Olive Oil Cake with Purple Basil flowers
I came back from Spain quite excited about olive oils. I have never tasted such special oils before. I was dipping my bread into luscious green olive oil that came from 1000 year old olive trees. Just think of it, the history that makes up the experience of such oils. Yes we can get good oils here but you know what I mean. I want to have 1000 years old olive oil like that every day. I did bring a few cans of oil from Andalucia. That’s where the best oil in Spain comes from. We drove through miles and miles of olive groves in Andalucia, with an olive press facility here and there and there was no way I was coming back without at least a sampling of their oils. Nothing spilled in the suitcase thankfully, but I was willing to take the risk.
I haven’t baked in a while and wanted to make something good and not too fragile to have around, perhaps to take on a boat ride or just enjoy on the rooftop patio with a cup of herb tea while reading my latest kindle acquisition. I know, I like holding a real book in my hands too but I don’t mind Kindle either and that “purchase with one click” does appeal to the instant gratification generation that I belong to. Back to the cake. You may surprised to know that I do use oil in baking and often replace butter with oil if there is no issue with the cake needing to rise high (unlike butter, oil does not hold air bubbles that make the cake rise). I use it in chocolate cakes, carrot cake and lemon cake, to mention just a few. Oil makes tender cakes that stay moist longer. For those cakes I use plain flavour oil, more for the fat replacement than for the flavour. Olive oil though is a little different because it lends its flavour to the cake and you don’t mistake it for butter or anything else. It’s fruity or spicy and definitely “olivy”.
I “harvested” a bunch of herb flowers from my garden and was thinking of how to incorporate them into various foods. I thought it would be nice to make an olive oil cake and add to it some of the herb flowers. Olive oil and basil are a natural combination so I gathered the flowers from a few purple basil plants and used them in this recipe. Herb flowers are such a revelation. You can use them in so many ways.
The cake itself is as easy to make as a batch of muffins. No mixer required and you only need two bowls, one for the dry ingredients and one for the wet. You add one to the other, pour the batter into a cake pan and in an hour you have a lovely moist cake, sweet with a lingering herb flavours and aromas. Don’t worry though, it’s a sweet cake with moist texture and tender crumb, just like a cake should be, and the herbs just enhance the sweetness in a lovely way.
Don’t use your most expensive olive oil for this cake, reserve that bottle for a more pure experience. You can use fruity olive oil or mild flavour one. The fruity would add more of its flavour and the mild would probably take on the other flavour elements in the cake. As a final touch I added some Vin Santo to the batter just because, but you can add whatever you’d like. Grand Marnier, a sweet dessert wine, orange juice or whatever strike your fancy.
Makes one 9″ round cake or one bundt pan cake.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups olive oil
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup vin santo
2 tablespoons purple basil flowers or mixed herb flowers, chopped (plus some for garnish)
Additional olive oil for brushing over the baked cake and sugar for sprinkling.
Line a 9″ round cake pan with removable bottom with a round piece of parchment. Brush or spray the pan with olive oil.
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in one bowl.
Combine the eggs, oil, milk and vin santo in an other bowl.
Add the flour-sugar mixture to the egg mixture stirring until combined.
Sprinkle in the herb flowers and stir with a spatula to distribute.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the preheated oven.
Set the timer for an hour and bake until the cake is done and springy to the touch.
While the cake is warm brush the top with a little olive oil and sprinkle with additional sugar.
Let cool completely before removing from the pan.
Serve on its own or with whipped cream.