As we near the spring equinox and gravitate toward brightness in both the sky and in the kitchen, here’s a citrus-forward cake with bold flavor from zest, as well as tenderness from yogurt and extra-virgin olive oil in lieu of butter or cream. If you’re new to this Mediterranean favorite, start by choosing an olive oil that’s labeled “virgin” or “extra-virgin” and cold-pressed — not treated with chemicals; less acidity — and make sure it’s fresh, not rancid. As when cooking with wine, choose an oil that you would actually enjoy consuming, a favorite you’d drizzle on a salad or for dipping bread. As for flavored oils, again use one that’s high-quality and that you enjoy on its own.
Boost the citrus flavor with lots of zest and juice in both the cake and the glaze; play around with your favorites, I always seem to go for the fragrant, thin-skinned Meyer lemons for this, but grapefruit and regular lemons or clementines are solid choices. I also tested a gluten-free version by swapping out the all-purpose flour for Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour. When measuring flour, it’s best to weigh it, but you can also stir the flour and then scoop it into a measuring cup, then level the top by scraping a knife across the surface. Any leftovers can be sliced and lightly toasted and topped with lemon curd, yogurt or ice cream.
Side note: I tested with these EVOOs: Global Gardens’ blood orange extra-virgin olive oil that’s nicely balanced and works just as well in a vinaigrette as in a cake; Costco’s Kirkland brand Italian extra-virgin olive oil; Partanna Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil; and my favorite: Tuscan Bramasole Olive Oil.
Olive oil citrus cake
Makes one 9- by 5-inch loaf
Oil, for greasing pan
3 Meyer lemons (or regular lemons or limes, or 1 large orange)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (200g) or Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1-to-1 baking flour*
1/3 cup almond meal/flour (45g)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup good fruity olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or almond extract
For the glaze: Juice and zest of 1 lemon or lime or orange (about 1/4 cup juice) + about 3/4 cup powdered sugar, as needed; toasted sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan (use cooking spray or a pastry brush to grease pan well; line bottom with parchment; grease parchment and dust lightly with flour or almond meal (gluten-free), tapping out any excess; set aside.)
Zest lemons; set zest aside. Juice lemons into a small bowl or measuring cup (about 1/2 cup); set aside. In a medium bowl, combine all-purpose flour (or gluten-free 1 to 1 baking flour), almond meal, baking powder and salt (whisk to remove any clumps). In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until pale and well-blended; whisk in olive oil (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon), yogurt, vanilla extract, half the reserved lemon zest (about 1 tablespoon; leave some for the glaze) and half of reserved lemon juice (about 1/4 cup). Add in dry ingredients and whisk just to combine, being careful not to overmix; the batter should hold together but will be on the wetter side.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan (it should fill up a little over half the pan) and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. NOTE: If making a gluten-free version, start checking cake for doneness after 50 minutes. Cake will be fragrant and ready when a tester — toothpick or knife point — inserted in center comes out clean; a few crumbs are OK. Remove cake from oven and let cool 10 minutes, then flip out onto a rack to cool completely.
While cake is cooling on rack, whisk together juice and zest with powdered sugar, adding more sugar for a thicker glaze. Turn cake right side-up and drizzle with glaze; top with toasted almond slices.