Of course, I didn’t make this first. Andrew did. He made it last year and it was so moist, so incredibly orange scented that it was perfect, bringing us a shot of sunshine in the dead of winter. It also struck me at the time that it didn’t look all that hard to make. Andrew is very well organized and keeps a “baking diary” listing what he baked and whom he baked it for and where he got the recipe. In this case, it was from Mario Batali’s “Simple Italian Food: Recipes from my two Italian villages” (Clarkson Potter 1998).
|Bill Buford (L) and Mario Batali (R)
Now Mario Batali is a larger-than-life figure in New York cooking circles. He owns some of the most successful and highly regarded restaurants in the city. I became totally fascinated with Mario when I read “Heat”, the 2007 book by Bill Buford that followed the author’s “Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany” (Vintage 2007). Who could resist? Mr. Buford’s adventures revolved around Chef Batali. He worked for the man at this immensely popular Green Village restaurant “Babbo”. And he followed in his hero’s footsteps and went to same Italian villages Batali did to learn his craft. So all in all, any recipe with Mario’s name attached to it is all right by me.
This cake is particularly all right because it’s pretty darn easy to make. And it’s fascinating how people react just by hearing its name. Olive oil in a cake? But the olive oil here is what gives the cake its moist texture and, dare I say it, makes the cake a lot healthier than most butter-laden cakes. Finally, it tastes delicious, it perfumes the whole house with the scent of oranges while its baking. And it’s a crowd pleaser. I took this cake to a small dinner party. We all decorously at a single sliver. I left the cake for my friends to enjoy. I got a really nice email from my friend Jeff saying he’d taken what was left over to another dinner party the next night, tarted up with some orange slices and it was a hit there too. My only caveat is to really watch your cooking times. You want a really moist cake here and 50 minutes in the oven should be plenty of time for it to bake. Here’s the recipe.
Remove the zest from the oranges and juice one of them. Set fruit aside for another use. Sift the flour and baking soda together onto a piece of waxed paper.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and salt together with an electric mixer until frothy and light, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, continuing to mix 2 minutes longer. Add the flour and baking sida gradually to the egg mixture, and then mix 1 more minute.
In another bowl, combine the olive oil, orange zest and juice. Using a spoon, stir it into the egg mixture, folding until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Invert onto wire rack.