blood orange olive oil cake

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Is anyone else ready for a vacation? I want pool time and cocktails and sleeping in. All at once. Oh, the things I would do for a break right now. Even just for a weekend. I think we need to do some prioritizing around here to make this happen. I’m ready to bust out the resort wear.         

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The good news is we have cake. And this cake, my friends, is a keeper. For the past three years, I’ve been on a search for the perfect blood orange cake. I’m not even exaggerating. It has taken me years and lots of experimenting to find one I really like. Every winter, during the small window of time that is blood orange season, I try at least one blood orange cake recipe. I’ve tried at least four recipes, possibly more,  some more than once. One recipe called for orange segments, one recipe called for whole oranges, skin and all. Another was a sort of chiffon cake. A few of them were pretty good. None of them were outstanding.

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I’m happy to report that the search has finally come to an end. I’d been hoping to find a recipe that incorporated both oranges and olive oil. And out of practically nowhere, I found exactly what I had been looking for.

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Here’s what I love about this cake:

It has a pronounced orange flavor, both in the cake and the icing. The cake has the essence of blood orange from the grated zest and juice. And the icing, with it’s tart, berry-ness is perfection.  

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Thanks to the olive oil, it is incredibly moist and has a very distinct, almost savory flavor. 

It’s such a pretty thang. I’ve got a secret weakness for pink frosting, and the bold color of the blood orange juice produces an electric pink icing when added to a scoop of powdered sugar.  And it’s totally natural. AND we’re just in time for Valentine’s Day. A pink glazed cake is the perfect alternative to chocolate on V-Day. xoxo.

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blood orange olive oil cake

adapted from Leite’s Culinaria

serves 12-14

2 tablespoons unsalted butter for pan 

6-8  blood oranges

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

5 large eggs

2-3/4 cups granulated sugar

1 -1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil

 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

4 tablespoons blood orange juice 

Position a rack in the middle of the oven, remove any racks above, and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Coat a 12-cup Bundt or tube pan with butter and dust with flour.  Set aside.

Finely grate the zest of 4 of the oranges, then squeeze 6 of them. You should have 1-1/2 cups of juice; if not, squeeze another orange. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar and continue beating until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and oil, starting and ending with the flour, and beat until just a few wisps of flour remain. Pour in the orange juice and zest and whirl for a few seconds to bring the batter together.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the top is browning too much as the cake bakes, cover lightly with foil. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.

Turn the cake out onto the rack and cool completely. Place it in a covered cake stand and let it sit overnight.

In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar and 4 tablespoons of blood orange juice. Whisk until completely smooth and has reached a thick but pourable consistency, similar to that of honey. Add more powdered sugar or juice if necessary. Pour the mixture over the cake and let set.

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pear cranberry bundt cake

This year, I’m going to make a serious effort to have a relaxing Thanksgiving. I’m going to prep the night before, maybe even two nights before because it’s that serious. I’m going to stick to the plan, and not decide to make a different dessert the morning of or make an extra dessert just for the hell of it. I’m going to arrive to dinner on time, my pies will not still be in the oven when I’m already supposed to be at my aunt’s place with the rest of the family. I’m going to be rested and put together AND I will still have energy to see friends after dinner (and maybe even go out dancing to burn off some of that turkey). My mind is made up.

If you’re still looking for a dessert to make for Thanksgiving, I have something for you. This gem comes from the final issue of Gourmet. It’s been three years and I am still mourning the loss of Gourmet. Because it was the Thanksgiving issue, I find myself  thumbing through the pages every holiday season, flagging recipes that I want to add to my repertoire. I’m finally getting around to trying one of them.

I was pretty set on making my usual pie and gallette for Thanksgiving this year. But this pear cranberry cake really grabbed my attention. It just screams “happy holidays.” So I decided to give it a whirl last weekend and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I was also surprised by how much I consumed. I’ve test driven it twice in the past week and it has gotten the thumbs up from my most discerning tasters.

This cake is the perfect ending to your Turkey Day feast, especially if you’re not a pie person. But even the most die-hard pie lovers will swoon over this cake. You can make it in a bundt or tube pan. It’s studded with tart, fresh cranberries and diced pear, and finished off with a generous coating of brown sugar caramel sauce, which is to die for. And since it’s the easiest thing to throw together, you can have yourself a cocktail (or three) and take it easy this Thanksgiving.

pear cranberry bundt cake

adapted from Gourmet, November 2009

serves 8-12

for the cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

1-3/4 cups sugar

1-1/4 cups vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons rum (optional)

3 Bosc pears (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 cups cranberries (thawed if frozen)

for the glaze:

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 (3-inch-long) cinnamon sticks

special equipment: 10-by 4-inch angel food cake pan or 15- cup Bundt pan

Make cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together sugar and oil at low speed. Continue mixing and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla and rum and beat on low until combined well.

At low speed, mix in the pears and cranberries, then mix in the flour until incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Make glaze: 
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, cinnamon sticks, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, then simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Cool glaze 5-10 minutes, until it is the consistency of a medium-bodied caramel sauce. Discard cinnamon sticks, then pour glaze over cake, letting some drip down sides.

vanilla cardamom pound cake

Since someone has unofficially officially been off sweets since January, my baking endeavors have been few and far between as of late. I decided to give up sweet delicious things for a few reasons. One was the fact that I had far too many cookies/truffles/caramels/pieces of pie during the holidays. But the real motivation comes from the two weddings I am taking part in later this year. I know it’s silly, but there is something to be said about the way weddings and high school reunions really inspire people to get it together. While at times it has been a bit of a challenge, I’ve gotta say that it’s actually been easier than I had imagined. And this is coming from a lady who loves her baked goods.

But I would be lying if I didn’t mention my so-called days of amnesty. Like the Saturday afternoon I spent cake tasting with one of my best girlfriends and her fiance. Three bakeries and almost thirty different cakes later, I was literally in a cake coma and practically had to force myself to try the last three flavors. It was an amazing experience. BTW, if you’re in the Bay Area and looking for a wedding/special occasion cake, we loved Julie at Torino Baking. Her cakes are tasty and absolutely gorgeous AND she is a Food Network Cake Challenge winner!

Then there was the all day long birthday brunch I attended earlier this month where a variety of sweet things, including Dan’s peanut butter chocolate cupcakes and Magnolia’s Red Velvet, courtesy of Denny, were just begging to be sampled. And sample I did. Here and there. All day long.

In the name of research, and because I had the time and an excuse (Sunday dinner with Grandmama), I decided to bake last Sunday. I immediately reached for the vanilla cardamom pound cake recipe that caught my eye last March while flipping through Gourmet. This cake had been in the back of my mind for months, but for one reason or another, I never got around to trying it out. Since I recently stocked up on cardamom and needed to use some leftover buttermilk, I felt that the stars had finally aligned.

As luck would have it, this cake was everything I was hoping it would be: sweet and rich with a lovely cardamom-vanilla essence. It was the perfect ending to a casual dinner and equally nice as an afternoon snack with tea and oranges. Thank goodness for amnesty days! And even more so for the co-workers who were more than happy to take the rest of this cake off my hands.

vanilla cardamom pound cake

adapted from Gourmet

makes 10-12 servings

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cardamom or 1 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat together butter and granulated sugar in mixer at medium speed, scraping side of bowl occasionally, until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans with tip of a paring knife into butter mixture, reserving pods for another use, and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in lemon juice until combined well. At low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top. Gently rap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool in pan 1 hour, then invert onto a rack and cool completely, about one  hour more.