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The Olive Oil Cake That Made Nancy Silverton Question her Own

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Tra-la-la, it's The Fall Cookbook Cake Parade: a new cake from a new cookbook every single day. Are your costumes cake pans ready?

Today: a goodie-rich Italian cake from Mozza at Home.

Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Pine Nuts
Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Pine Nuts

Nancy Silverton serves a rosemary olive oil cake at her Los Angeles restaurant Mozza, but there was a different one she wanted to put in her new book, Mozza at Home. She explains in the headnote:

The brilliant butcher and my dear friend Dario Cecchini serves this at his restaurants in the town of Panzano, in Tuscany. After a seven-course fixed menu of meat dishes, Dario brings out this cake, cut into squares and stacked high on a plate. As he sets it down, he explains to guests that the reason he makes this cake after the animal-heavy feast is that it is the rare dessert that doesn’t contain any dairy products—so it’s a sort of nod to those who don’t like to mix meat with dairy.

The olive oil cake I’d been making for years is made with equal parts olive and milk, so I was intrigued when I learned that Dario’s cake doesn’t contain milk. Dario’s lovely wife, Kim Wicks, shared the recipe with me, and my pastry chefs worked to replicate the cake back in Los Angeles, which is always a challenge because of the difference in flours and leavenings used in Italy and here.

After further experimentation by my friend Ruth Reichl, we determined what, deep down, I already knew: there is no substitute for Italian leavening. Alternatively, you can use equal parts baking powder and baking soda, and the cake will be delicious. But if you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating this cake in Dario’s restaurant, perched as it is over the mountainside in his little village south of Chianti, you might notice that Dario’s cake is ever-so-slightly airier.

As I said, I’ve made my own version of an olive oil cake for years, but where mine has a pretty straightforward, sponge cake–like texture, Dario’s contains a lot of “goodies,” including chopped oranges (including the peel), wine-soaked raisins, and pine nuts. But my favorite thing about Dario’s cake is that it’s so moist it lasts for days. Put it on a plate with a knife and leave it on the kitchen counter and I guarantee not a single individual will be able to walk by without taking a sliver.

Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Pine Nuts

Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Pine Nuts

Food52 Food52
Serves 10 to 12
  • 1/2 cup plump raisins (preferably Flame raisins; about 5 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vin santo (or another sweet dessert wine)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, preferably Sicilian
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 navel oranges, halved through the stems (unpeeled), seeds removed and discarded
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Italian leavening 
(such as Benchmate or Paneangeli; or 1 teaspoon baking soda plus
 1 teaspoon baking powder)
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups pastry flour
(or unbleached all-purpose flour)
  • Rosemary tufts pulled from 2 long fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Go to Recipe

For more of Nancy's signature Italian food with California flare, her new book is Mozza at Home

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Cake, The Fall Cookbook Cake Parade, Books