Genius Recipes

The Most Beloved Genius Dessert of All Time

April 25, 2018

The most popular dessert in Genius Recipes history? Why, surely it must be Dorie Greenspan & Pierre Hermé’s World Peace Cookies! (Everyone’s still talking about them.)

Or maybe it's Alice Medrich’s fudgy Best Cocoa Brownies, or some other recipe that’s already been celebrated hither and thither across the baking universe. No? But it's definitely something chocolate—right?

At least that’s what I thought. But, in honor of the Genius Desserts cookbook launching for pre-order this week (it’s heading off to the printers as we speak!), I decided to actually look into your number-one Genius dessert to date. Using our handy recipe filter system—which is based on some algorithmic combination of faves (a.k.a. that little heart button that appears at the top of every recipe), saves, comments, and astrological sign—I beep-bop-booped to find the fairest of them all.

As famous and well-loved as those iconic recipes are, your deep-down favorite turned out to be a bit more of an underdog: Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake. Ta-da?

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I want you to look at the original photos below—the cake is a little lumpy, humbly photographed in the dark, with zero suggestion of garnish or drink pairing. This is not the kind of cake that would catch fire on Instagram these days, like twirly rose cakes and terrarium cakes and homemade Funfetti do.

Thanks for noticin' me.

But looks, as we know, aren’t everything. Here are a few reasons why I think you love this cake so much. For one thing, it’s the perfect olive oil cake—a genre that’s surprisingly hard to crack, at the refreshing midpoint of the savory-sweet continuum.

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Top Comment:
“I dessicated orange and lemon slices to put on top and around the cake stand for a little more aesthetic appeal.) It has also become my husband's favorite-ever, even beating out his mom's lemon tart as birthday dessert-of-choice. Happy to see it's found so many other admirers :)”
— Alison M.

It’s also pretty much the laziest cake recipe around—no electric machinery needed, no waiting for butter to soften or eggs to whip: You just whisk the dry, whisk the wet, whisk together, boom. The oil helps make cakes much more resilient against overbaking and staling than butter does (and olive oil specifically provides flavor that neutral oils don’t).

I love that a cake that's looked so unassuming and unadorned since 2014 is tops for you. But one last lovable thing about this cake is that it’s a real chameleon—Food52ers have filled it with pineapple curd and topped it with lavender whipped cream and turned it into, yes, chocolate cake.

This cake is perfection. There I said it💎🖖🏻
Food52er paramount

The recipe's comments section—at 316 and counting—is a trove of new ideas and happy examples of cooks helping fellow cooks out when they're wondering how the cake bakes at altitude or in a loaf pan or as muffins (great, great, really great).

Hello, strawberry season!

Its affable nature also made it the perfect landing pad for one of the brand-new Genius desserts from the book—20th Century Cafe pastry chef Michelle Polzine's very, very low and slow-roasted strawberries—pictured here, the deep berry syrup mingling with the whiffs of orange and olive oil.

Since strawberry season is finally pretty much a go for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, I couldn't keep this springy new topping to myself till September. Live it up with everyone's favorite cake just like this, or go your own way—just be sure to come back and tell us all about it.

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From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • doris
  • Marlene Forster
    Marlene Forster
  • kim
  • Ecole Nelson-Gonzales
    Ecole Nelson-Gonzales
  • Karen Gaylin
    Karen Gaylin
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


