tend to get a nice, even crumb with olive oil cakes. But, in my opinion, you really see the difference a day or two after baking. Olive oil cakes tend to stay beautifully moist. Olive oil is fattier than butter with no water factor. There's a theory that the percentage of water in butter interacts with the flour in a cake batter to form more gluten strands. This results in a more structured and less tender cake. Olive oil cakes are also great for people who forget to plan ahead. With butter cakes you're often waiting for the butter to come up to room temperature. Not necessary when you're baking with olive oil.
Tweaks and Variations
I've made a few tweaks to Kim's recipe over the years, and you can see them integrated into the recipe below. Most are stylistic more than anything. I converted the recipe into weights for the scale-based bakers. I also decided I wanted more chocolate visible on top, and a bit of a sugary top crust. What about pan size? I wanted to bake it in a vintage baton cake pan I found in Portland a few years ago (my $1 pan!), and aside from a slightly longer baking time, it was no problem. Feel free to experiment with different pans or muffin tins, but adjust your baking pans accordingly.
This one of those perfect picnic, travel, or lunchbox cakes. I can't believe it has been over a decade since I originally highlighted it here, but I love that it is still part of my repertoire. Xo Kim & congrats on the much deserved James Beard Award! xx -h
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Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
As Kim notes, you don't need to use a specialty olive oil for this cake. But if you have one with a lot of flavor, the cake will be that much better. This is one of those recipes where I think using regular sugar is the way to go. There was plenty going on with the interplay between the rosemary, chocolate, and olive oil - and I'm not sure adding less refined brown or Muscovado sugar helps this cake any. The last note I'll make is to suggest chopping up a chocolate bar for this. It's just not going to be the same if you use uniform chocolate chips. Aim for big chunks 1/2-inch in diameter, you'll end up with all sorts of shavings and littler pieces as you are chopping, and having that mix of flecks and the big chunks is pretty great.
- Olive oil for the pan
- 3/4 cup / 3 oz / 80g spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 1/2 cups / 7.5 oz / 210 g all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup / 4 oz / 115g sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup / 240 ml olive oil
- 3/4 cup / 180 ml whole milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 5 ounces / 140 g bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons sugar for top crunch
Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C. Rub a 9 1/2-inch (24 cm) fluted tart pan, or equivalent, with olive oil (and/or line with parchment paper).
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring any bits of grain or other ingredients left in the sifter back into the bowl. Set aside.
In another large bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Add the olive oil, milk and rosemary and whisk again. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry, gently mixing just until combined. Stir in 2/3 of the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly and smoothing the top. Sprinkle with the remaining chocolate and run a fork along the length of the chocolate so that the batter envelops it just a bit. Sprinkle with the second sugar.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is domed, golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. My cake, in the alternate pan, took closer to 50 minutes. Also, just when my cake was nearly finished baking, I decided I wanted a bit more color on top. I finished it under the broiler for a minute - which caramelized the sugar on top as well and gave it a bit of crunch. Don't walk away from the cake while it is under the broiler.
The cake can be eaten warm or cool from the pan, or cooled, wrapped tightly in plastic, and kept for 2-3 days.
Serves 8 -12
Recipe adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce.