Fall arrives and there are more than a few things to celebrate: tugging on your softest sweater on the first cool morning, movie nights that call for piles of blankets and giant mugs of Vanilla Almond Tea (it’s got magical, heart-soothing properties), appallingly beautiful light and the tumble of colors in the trees, plus all of those good earthy outdoor/fireplace smells. In short, everything hygge. (The Danes have us beat here on brevity—and ok, most other places, too.) And the thing about celebrating the arrival of all of this great stuff is that few things say celebration like…
So let’s have it: a cake for fall.
Comforting, hearty but not overly heavy, sweet but not too, perfect sliced warm alongside a cup of tea or eaten out of hand on a morning or (and?) evening walk, full of fall colors (purple, yellow, golden brown, and cream) and fall flavors (tart plum, nutty almond, creamy olive oil), we swear you’re going to go head over boots for this one. It’s even the best texture you’d dream up for a cake on a crisp fall day: soft and delicate with the right amount of weight and density to it, while still maintaining a lightness… (Did we just describe the best down comforter or the best slice of cake? Um, both. Now that’s comfort food.) It’s so seriously satisfying.
If you’ve never had olive oil cake, you’re in for an overdue treat. Use good olive oil for fruity, creamy, complex flavor, rich color, and a velvety, moist crumb. The plums and lemon add brightness for the perfect counterpoint, while the almonds’ crunch and nuttiness gives even greater depth of flavor and texture.
It’s simple, so easy to make, and a Lee and Lou take on a classic.
The recipe below is our version of a traditional Italian cake. (This particular recipe we tweaked is from Jamie Oliver’s phenomenal cookbook Jamie’s Italy.) We swapped the traditional orange zest out for the cleaner flavor of lemon (our favorite), and added another best-loved Italian ingredient in: almonds. Usually, grapes are the fruit added this time of year—as they are in Jamie’s version—but we’re crazy about plums and love the tart-sweet balance they add. We’ve used Italian prune plums, which are plentiful and insanely good during these early fall weeks. They’re like little gems: deepest purple on the outside and yellow-green on the inside. If you head to a farmers market, you’ll catch crates overflowing with them, as we did up at one of the prettiest markets around in Camden, Maine, last week. They also bake up beautifully while holding their shape, making them excellent cake toppers.
This recipe is just our ideal cake these and most days. Simple enough for a weekday treat, but stunning enough to pull out at the end of a fall feast. Seasonal and flavorful, gorgeous but unfussy: like all the best food, we think.
Plus, we have to say, it’s the closest embodiment of late September afternoons, golden light and all, that we’ve found yet. And who wouldn’t want that on their plate?
* * * *
Fall Olive Oil Cake with Plums + Almonds
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Torta di Nada
Makes one 9-inch cake
- A 9-inch cake pan
- A sifter
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 12 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp pure almond extract
- 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 lemon
- 16 Italian plums, halved, pits removed: leave 8 in halves, and roughly chop the other 8 into bite-sized chunks
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- Powdered sugar for serving
* Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Generously butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
* Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat eggs and sugar together in a large bowl for 3 minutes or so until they turn thick and pale yellow, and stream down in ribbons when you lift the whisk.
* Add the melted butter, olive oil, milk, and vanilla & almond extracts. Whisk until well-incorporated.
* Measure out flour and baking powder, then sift them together over your batter. Sprinkle the salt and zest the lemon over top, then swap out your whisk for a wooden spoon and stir gently until just fully mixed together, but not longer.
* Put the bowl aside and let sit for 10 minutes so the batter can thicken.
* Gently stir your 8 chopped plums into the batter.
* Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan and wiggle a little to even it out.
* Bake the cake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and arrange your halved plums, cut-side up, over top of the batter, pressing them in lightly. Sprinkle almonds over top.
* Bake cake for another 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, or ideally, nearly clean (save for a few moist crumbs), when inserted through the center.
* Put the cake pan on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Put a large plate over top of the pan and, holding it tightly against the rim, flip upside down to turn the cake out.
*Carefully flip the cake so it’s right side up.
* When cool enough to eat, dust with powdered sugar and serve.
© 2015 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.