“Olive oil is good for you,” Stefano’s father, Andrea, used to tell us. He didn’t qualify his claim, or finish his proclamation with …in moderation. It was simply, unconditionally, good for us.
It was fortunate, then, that we never wanted for olive oil. The olive trees on the family’s two plots of land were prolific producers of olives, and in turn, the nuts of that fruit yielded enough oil for Andrea and Maria’s household, our household, Stefano’s brother Marco’s household, with more left over for the friends and relatives that had helped with the olive harvest.
I don’t think I have even seen Stefano’s mom, Maria, cook with any oil other than olive oil. Her salads and vegetables glisten in it, her sauces simmer in it, and her meats stew in it. She sometimes fries in it. She even bakes with it.
It was perhaps Maria’s olive oil cake that Stefano missed the most when we moved to the U.S. There simply weren’t other breakfast options here that worked for him. Yes, olive oil cake is a breakfast food. It’s not only a breakfast food – it works very well with afternoon coffee – but it’s special as a breakfast food. So, after a few weeks of trying out boxed cereals, muffins and other pastries, we called Maria and asked her to give us the recipe for la pizza dolce, or sweet pizza, as it is referred to.
There are hundreds of variations of la pizza dolce, recipes reflecting regional variations on this simple, sweet cake. This recipe is uncomplicated and pure: flour, sugar, eggs, and olive oil. Something to help it rise. Stir it all together and pop it in the oven. Before you know it, the kitchen is filled with the sweet, earthy aroma of this golden-hued, humble cake.
- 3 eggs
- 300 grams sugar
- 250 ml whole milk
- 100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 300 grams 00 Italian flour or all-purpose flour
- 16 grams Lievito Pane degli Angeli, or substitute with 1 Tbsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).
Butter and flour a 9 in. round cake pan.
Crack the eggs into a medium mixing bowl and beat by hand.
Add the milk and the olive oil, and whisk together until well mixed.
Add the sugar, and stir well.
If you are using Pane degli Angeli, pass it first through a small hand strainer to remove any lumps, and add it to the flour. If you are using baking soda, add it directly to the flour.
Mix the flour into the batter, stirring gently with a wire whisk.
Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan.
Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake to ensure it is fully cooked. Be careful, because if you take it out too early it will sink in the center.
Dust with powdered sugar and serve.
Olive oil cake is prone to sinking in the center after it is taken out of the oven. Here are a few tips to prevent this from happening to you:
- Mix the batter by hand to avoid adding too much air into the mixture.
- Avoid opening the oven door frequently to check on your cake. Wait until the baking time is complete before you open the oven door.
- Use a toothpick to ensure that the center of the cake is fully baked. If the toothpick comes out gummy or with crumbs stuck to it, the cake needs more time. If the toothpick comes out clean, it is done.
- If all else fails, bake the cake in a tube-pan or bundt cake pan!