• Yoghurt and olive oil cake (Jono Fleming)Source: Jono Fleming
Olive oil is great for splashing in your salad, but even better when chilling in your cake.
17 May 2021 - 10:29 AM  UPDATED 19 May 2021 - 10:26 AM

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Nonnas have known it for centuries: using olive oil in your cake baking makes for a superior crumb. There are many reasons for this, but three important ones are:

1. Good quality olive oil adds a rich, earthy flavour that perfectly balances cake's general sweetness.

2. Olive oil is full of polyphenols that act as antioxidants and feed the gut microbiome. Adding a distinctly healthy benefit to scoffing through afternoon tea.

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3. It keeps in the pantry, ready to roll. No fussing around with melting butter or ghee.

You won't need further convincing of the superiority of olive oil cakes. However, being absolutely certain is always a good idea. Our advice is to start baking at the top of this list and keep on going until there's no doubt in your mind that olive oil cakes are life.

Berry good oil

Yoghurt, blackberry and olive oil loaf cake

This loaf is proof that olive oil can make a berry light cake when needed. The acid in the yoghurt helps produce a light crumb cake that is incredibly moreish. Even better, it takes a very light 15 minutes to prepare.

Spice of life

It's not just the nonnas that mix olive oil into their cakes; Middle Eastern recipes have included it for years. Try these little olive oil cakes which are plump with spices and orange blossom syrup.

Strawberry stunner

Top an olive oil and yoghurt cake with a heap of strawberries and a swirl of marscapone icing. It's a celebration cake that you can whip up in a jiffy and devour quicker than it takes to sing Happy Birthday.

A whole ricotta good

Another lovely cake that takes only 15 minutes to bake (are you noticing a theme here?). This one is like a sponge and Madeira love fest and it's perfect for dunking into your morning coffee.

Marbled marvel

A ciambella is an Italian ring-shaped cake that looks like it's a bother, but actually takes (you guessed it) 15 minutes to prep. You simply divide the batter into two bowls and add cocoa to one of them. Swirl the two gently in the ring tin and you're ready to pop the cake into the oven.

Moroccan take

An olive oil cake is generally a little denser than most, so it pairs well with a syrup for dessert. In this recipe, Shane Delia makes a date syrup that soaks beautifully into the spiced cake that's made with panko crumbs instead of flour. Somehow, it all works like a charm.

Softly does it

The beauty of using olive oil in your baking is that it's the perfect bridge between sweet and savoury. As in this recipe, adding traditionally 'savoury' herbs to a sweet batter suddenly seems like a good idea. Because it is.

Yes, olive oil also has a sweet side
From zesty cake to creamy custards and ice-cream, here are the sensational desserts that tap into olive oil's sweet side.

Balance it out

Mandarin & bay leaf olive loaf

This mandarin and bay leaf loaf has a hearty slug of olive oil added. The bay leaf brings out the grassy notes of the oil, which balances the fresh tartness of at least five mandarins. It's easily as good to eat as that sounds.

Drunk on oil

The only thing that's better in a cake than olive oil is booze. Silvia Colloca mixes a good slug of sambuca to this apricot cake, but you can also substitute milk if you're making it for morning tea, or, you know, children.

Dense goodness

Lemon olive oil cake

Making cakes with olive oil instead of butter means you can bake a more robust cake. Think cakes that stand up to rich ice cream, gooey coulis and sticky syrup. Try this lemon version that's served with a caramel ice cream and poached blackberry syrup and you'll soon get the idea. 

Goodbye gluten

Another big plus for olive oil baking is that it soaks into nut flours like a dream. The carrot cake above is gluten-free, with added vegetables and walnuts. Olive oil binds it all together beautifully, making for a moist, tempting cake.

French win

The French never miss a trick when it comes to good food, so naturally they have their own version of the yoghurt and olive oil cake. Of course, being French and fancy, this one takes a mere 10 minutes to prepare, not 15 as for Italian versions. Et voilà!

Well oiled
Olive oil mashed potatoes

I particularly love the grassy notes that olive oil adds to mashed potatoes, and often use a pungent Tuscan-style extra-virgin olive oil for added flavour.

Yoghurt and olive oil bread

This easy egg-free recipe will give you a lovely soft sourdough bread which is made using a special firm sourdough starter, lievito madre. If you prefer a 'sweeter' bread, rise both starter and dough at a warm-room temperature between 25-35˚C.

White wine and olive oil crackers (taralli al vino)

Add these twist-shaped crackers to your cheeseboard or just snack away!

Pizza rustica with olive oil pastry

Pizza rustica is like a hybrid between a pastry and a calzone, with an unleavened olive oil pastry-like dough encasing anything your heart desires. In this case, a classic spinach and ricotta filling.

No-knead bread with olive oil and chorizo

This is the perfect lazy baking recipe, as there is no need to knead the dough.

Chocolate and orange mousse with olive oil and salt

The Spanish fell in love with chocolate and spread it around the world. And this smooth operator of a mousse sits almighty on a bed of chocolate soil - this is big spoon territory. The Chefs' Line

Olive oil braised beans with lemon and tomato (zeytinyağli bakla)

Simple spring ingredients come together to deliver a slow-cooked dish that gives new life to beans.

Olive oil poached octopus with cayenne pepper

New season Picual extra virgin olive oil is my choice here as it carries a nice amount of pepperiness and a delightfully fresh green tomato vine-like flavour to finish. The oil's robustness stands up to the spice of the cayenne pepper and the ocean saltiness of the octopus.