Mediterranean Lemon Cake

Its real name is Citrus and Olive Oil Cake, but I didn’t want to scare you in case you hadn’t noticed that olive oil in deserts is The Hot New Thing.


It’s hot all right, but it isn’t remotely new. Where olive oil is the dominant fat, it has been used in sweets for – I dunno – centuries at least, possibly a millennium or two.

lemon and olive oil cake with oranges

My new favorite cake, on a bed of Cointreau spiked orange slices, garnished with candy-ended clementines.

Fashion aside (and assuming you have a sturdy mixer), this cake is everything an everyday cake should be: easy to make, not needful of icing, versatile and durable, an overlooked virtue especially valuable to small families.

It’s not quite as good on day five as day one, but it’s still plenty tasty and still usable for re-purposing into things like Triple Citrus Petits Fours.

triple citrus petits fours

Triple Citrus Petits Fours, a matter of minutes once you have the cake.

The recipe – which says nothing about beds of oranges or doctored clementines –  comes (via my friend Nancy Jenkins), from Olives and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.

Citrus and Olive Oil Cake

(as written up by Nancy)

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of fine sea salt

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

¾ cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Finely grated zest of 3 lemons

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably one with good fruit flavors (see note)

Set the oven on 325º

Toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until they are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Add the yogurt and grated zest and beat to mix. Now beat in the olive oil in a steady stream. Reduce the mixer speed to its lowest setting and gradually beat in the flour mixture until it’s just blended. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold the batter until it is thoroughly blended.

Using paper towels, spread about a tablespoon of oil all over the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round pan, preferably one with a springform release. Pour the batter into the pan and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake, rotating once, until the cake is golden, the center springs back, and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set the cake on a rack to cool for a minute or two, then invert on the rack and let cool thoroughly before slicing.

You could sprinkle powdered sugar over the surface of the cake, or serve it with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla or lemon gelato.


Note:  My first cake, made with the full compliment of oil, tasted heavenly but was a bit on the heavy side. So I made the next one (the one in the pictures) with 1/2c. plus 1 heaping tbl. of oil. Less heavy, just as delicious, but I’m not done yet.

The next one, which may be flavored with a mixture of lemon and orange, will be made with genuinely large eggs, as specified in the recipe. The local eggs that we keep as staples are more on the jumbo side, and I think that may be one reason I’m not getting an ideally even crumb.

Nancy, who freely admits she’s not a baker, says hers always come out perfect and even though she’s Sara’s mother  – read/hear these two noted interpreters of Italian food discuss their relationship here on NPR – I absolutely believe her.

Candy Ended Clementines

clementines with white chocolate and pistachio

Honesty compels me to admit they don’t really do anything for the cake, but as post-dinner nibbles all by themselves…

Peel and section the clementines, removing any stray strands of pith. Let them sit out at room temperature to dry off for an hour or two. Chop some roasted, salted pistachio nuts and put them in a shallow bowl. Melt some high quality white chocolate (see the instructions rather far down in the recipe for Dandy Candy if you haven’t got a favorite method).

Dip the ends of the clementine sections in the chocolate , trying for a thinnish coating, then roll the coated part in the chopped nuts. Not rocket science but one thing is essential: the salt. It brings out the brightness of the citrus and keeps the chocolate from being cloying; omit it at your peril.

Triple Citrus Petits Fours

Again, a simple assemblage (and the cake doesn’t have to be less than fresh; it’s just that this is a nice thing to do with it if it is). The only trick is finding impastata for the filling. This dense, ultra creamy, smooth version of ricotta has no substitute I can think of, but if you’re some place lots of Italians aren’t, you can probably fudge it with very well-drained ricotta mixed with tiny amounts of cream cheese and heavy cream.

Make the filling: Coarsely chop some good citrus marmalade. Mix it half and half with impastata and stir in enough Cointreau to make it spreadable. Taste. Fiddle as needed.

Cut long slices of cake about 1/4 inch thick. Spread half with a generous layer of filling and top with the other half. Cut into seemly pieces. Set the pieces on their sides and drizzle a small amount of Cointreau in the middles right next to the filling.

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  • Susan Scheid Said,

    Looks delicious, and I love the idea that any left-over cake can be re-purposed to make yet another tasty dessert!

    That’s the great thing about plain cake – no such thing as leftovers. It’s sort of the roast turkey of desserts.

  • Wow, your cake is incredible. I love your gorgeous pictures. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog and I’d like to invite you to stop by and link your cake up.

  • Tatiana Said,

    This almost never happens when I read a recipe, but I have all the ingredients in my house RIGHT NOW. So, I just might make it tomorrow.

    Yay! Go Tatiana! Hope it comes out well. One thing I forgot to mention: after the batter is in the pan, give it a good thump straight down on the work surface to dislodge large air bubbles.

  • Susan Said,

    The recipe with your change to the amount of olive oil was wonderful. I think I’ll cut back the bake time maybe 3-5 minutes and try pastry flour next time to get the crumb you were talking about. Nice ratio of lemon to sugar in the base cake!

    Welcome, Susan,
    I’m delighted the cake came out well for you and intrigued by the idea of using pastry flour to get a more even crumb. (Given the number of cakes I’ve made in my time, you’d think that might’ve occurred to me, but…) Please let us know if it’s the solution!

  • Tatiana Said,

    So. I finally made the cake. It is very good. I did cut back on the sugar, and will probably cut back a bit more still. But a lovely cake, even better on day 3.

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