This Apple Olive Oil Cake, of all the rustic cakes I swoon over, is my very most favorite. It can be called rustic merely because it is not adorned in buttercream, an accessory that would only complicate its simplicity. Fragrant olive oil in the batter marries beautifully with orange zest, cracked cardamom seed, and pure vanilla. I am delighted the lack of cinnamon normally found in apple desserts. Am I the only one who tires of overwhelming the pure taste of apple with cinnamon?
Tom Murray, my friend and orchardist who specializes in apples at his SLO Farm (seasonal, local, organic), suggested that I try his Liberty variety. He said that its sharp flavor would balance the sweet cake, and he was right. Other varieties that are tart and hold up to baking are Pink Lady, Jonathan, Mutsu, and good old Granny Smith. Any of these will be perfect in this apple cake.
Tom sells his apples at the Lane County Farmers Market in Eugene, Oregon. Please look for him there, and try all of his lovely apple varieties.
This recipe originated with Rachel Coyle, published by Food & Wine Magazine. I've made it so many times that I've added some of my own riffs. I've found that the batter can easily old 50% more apples than in the original recipe. So in goes 1½ pounds, weighed before peeling and coring, for more appley goodness.
Cakes made with olive oil have become popular for good reason. The texture becomes more like a sponge cake, very moist and tender, but with structure. If you've yet to try the taste phenomenon of the olive oil/sugar combo, you are in for a real treat. A fruity olive oil is great for this, of course. Stonehouse Olive Oil's house blend, my house olive oil, works wonderfully in this recipe. I buy it in 9-liter quantities a few times a year.
Rachel Coyle's original recipe says to use a 14-cup Bundt-style pan, and I've learned there are more great pan options for the apple olive-oil cake. A 9" springform pan creates a gorgeously tall round cake; a tube pan makes an even taller cake with a hole in the center that I really like; and I often divvy up the batter between three 6" round cake pans that serve six people each. This is perfect for our smaller household, as the cakes freeze perfectly. So handy! Please note that as of this publication date, Sur La Table is offering a 20% off sale on each of these pans, and on all of their bakeware! Just in time for holiday baking. Sur La Table only sells high-quality products that I always trust.
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Why people grow so much zucchini is a perfectly legitimate question. As a species we just never catch on that just three zucchini seeds will feed the whole neighborhood. How do we possibly forget year after year? The jokes about the overabundance of zucchini and the lengths people go to get rid of it are only funny because they expose this human flaw.
Neighbors drop off squashes the size of baseball bats to your front porch, ring the bell and run so you can't refuse it. Little old ladies give away brown paper grocery bags of zucchini at every church function. And if you grow a garden, you're rolling in it by mid-summer.
Even using the grate-and-hide technique of sneaking zucchini into everything-- meatloaf, chili, soups and stews, and baked goods, there is only so much one can be expected to eat.
I worked out this brightly-flavored zucchini cake as a way to draw down an enourmous supply I was gifted from a generous neighbor. It completely suits my hankering for unassuming cakes, and its sunny lemon-ginger burst is a good excuse for turning on the oven in the middle of August.
Now I get a little happy when I'm gifted a huge bag of summer squash, and my thanks are sincere.
In this cake, I swap the typical butter for olive oil. Olive oil adds phenomonal rich flavor that sings with the lemon. The technique remains similar to that of a butter cake, but here the olive oil is added to the whipped eggs and sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff you just know will be good.
I used to make this cake with all-purpose flour only, but have recently added finely-ground almond flour to add a soft airiness to cakes, and it works really well here.
The copius amount of ginger in this cake comes in two forms-- freshly grated and ground-- to amp the gingery quality. Lemon and ginger are a match made in heaven, so I use a lot of lemon zest zing along with the double-dose of ginger. This large cake can hold all this flavor. It is a flavor bomb, not a flavor whisper.
The crunchy glaze-- think glazed donut and you've got the idea-- is due to the addition of granulated sugar to the typical powdered sugar. Just make sure and paint it on while the cake is still somewhat warm for this magic to happen.
In this cake and all others, start with room temperature eggs.
A stand or handheld mixer is best for the eggs/sugar/olive oil steps. It is also good for gently beginning to incorporate the flour mixture, but stop there and pick up your spatula. Folding in the zucchini, ginger, and lemon zest by hand will automatically involve the streaky bits of flour without toughening the glutens in the all-purpose flour. Your tender result will make you glad you did.
All kinds of summer squash work. I've even made this with peeled young spaghetti squash to great success. If you're using an older/larger zucchini, take out the watery seeds, and gently squeeze the grated squash over the sink to remove some of the moisture to avoid a heavy wet cake.
This turns out a large cake-- 2" tall and 9" across, making 12-15 generous slices. If you want to take it easy on cake, or are like me in a small household, this recipe fits neatly into three 6" round cakepans, with six slices each. This way we can have a little splurge, and stash two cakes in the freezer for on-the-fly entertaining or when the mood strikes again.
Use this method for releasing the cake from the pan without it breaking or crumbling.