A Baking Leap of Faith: Orange-Glazed Olive Oil Cake with Fleur de Sel

Tom recently surprised me with a new cookbook, The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses (yes, I do have an amazing husband - he cooks, takes out the trash, tends to the lawn, and keeps me supplied with a constant stream of new baking cookbooks).

I was immediately intrigued by Yosses' recipe for Orange-Glazed Olive Oil Cake with Fleur de Sel. Olive oil cake has become quite trendy of late (see, for example this New York Magazine article from last fall on the subject), but I've never tried making one before. This recipe caught my eye because it includes a six-panel photo spread with step-by-step pictures that seem totally bizarre. Not only is the cake batter mixed entirely in a food processor, but it includes two whole oranges -- peel and all. It seemed impossible that this could actually work to produce a good cake, but I was dying to give it a try.

The first step is to candy two oranges. You quarter the oranges ( leaving on the peel), and blanch them in three changes of water to remove the bitterness from the pith. Then you simmer the oranges for 30 minutes in a mixture of sugar and water until the rind is soft. The recipe says that you can keep the cooled oranges, in the syrup, in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. I tasted some of the orange rind after it had cooled and it was extremely bitter. I was seriously considering throwing away all of the oranges and scrapping the recipe entirely, but I had already invested a lot of time in blanching the candying the oranges. I figured I would put the oranges in the fridge for a day and see if they absorbed any more of the sugar syrup.

A day later, I tried another piece of rind, and it tasted sweet. I tried a piece from a different orange segment and it was bitter. I figured that I would roll the dice and go ahead and make the cake, hoping that the sugar in the recipe would even out the flavor. The recipe instructs you to take the oranges out of the syrup and puree them -- peel and all! -- in the food processor. Then you add in eggs, sugar, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and baking soda, and pulse until the batter becomes fluffy and pale. Finally, you add 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. You pour the batter straight from the food processor into the buttered baking pan. After the cake is baked and cooled, you glaze it with a mixture of equal parts powdered sugar and fresh-squeezed orange juice. For the final step, you sprinkle fleur de sel on top.

The cake smelled heavenly while it was baking, and it came out of the oven looking beautiful with a gorgeous dark brown and evenly-colored crust. I couldn't wait to cut into it. The inside crumb was very dark yellow to slightly orange-ish in hue and very moist. This cake is extraordinary. The sweet orange flavor is mild but definitely there, and the cake has what I would describe as a very fruity essence overall (I'm not sure if this resulted from the flavor of the extra virgin olive oil). Most of all, I couldn't get over how moist the cake was without any butter and only a relatively small amount of olive oil. The little bit of salt on top also added a wonderful bit of texture and sharpened the overall flavor.

I'm glad I took the leap of faith to make this cake, even though I was skeptical from the very beginning... This fragrant bit of deliciousness was a lovely and unexpected reward for sticking it out to the end!

Recipe: "Orange-Glazed Olive Oil Cake with Fleur de Sel," from The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark. The recipe is available here at Saveur.com.


Suelle said…
That looks delicious. I have baked with puréed whole oranges before, but the results have been denser and wetter than this cake looks. I must remember to try this soon, as I have a very fruity olive oil at the moment, which would enhance the cake.