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As much as I love butter, I prefer olive oil in my cake batter. It’s a flavorful and interesting fat that’s a vehicle for either savory or sweet seasonings. Plus, it keeps this fine-crumbed cake fresh and moist even after sitting out for days. Just be sure to start with a high-quality olive oil that isn’t too bitter or aggressively bold. Anyone intimidated by baking will appreciate this no-fail batter that’s mixed by hand, and everyone will enjoy the complex flavors that come from such a simple technique. Slices are excellent on their own and taste especially good when toasted and served with fresh butter or honey. I use this technique to make sweet-spiced loafs, savory goat cheese bread, a zucchini loaf, and even a dried fruit Bundt cake — all without having to break out the electric mixer.
In this master recipe, the sweet olive oil cake batter benefits from the warming heat of ginger and the piquant heat of black pepper. Both are tempered by the licorice pop of fennel seeds, which are toasted with the peppercorns to draw out an even bolder and more pronounced flavor.
Makes 1 loaf
Lior Lev Sercarz, from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz
1 1⁄2 teaspoons fennel seeds (3 grams)
1⁄2 teaspoon black peppercorns, preferably Tellicherry (2 grams)
2 teaspoons ground ginger (4 grams)
Nonstick pan spray, oil, or butter, for the pan
1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour (240 grams)
1 cup sugar (210 grams)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder (8 grams)
1 1⁄4 teaspoons baking soda (7 grams)
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt (3 grams)
3⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (155 grams)
2⁄3 cup whole milk (150 grams)
2 large eggs (120 grams)
2 Tablespoons dark rum (30 grams)
Toast the fennel and peppercorns in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Immediately transfer them to a spice grinder, finely grind them together, and mix with the ginger
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with cooking spray, oil, or butter, line the bottom with parchment paper, and grease again. Set the pan in a roasting pan in case any batter spills over (it shouldn’t) and to prevent the cake bottom from browning too much.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spice blend until well mixed. In another bowl, combine the oil, milk, eggs, and rum. Zest the orange directly into the bowl. Halve the orange, squeeze 1/4 cup juice (57 grams), and add to the bowl with the liquids. Whisk until smooth.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Start whisking slowly from the center of the bowl, gradually drawing in the dry ingredients to prevent them from clumping. Once all the dry ingredients are incorporated, whisk just until smooth. The thick batter should drip off the whisk. Pour into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake, rotating the pan 180 degrees once halfway through, until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Unmold and cool completely on the rack.
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