Keep the Spirit of Hanukkah Burning with Olive Oil Cake
Although Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights, I think a more fitting name would be the festival of fried foods. It’s the time of year during which people expect and want to find deep fried food on their plates and I’m more than happy to oblige. Although, as much as I love eating latkes and sufganiyot, there are moments where I need a break from all the fried foods. Yet in the spirit of the holiday I still want to eat a dish in which oil is a central component.
The solution to this came to me when I remembered a recipe for olive oil cake I had once come across. It offers a nod to the miracle of oil that is celebrated during this holiday, without having to turn on your deep fryer.
The connection between olive oil and the Jewish community stretches far back. A pure form of olive oil is what would have probably been used to light the menorah in the temple, while along with grains and wine, olive oil made up the core of the diet and economy of ancient Israel. It was also seen as a symbol of holiness, wisdom, abundance, and blessing in ancient Israeli society. In modern times, olive oil is still central to the cuisine of Israel with about five thousand tons of it being produced annually.
Olive oil was even a topic of discussion in the Talmud where it was said, “Olives produce forgetfulness of what one has learned, while olive oil makes a clear head.” Centuries later, during the inquisition, olive oil was taken as evidence of a cook being Jewish.
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The recipe I chose produces an unassuming cake that may not be the belle of the ball, but if you give it a try you’ll find that it is really lovely. A bite of it reveals a soft crumb that gives way to a complexity of flavors. The orange zest brings a refreshing brightness to the cake, while the olive oil that I used imparted a note of spiciness. These flavors linger just long enough to cause you to marvel at how good they are, after which the only thing you can do is take another bite.
This is the perfect recipe when you need a break from all the fried foods or if you just want something a little different to eat during your holiday feasting.
Orange-Olive Oil Cake with Honey Syrup
Adapted slightly from seriouseats.com
Olive Oil Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Butter for the pan
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups 2% milk, at room temperature
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Grated zest of 2 oranges
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¾ to 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used ¾ cup of olive oil when making this cake because I was using a strongly flavored olive oil. If you’re using something fruitier or milder then I would suggest adding in the entire cup)
½ cup honey
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 strips of orange zest, cut with a vegetable peeler
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan making sure to shake out the excess flour. Set the cake pan aside.
2. Using a fine meshed sieve, shift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a small bowl. Stir in the salt and set the dry ingredients aside.
3. In another small bowl combine the milk, orange juice and orange zest. Set the wet ingredients aside.
4. Place the eggs and the sugar in a large bowl and whisk until they are well combined and smooth.
5. Gradually add the olive oil to the egg mixture in a slow but steady stream, as you would do when making mayonnaise. To make pouring the olive oil easier you can put it into a liquid measuring cup or a plastic squeeze bottle. You can also place a kitchen towel around the bottom of the bowl to help hold it steady.
6. Once the oil has been emulsified into the egg mixture, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the wet ingredients in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry. Without overbeating, make sure to fully incorporate the dry and wet ingredients after each addition so that you have a smooth batter.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and give the pan two or three taps on the counter to settle any air bubbles.
8. Bake the cake until is a deep golden brown and it is slightly domed, about 60 to 70 minutes. When testing the cake, to see if it is done a skewer should come out clean, although it’s okay if there are a few moist crumbs.
9. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a plate. Place the cake right side up and allow to cool on a wire rack until only slightly warm or room temperature.
10. While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Combine the honey, sugar, water, cinnamon and citrus zest in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the liquid at a simmer. Simmer until the syrup is reduced by almost half, about 10-15 minutes. This syrup isn’t too thick and is easily pourable. Remove the cinnamon sticks and the zest from the syrup and discard, and pour into a bowl to cool to room temperature.
11. When serving the cake, drizzle each slice generously with the honey syrup.