Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with Lemon

Lisa had been hankering for a Rosemary Olive Oil cake. While I was in Los Angeles last week she made this recipe. Seriously, My Girl is a chip off the old block. She was born into a long-line of fabulous bakers (me not necessarily included, but Lisa's Grandmothers and my Grandmothers are/were exceedingly famous for their baking abilities). It's in her blood. One bite of the recipe and she knew something was not quite right. She asked what I thought. I thought: too much egg.

The recipe Lisa sampled called for four eggs. A quick Google search found that most Rosemary Olive Oil Cake recipes call for four eggs. Lisa and I found the cake too spongy. But none of the recipes called for the one ingredient I knew would give the cake the perfect tender crumb Lisa's recipe was lacking - buttermilk.

Buttermilk is magical. It is the whey left-over from churning cream into butter. It gives any baked good a little lift, a tender bite and a little tang. One cup was all I needed.

It is super-important that you use a very flavorful extra-virgin olive oil in this recipe. We were just in Napa so we had several quarts of Arbequina from The Olive Press on hand. We use a lot of olive oil in this house - I even use it on my skin - so maybe we are a little fussy about the quality of the olive oil we consume. I took an "olive oil tasting" class with Paul Vossen at UC Davis several years ago and now consider myself a total olive oil snob.

Shopping for olive oil is similar to shopping for wine, except olive oil is often more expensive. Rules for choosing a decent olive oil: 

1. Must be from a single source - Spain, California, Italy or Greece are common. Do not buy olive oil that is a blend from two or three different countries, especially if one of the countries is Tunisia. Look for "Product of Italy", or "Product of California", etc., on the bottle. One source!

2. Look for an expiration date. If the oil does not have an expiration date - do not purchase.

3. Make sure it says Extra-Virgin.

Anything outside of these three rules could result in an "olive" oil padded with other vegetable oils, chemicals, water and all sorts of fillers you do not want to consume. Trust me. Other nice things to see on labels are "first cold pressed" or "cold pressed" - and of course, organic. There are all sorts of other designations - but if you follow these three basic rules, you should be purchasing a quality olive oil product.

The three main flavors in this cake - olive oil, rosemary and lemon - are each quite pronounced. Make this cake the day/morning before and serve at room temperature  with fresh raspberries or strawberries. Whipped cream is optional. (I also enjoy this cake unadorned, with no berries.)

2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan
1 cup buttermilk
zest and juice one lemon (about 4 Tablespoons juice)
2 Tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary (about two stems),
     plus more for garnish, if desired

Heat oven to 350°. Oil a 9-inch spring form pan. Place spring form pan on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Place eggs, sugar and olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer for two minutes, until everything is well combined and fluffy. Add the buttermilk, lemon zest and juice. Stir to combine. Beat in the flour mixture until just blended. Finally, stir-in the minced rosemary until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle a few dozen rosemary leaves decoratively over the top of the batter, if desired. Place spring form pan (on the baking sheet) in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove to wire rack. Let rest five minutes, then carefully release ring from side of cake. Let cool completely. Leave spring form cake bottom in place and set cake in a covered cake plate. Best served the next day.

Until my next update, I remain, your baking correspondent.