Recipe: Fragrant Olive Oil Cake

This is a lovely cake yet without an overtly olive oil flavor; rather, the oil, along with orange and lemon zest, contributes to its unique floral-herbal fragrance and delicate texture.

    • 1 teaspoon butter, softened, for the pan
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/2 cup buttermilk or 1/4 cup whole milk mixed with 1/4 cup plain yogurt
    • 1/2 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
    • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (optional)
    • Confectioner's sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the inside of a 9-inch straight-sided cake pan with the butter. Spoon a teaspoon or two of flour into the pan and tilt it until it is completely coated. Invert and tap to release excess flour.

Place a sifter or a strainer over a bowl and sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir again with a fork and set aside.

In a measuring cup, mix together the buttermilk and olive oil.

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk until blended and frothy. Whisk in the sugar, orange, and lemon zest--and the thyme, if using--and beat until well blended, 1 minute. Beat in the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the milk-oil mixture, using as few strokes as possible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake 35 to 40 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake on a rack 5 minutes, then invert onto the rack. Cool completely and invert onto a platter. Sift some confectioner's sugar over the top.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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