Let me tell you about a friend of mine, code name Star Wars [for those of you who know him, this nickname should be incredibly obvi as to who it is, but as you know, everyone in my life must have an alternative name, just to keep things interesting].
Star Wars is the healthiest health nut I have ever met. For the most part, I eat pretty healthily [no fried foods, no potato chips], but this guy makes me sound and feel obese. But he was also my partner-in-crime for various baking adventures this past summer in the SigEp fraternity house. Together, we plundered the house kitchen and devised new methods of dealing with oven dials that worked backwards, multiplying rat populations, stolen Grade AA maple syrup, tupperwares without lids, and the constant shortage of mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas, and baking dishes. Yet despite all these mishaps, we still managed to bake up a storm week after week, satiating the other brothers of the house and experimenting with new and healthier options for desserts. And for better or for worse, he has transformed me into a more conscious baker. Although I am not even close to his level, I, now, prefer whole-wheat flour over all-purpose and limiting the usage of butter. The changes are minimal, yet the results are a healthier product that I can enjoy while still retaining some nutritional benefits.
Since he moved out of the house, our baking sessions had ended, but our desire [or necessity] to restore Team Buckwheat [the name of our powerhouse kitchen duo] remained steadfast. Thus, after countless phone calls, last-minute cancellations, and schedule reconfigurations, we finally set a plan to meet today. His dish was pumpkin bread, while I settled on a recipe I found when reading some filter blogs: Olive oil cake.
I know, that sounds rather strange and even disgusting upon first hearing it, but let me help clear that bias. Olive oil lends a full and fruity flavour to baked goods, and its heart-healthy fats are much better than butter, which would make Star Wars very proud. Incorporating some semolina into the batter makes for a cornbread-like texture that balances with the oil nicely, and the cream and eggs keep the cake moist so that it resembles almost a coffeecake of sorts. In fact, I want to play around with this recipe more to see if I can create an upside-down coffeecake with some fruit. Pears, perhaps?
I am also a sucker for orange zest; one of my signature dishes for potlucks is an orange-ricotta cheesecake. Just a teaspoon livens up any cake and makes it cool and fresh when you bite into it. It is very underused amongst bakers I know, but I really encourage you to try sprucing up your next project with a bit of it, for the results will blow your mind.
In the midst of watching YouTube videos about SlapChop [watch it here, along with all its parodies; the rap video is awesome], both our cakes were a little overbaked, but luckily, neither Star Wars nor I are too picky about slightly overdone goods. A quick flip onto a plate and a knife rendered a warm, golden slice topped with sugary chopped almonds for an extra crunch. The final verdict? Success - as deemed by a taste test from his roommates [we would have been too biased in our assessments].
Oh, and his cake was great, too!
Ideas for next time: Fruit for a coffeecake; different types of nuts; caramel topping
Besty Zesty Cake
2 ea, large eggs, room temperature
3/4 C sugar
1 C whole-wheat flour
1/2 C semolina
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil (not too bitter)
1/2 C cream
1 tbl honey
2 tbl sugar
1/3 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Oil a cake pan with olive oil.
Combine flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and zest in a small bowl. Mix to make sure zest is evenly distributed. (Easily done with hand.)
Combine oil, cream, and honey in a measuring cup. Give a quick stir to mix everything.
In an electric mixer, cream sugar and eggs with paddle attachment on medium high until pale yellow, about 1 minute. On medium speed, add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the wet ingredients. With every addition, make sure to incorporate without overbeating. Scrape down sides as necessary.
With a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the oiled baking dish. Sprinkle sugar and almond mixture on top. Place in middle rack of oven, and bake until slightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 40 minutes.