Rich, fruity olive oil is a fantastic ingredient to cook with. It works in all kinds of meat and pasta dishes, and can be used to make delicious salad dressings and mayonnaise. It is not usually an ingredient used by bakers (especially if you like to bake sweets!), because its strong flavor isn’t what you want to taste in your average vanilla or chocolate cake. Neutral vegetable oils, like canola oil, are more popular choices for baking because they don’t add any additional flavors to a recipe but still leave you with a moist, tender baked good. But olive oil can be a wonderful choice for baking if you use it in a recipe that suits it.
When baking with olive oil, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that you get a good result. You want a recipe where the flavor of the olive oil can stand out and where it will be a complimentary flavor in the rest of the dish. Olive oil can have many layers of flavor to it. In addition to the flavor of olives, many also have very floral or nutty notes and grassy or earthy flavors. You want to choose a recipe where these flavors won’t be out of place (as they would probably be in a vanilla birthday cake), and if they can stand out and shine, so much the better.
Olive oil goes extremely well with fruity flavors and can be a good choice in recipes that already feature citrus or fresh berries. These draw out the sweeter notes in the oil and contrast well with the more savory tones. It does not work particularly well with buttercream or cream cheese frostings because the richness of the olive oil competes too much with the buttery frosting and can cause a cake to taste a little grease, so simpler cakes and muffins are typically better choices. Any savory baked good, including herb and cheese muffins, biscuits or breads, can be a good match for olive oil even if the recipe calls for plain vegetable oil.
At the end of the day, your success in baking with olive oil will always come down to personal taste. I don’t regularly use olive oil in my chocolate cakes, but I have had some chocolate olive oil cakes that were very tasty. The most important thing to remember is that olive oil will have a stronger flavor impact on a recipe than other vegetable oils, and that you need to keep that in mind. If you’re a fan of olive oil in general, a little experimentation can definitely yield some delicious results.