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This coffeecake will bring you back to southeast Sicily

Food columnist Sarah Nasello says her recipe for Sicilian Olive Oil Cake can be served with whipped cream and fresh berries, though she prefers a generous dusting of powdered sugar along with a good cup of coffee.

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Sarah's Sicilian Olive Oil Cake has a deliciously moist and tender crumb, and is the perfect coffeecake for sunny mornings.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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FARGO — Please forgive me, but there is a change in plans this week. I promised you a peach pie, but the arrival of the Fargo West Rotary Colorado peaches has been delayed so I am happily sharing this amazingly moist and delicious Sicilian (and Greek!) Olive Oil Cake.

I fell in love with olive oil cake when we visited my husband Tony’s family in Sicily in the summer of 2019. Upon returning home, I endeavored to find a replica recipe, and after a few trials and errors, I settled upon a recipe from the New York Times. With just a few adjustments, I found a cake that brought me right back to southeast Sicily.

Extra-virgin olive oil gives this cake supreme moisture and a beautiful, tender crumb, and this is the perfect time to invest in an exceptionally good bottle. My pick is always Mistra Estates extra-virgin olive oil, the liquid gold from Greece I have written about for the past decade, brought to us by local importer Peter Schultz of Moorhead.

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Extra-virgin olive oil, flour, eggs, lemon, milk and sugar are combined with a few basic pantry staples to create Sarah's Sicilian Olive Oil Cake.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
More recipes from Sarah Nasello
This potpourri is the perfect way to make your home smell warm and inviting this Thanksgiving weekend and throughout the holiday season.

This extra-virgin olive oil has a light and fruity flavor, balanced with just the perfect touch of nuttiness to give the cake maximum flavor. You can order it by the case in Peter’s annual sale, which ends on Aug. 31, for arrival in late November. If you are not in the Fargo-Moorhead area, I recommend buying the best brand at your local grocery store or checking the gourmet foods section at stores like T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods.

This is a simple, rustic cake that is easy to make and can be adapted to a variety of flavors by swapping out some of the liquids in equal measurements. For instance, in this recipe I use the zest and juice of lemons, but you could use an orange instead. A half-teaspoon of almond extract could replace some of the vanilla, and a quarter-cup of liqueur, like amaretto or Grand Marnier, could be used in place of some of the milk.

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Extra-virgin olive oil gives this cake incredible flavor and moisture, and Sarah recommends using the best quality you can find.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The key to this recipe is in the mixing. I use my stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment which makes the process much easier. The recipe begins by beating three eggs with sugar and lemon zest until pale and thick enough to fall in ribbons from the beater.

This takes between four to five minutes with a mixer, and then the olive oil is added in a slow and steady stream and beaten again until fully incorporated, another two minutes. A hand-held mixer will also work, but a whisk on its own will require more elbow grease than I care to expend this late into summer.

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The eggs are beaten with sugar and lemon zest until the batter is pale and velvety, and falling in thick ribbons from the beater.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Once mixed, the batter is poured into a 9-inch cake pan that is greased and lined with parchment paper to ensure easy removal of the cake. A sprinkling of sugar is added to the top just before baking, to create a crackling crust that is a signature of a good olive oil cake.

This Sicilian (and Greek) Olive Oil Cake can be served with whipped cream and fresh berries, but I prefer my slice with a generous dusting of powdered sugar and a good cup of coffee. Buon appetito!

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Sprinkling the top of the cake batter with sugar creates the signature crackling crust of Sarah's Sicilian Olive Oil Cake.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Sicilian Olive Oil Cake

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe

Makes: one 9-inch cake

Ingredients:
1 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive, plus more to grease the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for the pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons to dust the top of the batter
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 ¼ cups whole milk, room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan (at least 2 inches in height) with olive oil and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Brush the paper with olive oil and dust with 2 tablespoons of flour, then shake the pan and discard the excess flour.

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In a medium bowl, use a whisk or fork to mix the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda until combined; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment to beat the eggs, sugar and lemon zest on the highest speed until thick, pale and fluffy, and the batter falls from the beater in a slow ribbon, about 4 to 5 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and the beater, too.

Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Turn the mixer to high and beat for 2 minutes until fully incorporated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and the beater, too.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk, lemon juice and vanilla.

Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, beating until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and tap on the counter several times to release the air bubbles. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out free of crumbs, about 40 to 45 minutes. The top may puff up and appear to crack — this is normal, and the cake will settle as it cools.

Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Then, run an offset spatula or knife around the edge of the pan two times to release the cake. Place a plate or cutting board over the top of the cake and flip the pan over — the cake should easily slide out.

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Remove the parchment liner and then flip the cake back over onto the wire rack to cool completely.

To serve, dust the top liberally with powdered sugar, or slice and serve with whipped cream and fresh berries. The cake may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Sarah’s tips:

  • Room temperature ingredients will incorporate better into the batter and help the cake to bake more evenly.
  • You can use almond or lemon extract instead of vanilla, and orange zest and juice instead of, or combined with, the lemon. Liqueurs like amaretto and Grand Marnier would also work well and can be added to replace ¼ cup of the milk.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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