Some ingredients appear more often in savory dishes than sweet ones. Saffron and olive oil are clearly two instances of this. Saffron is a spice – the most expensive, by weight, in the world – that is renowned for the bright yellow color it gives to dishes. It has a slightly grassy, sweet flavor to it and it is usually found giving its brilliant color to savory rice and couscous dishes. Olive oil, of course, has many savory applications from salad dressing to cooking oil. But both are versatile ingredients and they come together very nicely in this simple cake.
This Saffron and Olive Oil Cake was inspired by a recent trip to Spain, where both saffron and olive oil are very common in the food. Of course, I didn’t have the two of them together in a cake while I was there, though! Olive oil, much like wine, can have many layers of flavor to it. In addition to the flavor of olives, many also have very floral notes (just as dark chocolate, coffee or wine can have), nutty tones and grassy or earthy flavors. You can really smell the olive oil in the cake batter, but once the cake is baked all of these subtle notes come out and the once-strong olive taste settles mildly into the background. Saffron will impart a yellow color to the cake and will highlight some of the earthier notes in the olive oil. The result is a cake that starts with a very simple recipe and ends up with a surprisingly complex flavor to it!
For this cake, you can use any kind of olive oil, but since you’re going to taste it in the finished product, more complex extra virgin olive oils are the best choice (I actually used Crisco’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I found had a nice fruity flavor to it when I tried it during an olive oil tasting last year). The cake is moist and tender, with a texture somewhere between a sponge cake and a pound cake. You can bake it in a regular 9-inch pan, but I think it is easiest to get it out of a springform pan. I finish this off with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar to give it a little sweetness, but it is also good served plain or with a little bit of lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Saffron and Olive Oil Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 tsp finely ground saffron (a bit less than 1/2-oz)
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup milk (low fat or regular)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until smooth. Whisk in the saffron. Blend in melted butter and olive oil. Stir in half of the flour mixture, followed by the milk. Stir in the remaining flour mixture, stirring only until no streaks of dry ingredients remain and batter is just combined. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clear or with just a few moist crumbs attached.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.