The Olive Oil Cake That Made Nancy Silverton Question her Own

October 11, 2016

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.

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:

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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.

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Top Comment:
“Any substitute that could be used making this cake equally delicious? The ingredients are amazing and we need a great new cake in our lives! Thanks!”
— Maria

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.

But my favorite thing about Dario’s cake is that it’s so moist it lasts for days.

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.

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Keith
  • pbf
  • thecookandthetraveler
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    Marlene Tramonte
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    Kayla Reopelle
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Keith December 4, 2016
I followed the recipe
Keith December 4, 2016
I followed this recipe as written and the cake came out beautiful and the flavor was as expected (nice but not great), however I would recommend to take the pith out of the orange as it did impart bitter notes into he cake.
pbf November 1, 2016
Why aren't the measurements given in weights? It seems to me that a web site of this quality should at least give baking measurements in weight and if you insist on volume give that as an alternative. Weight measurements are so much more accurate -- and easier to use. With digital scales being so cheap, there is no reason not to have -- and use -- one.
thecookandthetraveler October 22, 2016
One more comment about the leavening...having lived and baked in Rome I frankly never warmed up to the powdered leavening in small packets that is our equivalent to baking powder and soda. Somehow the Italian leavening powder always seemed to impart an artificial vanilla flavor (this was from my own baking experience not from cakes sampled at breakfast eating out). Having said this I was happy to use the American version of equal parts baking soda and baking powder and my cake rose just perfectly and had the perfect texture. I found the cake to taste better as it matured through the week!
thecookandthetraveler October 22, 2016
Very Very Good! For anyone wanting substitutes just let your imagination run wild. I will definitely be making this again with my own spin: black walnuts, grapefruit, or lemon. The switch-out in this recipe seems to be full of options.
Marlene T. October 22, 2016
Yeast is not the correct leavening. If you have an Italian grocery in your neighborhood, you might be able to get paneangeli. It is a baking powder
Kayla R. October 18, 2016
I'm in a similar boat with Maria. This sounds delicious, but I am allergic to oranges, is there another non-citrus fruit that would be a good substitute?
Debra March 22, 2019
What about figs, chopped.
[email protected] November 21, 2023
I used dried cherries w/the vinsanto and it's wonderful. dried figs is a great idea.
Maria October 12, 2016
Hi, I would LOVE to make this cake, but my daughter is extremely allergic to pine nuts. Any substitute that could be used making this cake equally delicious? The ingredients are amazing and we need a great new cake in our lives! Thanks!
Karen B. October 21, 2016
Hi, I had run out of pine nuts so substituted flaked almonds. They were delicious.
Lisa October 11, 2016
Thanks Prathima! Very helpful. Hooray for Amazon.
Lisa October 11, 2016
Without going to Italy, where can I buy Italian leavening?
Prathima October 11, 2016
Prathima October 11, 2016
Did that sound curt? I meant to be more polite and say that Paneangeli is available in a pack of 10 on
Lazyretirementgirl October 19, 2016
What I found on Amazon was yeast -- is that the correct leavening?
abuttonbox November 16, 2023
It's not any better than baking soda and baking powder.