Citrus Scented Olive Oil Cake

IMG_5222 (1)About six years ago, I had olive oil cake for the first time at Barbacco, a San Francisco trattoria. It was love at first bite. So unique in texture, the fragrance and the concept featuring olive oil in a dessert fascinated me. (I was naïve. There are tons of desserts using olive oil, which inspired my olive oil exploration in cakes, cookies, and ice creams.)


I immediately searched for recipes online. Since then, like a demon needing exercising, I’ve found (and tried many!) well over a dozen olive oil cakes in cookbooks and online. Some require separating eggs, whipping the whites and folding in other ingredients. But those are a lot of work and a lot of dishes to clean. Some are “bundt-like,” adding ingredients like sour cream. While they are fine and good, they are either too labor intensive (from technique to clean up) or have been unnecessarily “Americanized” with extra fats to ensure moisture and a rich bite. The olive oil does that just fine on its own.

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I’ve honed my own version, a Mediterranean-style olive oil cake with simple ingredients and simple techniques. And, one that’s plenty moist from the olive oil and beautifully scented with citrus. Only a bowl, spoon and zester/microplane (or grater) are required. Simple dimple.

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Citrus Scented Olive Oil Cake

  • Servings: 8-10 per loaf, or up to 12 for a sheet cake
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus 1 tablespoon for later use (250 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (1.5 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder  (2 g)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (5.5 g)
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds (100 g)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (400 g)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (250 ml or 8 oz)
  • 1 and 1/4 cups whole milk (312 ml or 10 oz)
  • Zest of 1 large or 2 medium oranges
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice (from the orange you zested) (125 ml or 4 oz)
  • 1/4 cup candied orange or lemon peel for top (optional) tossed with 1 tablespoon of flour
  • Powdered sugar or whipped cream, for garnish (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two standard size loaf pans or a 13 X 9 pan with parchment paper or foil for easy removal.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, olive oil, milk, orange juice, and citrus zest. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Whisk until well blended. Fold in the almonds.
  3. Pour the batter into the buttered or parchment lined cake pan(s). Batter will be very loose. If using candied citrus peel, toss them with one tablespoon of flour and sprinkle them across the top of the cake. Some will stay on top, some will sink in.
  4. Rotate pan(s) halfway through baking time for even cooking.
  5. Bake for approximately 60 – 65 minutes for loaf pans, or 35 – 40 minutes for a 13 X 9 pan. Start checking 5-10 minutes prior to stated cooking time as ovens vary. Test with a toothpick. When it comes out clean, it’s done.  Place on a rack to cool. Run a knife around the edges and place it on a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or dollop with whipped cream and serve.  

This is one of those cakes that gets better each day, up through four days. If you can, make this one day before serving.

Tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, and then placed in a freezer bag or wrapped in foil, loaves freeze well up to a month. Defrost in your refrigerator overnight, and then bring to room temperature before serving.

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Author: gregnelsoncooks

Visit weekly for original and adapted recipes as well as cooking tips to make your kitchen life easier — and more delicious! I’ll include simple, straight forward instructions along with recipes that are truly worth your time making. And, recipes that elevate the familiar and introduce you to the new and unexpected.

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