doris December 20, 2021
I made this for a dinner party - I used Chambord in place of Grand Mariner and topped it with blueberry sauce with a splash of the Chambord. What a hit! Next time will purchase raspberries for the sauce to match the Chambord
Marlene F. April 16, 2020
I’m surprised you didn’t tell your students to always crack each egg into a cup before adding to a batter. That way you can more easily scoop out any pieces of shell before they get into the batter.
kim April 16, 2019
Like so many, this has been my go-to cake since you published it! My son requests it for his birthday (I have 2 in the oven as I write)—I have to mail it to him, and this cake is perfect for that because it does not get stale and it holds up to shipping. I’ve learned it’s a little easier to ship when I make two 7” cakes (I use springform pans). I used to own a bakery and cafe, but I’m really not such a great cake-maker—I had talented bakers doing the cakes. This cake, however, has NEVER failed me.
Ecole N. May 7, 2018
I made this cake and it was superb. I made fresh whipped cream with orange zest and orange juice to go on top: fabulous, but what made it all worthwhile was the cake, hands down.
Karen G. May 4, 2018
That's a lot of oil for one cake. Could I substitute 1/3 cup apple sauce for 1/3 cup olive oil to maintaine the moisture?
Patricia L. April 16, 2020
Karen G, how did this cake result with your 1/3C applesauce substitution? (Despite the many rave reviews, I too am hesitant about using that much olive oil. The cake crumb in the photo of cake slice --towards the bottom just above roasted strawberries-- appears very oily....just wondering about the end product oiliness as well as overall flavor).
MJ April 27, 2018
Can this cake be made with gluten-free flour (instead of all purpose flour) and almond milk (instead of whole milk)? Anybody tried this yet?
Monica B. April 27, 2018
I imagine that it would work fairly well. You probably won't get the same texture but it should be delicious. I think using some almond flour or coconut flour, in addition to the GF would be fantastic.
Kristen M. April 28, 2018
Hi MJ, I recommend skimming through the comments on the recipe page—I think some folks have done both of these things (plus lots of other tweaks) with success:
Patricia L. April 16, 2020
Hello Kristen M, with all the various types of olive oil and how differently each could affect the flavor etc, what do you suggest to use, or not use? Thank you!
LLStone April 27, 2018
This is my go-to dessert. It's so very good, and so versatile. I sing its praises!!
daisybrain April 27, 2018
I get asked to make this cake all the time by people for whom I've previously made it. It's damn near perfect.
Ttrockwood April 26, 2018
I am not a skilled baker and make this when i need a cake, usually with lemon zest and swapping more oj in for the grand marnier. I love making this into muffins as well- i fell in love with the olive oil muffins at Maialino and having one with some fruit for breakfast keeps me full and happy!
Tracy April 25, 2018
You are right. This is one of the best and easiest cakes to make! Decadent and delicious. Baked in my solar oven with the roasted strawberries. Thank-you!!
Mimi April 25, 2018
If I take out the grand marnier should I add more liquid?
Monica B. April 26, 2018
most likely. More orange juice maybe.
Alison M. April 25, 2018
I baked and served this cake at my wedding, along with a strawberry-champagne layer cake and homemade funfetti! (I dessicated orange and lemon slices to put on top and around the cake stand for a little more aesthetic appeal.) It has also become my husband's favorite-ever, even beating out his mom's lemon tart as birthday dessert-of-choice. Happy to see it's found so many other admirers :)
Kristen M. April 28, 2018
Love this, Alison!
Monica B. April 25, 2018
I often make this with finely ground semolina flour or half white/half cornmeal and it is so great. Works in a loaf pan too.
NandR April 25, 2018
Will 2% milk work with this recipe? Thanks!
Ttrockwood April 26, 2018
Yes, no problem!
Kimberly S. April 25, 2018
This is my go to cake, loved by every single person who has eaten it. I have baked it so many times that I have lost count. I’ve been asked for the recipe almost the same number of times. I couldn’t sing it’s praises enough. Love this cake!
Kristen M. April 25, 2018
Great to hear, Kimberly—I'm so happy it's been a hit.
CDP April 25, 2018
Can you please include the metrics volume measure for the cake? (Which sounds delicious!) Thank you.
Kristen M. April 25, 2018
Sure thing! The original recipe didn't have them, but everything in the book has been retested (and re-retested :) with metric measurements, so I just added them to the recipe.
Terese F. April 25, 2018
Hi! I can’t wsit to try this and! My question: will it be possible to make this in a loaf pan? Thank you!