This impossibly moist olive oil cake has just a hint of citrus and is topped with a swirl of creamy mascarpone frosting and fresh figs for a sophisticated fall dessert.
I’ve been getting nostalgic recently, which for this highly unsentimental girl, is not the norm. It’s not to say I don’t have happy memories or get a little misty when I see a video of my boys as sweet, chubby babies, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a particularly deep feeler.
I don’t hold onto greeting cards past the occasion for which they were given, I recycle my kids’ art projects almost as soon as they bring them home, and I am almost militant about cleaning out closets, drawers and storage bins. I actively try not to form an attachment to stuff…be it clothes that haven’t been worn in a year, china or glassware that never gets used, or even the house in which we live. I like to think that I could pick up and move at a moment’s notice and reflect happily on the time spent instead of lamenting about what we’d be missing.
But I’ve come to realize that tastes and smells are my emotional kryptonite. When the smell of Sunday sauce fills the house, I’m instantly transported back to being a kid nibbling on a meatball stabbed with a fork from a pot of my dad’s bubbling sauce while it simmered on the stove. Or just one sniff of the roasted nuts that permeate Manhattan on a crisp fall day makes me long for the time when I lived in the city and spent a lazy Sunday wandering through the park and brunching on french toast and mimosas with friends.
And a bite of this olive oil cake conjures memories of when I worked in pastry at a Manhattan restaurant and we spent countless hours recipe testing a cake that would stand up to a scoop of tangy buttermilk gelato. I have long since lost that particular recipe, but the flavor and texture of the cake is imprinted in my mind. It takes me back to the camaraderie of the restaurant kitchen, the fast, almost urgent pace and the tight bonds formed over a short period of time.
As I tested this recipe and tweaked the dry to wet ingredient ratio, contemplated to frost or not to frost (side note – this cake is also delicious without any icing) and considered if the figs on top should be fresh or roasted, it made me long for the days when I could bounce ideas off my counterparts and weigh someone else’s opinion against my own. As much as I love the autonomy of food blogging, it can feel a little lonely at times, especially in the early stages of crafting a recipe.
That said, I feel like this recipe is a resounding success. The cake is unbelievably moist and the bright, fruity olive oil flavor is unmistakable. A layer of tangy mascarpone frosting compliments the cake without overwhelming it and I opted for fresh figs scattered over the top as they are at their peak flavor and sweetness right now in the early fall season. This cake is rustic, yet sophisticated; easy to execute, but with a complexity of flavor. It would be a lovely dessert to serve for Rosh Hashanah or a winner at any fall celebration. For me, it’s a nod to days past and a sweet reminder of my time spent dressed in checkered pants and chef’s whites. I may not think of myself as an emotional person, but it turns out that all it takes is one bite of cake and I crumble into a heap of sentimental mush.
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus additional for greasing the pan)
- 1 tsp lemon zest, grated
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 5 oz mascarpone, softened
- 8 oz confectioners sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups fresh figs (either halved or quartered for topping)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 inch round springform pan with olive oil. Line the bottom of the pan with a parchment round.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Combine the sugar, eggs, olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice in a bowl and beat well, about 2 mins.
Add one third of the dry ingredients and beat well. Add half of the buttermilk and continue to alternate dry and wet ingredients until everything is combined.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center come out clean. Cool for 10 mins in the pan, then remove and finish cooling to a wire rack.
Beat all the ingredients together until smooth.
Ice the cooled cake with the mascarpone frosting (just on top and slightly spilling over the sides) and arrange the figs on top. Slice and serve.
Special equipment: 9 inch springform pan