In the weeks leading up to Christmas, every food blogger/writer/celebrity/enthusiast (and their mothers) were putting out their "Top 10 Cookbooks of the Year." Over and over these lists mentioned NYTimes columnist Melissa Clark's new book Cook This Now:120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make. If you're not familiar with Clark, she writes "In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite" (and has another book by the same name), which is, in my opinion, the highlight of the NY Times's Wednesday Dining Section. After the holidays I finally requested the book from my favorite place, the Cambridge Public Library. Since picking it up I have to say I'm totally in love with it, if only for the following recipe, an Orange-Almond-Olive Oil Cake that is just out of this world. I also want to make about 90% of the other recipes, too, but in the last 2 weeks I've made this cake 3 times. Yes, it's that good. (And no, I haven't eaten them all myself--I gave 2 away.) But seriously, this cake: so good! It has this incredibly light texture, while still being very moist. Clark calls it "intensely almond-y" but I really pick out the orange flavor--guess they're both there in perfect harmony. The cake also contains buckwheat flour, which I had never used before, despite owning a bag (that, admittedly, I pilfered from my mother's cupboard). The nuttiness of the buckwheat flour offers another interesting layer of flavor, so I'd recommend getting a bag, even if it's just for this cake. You'll probably want to make it so many times that it'll be gone in no time! However, if you're so desperate the try this before making a trip to the grocery store, I'm sure that replacing it with all-purpose would also produce a very good cake.
Simple, rustic, but oh-so-tasty!
A few additional ingredient notes: The almond flavor comes from ground blanched almonds. I keep a whole variety of nuts in my freezer (which prolongs their shelf life considerably), including blanched slivered almond. I think they're very versatile for baking, and much easier to grind than whole blanched almonds. If you don't have a food processor then you can buy almond flour at Trader Joe's, and I'm sure any other grocery store with a natural foods section, but grinding them yourself leaves a little bit of texture, which is a nice touch.
This cake contains ½ a cup of extra virgin olive oil. The quality of the oil can be tasted in the cake, so don't cheap out on this. I love Trader Joe's for decent EVOO that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Their various store brands vary in price between about $5 and $12 a bottle. My "nicer" EVOO, a Greek Kalamata oil, is $9, but I also keep a bottle of $6 oil for these types of projects when I'm using more than a couple of tablespoons. However, I priced this out (since I do that for a living and all) and really the difference between using a $6 bottle and a $10 bottle in this recipe is about 50 cents, which is probably less than the amount you'll spend on gas driving to a grocery store to buy cheaper oil. So, long story short, it's important to use something that tastes good, and it doesn't cost as much as you think.
For serving, Clark suggests mascarpone cheese whipped with a couple of tablespoons of confectioner's sugar and fresh vanilla beans scraped from one vanilla bean. For reasons I can't explain, I don't particularly care for the taste of mascarpone, so I whip crème fraiche with the aforementioned ingredients instead. These ingredients can be pricey though (a half pint of crème fraiche where I live is, at best $4, and at worst, $7). If you want to save a couple of bucks here, you can use whipping cream and a dollop of sour cream, if you have any on hand. Vanilla extract won't give you the pleasing speckles of fresh vanilla seeds, but it's more cost effective and easier to find. Either way it'll be delicious.
Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake (From Cook This Now by Melissa Clark)
Makes one 9-inch cake, serves 8-12
Special Equipment: 9-inch springform pan or cake pan, food processor (helpful but not essential), parchment paper (ditto)
½ cup of all purpose flour
½ cup of buckwheat flour
½ cup of blanched almonds, finely ground
1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon orange zest (from 1 medium-large orange)
½ cup of freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 large juicy oranges)
* 1 pint of heavy (whipping cream), crème fraiche or mascarpone
* 1 to 2 Tablespoons of confectioner's sugar
* 1 fresh vanilla bean or vanilla extract
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan or springform pan (preferable, if you have one.) Also, if you have it, line the bottom of your cake pan with parchment paper. Cut a circle the size of the bottom, then lightly grease the bottom of the pan, lay down the parchment paper, then grease over it, and grease the sides of the pan. This step only takes an extra minute, and then you won't have to worry about your cake sticking to the bottom of the pan, particularly if you're using a conventional cake pan instead of a springform.
2. In a bowl, mix the flours, ground almonds, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl (if using a hand mixer), combine the eggs and sugar and mix on medium-high speed until well combined. Add the olive oil, and continue whisking at high speed until the mixture has lightened in color and thickened. Whisk in the orange zest and vanilla, then the orange juice. At this point your mixture will have thinned quite a bit, and will be a bit foamy on top.
4. Add your dry ingredients and using a rubber spatula, fold them in until they're fully combined.
5. Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides, about 35-40 minutes.
6. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a small paring knife around the sides of the pan to make sure the sides are completely detached before removing the side (if using a spring form), before turning it out of the pan to finish cooling on a rack.
7. Just before serving, halve your vanilla bean lengthwise (if using). Drag the backside of a paring knife along the inside of the bean to scrape out the seeds. Put them in a medium bowl and add your cream of choice, and the sugar. Whip until light and fluffy and thoroughly combined. Serve dollops of cream alongside cake slices.