The Genius Olive Oil Cake That’s Never Let Me Down

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I’ll be the first to admit that I do not enjoy baking. My short attention span can’t handle the precision it so often demands, plus I find all-purpose flour (and the ease with which it coats every surface in my kitchen) endlessly annoying. For that reason, you’ll rarely find me pulling out my mixing bowl set from the back of the cupboard to whip up a batch of cupcakes or cookies, or (shudder) something more complicated like croissants or macarons—I’ll leave that to the professionals.

There is, however, one very notable exception to my bad baking attitude: Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake.

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Members of the Food52 community are probably well acquainted with this cake. With approximately 568 reviews and countless five-star ratings, it quickly became a favorite after it was first featured in Kristen Miglore’s Genius recipe column in 2014. (For those who hadn’t yet come across an olive cake back then, she had to guarantee that the cake in no way resembled salad dressing; these days, no such assurances are needed.)

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“Finding what turned out to be the most beloved Genius dessert of all time was a happy fluke,” Kristen told me recently. “Unlike most other Genius Recipes, it hadn’t been published in a cookbook or anywhere else. Our editorial team just loved the olive oil cake at Maialino in New York City, not far from our office, and we asked then-pastry chef Rachel Binder if she’d share the recipe. When she did, it was perfectly sized for a home kitchen and couldn’t have been simpler to bake.” She added that this rarely happens (lucky us!).

The cake’s effort-to-reward ratio has a lot to do with why it’s pretty much the only thing I’ll ever bake. Requiring just two bowls, it is virtually impossible to screw up. All you have to do is stir the wet ingredients, stir the dry ingredients, then combine ‘em and—voila—your cake batter is ready to go in the oven.

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Since it is, well, an olive oil cake, the type of olive oil definitely makes an impact (Kristen recommends something floral to complement the citrus). Fresh orange juice and zest are key; I typically use navel oranges, but blood oranges also work nicely, and Meyer lemons could be fun. I’ve swapped in triple sec many times in a pinch, but Grand Marnier gives you the most depth of flavor. The actual baking part is equally foolproof: All you have to do is keep an eye on it around the hour mark, and you’ll know it’s ready once a tester knife or toothpick comes out clean. In my oven, the cake takes about an hour and 20 minutes to cook through.

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The resulting cake is simply perfect.

The crust is a deep-deep golden brown and very crackly (it makes a wonderful sound when you slice through it). The crumb is ultra tender and rich, thanks to the oil—though “oily” is never a word I’ve heard used to describe this cake. And the taste? Fragrant with citrus and just the right amount sweet, it’s the ideal base for topping with anything from whipped cream to fruit compote.

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I have made this cake dozens of times since discovering the recipe a few years ago—for birthdays, dinner parties, and for no reason at all. One summer, I made it three times in the span of two weeks. My boyfriend, who requests it often, calls it “a cake for all occasions” and one that “actually tastes better the day after you bake it.” One reviewer wrote, “Threw this together last minute for the holidays and was a hit, night after night, even three days later,” so I think he’s on to something. It should be noted that we don’t even bother ordering olive oil cake when we go out to eat anymore, since “they’ll only disappoint in comparison,” he says.

All to say, this is the one cake I can count on—and there’s nothing sweeter than that.


Does this recipe hold a special place in your kitchen? Let us know in the comments!

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