What to CookOlive Oil

The Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake I Make 2 Loaves at a Time

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There is a category of cake that I call "Korean ajumma cake." An ajumma refers to a married Korean woman of a certain age (usually middle age); it's as much a term of respect as it is one of endearment.

In my mind, these cakes fall into the easy-to-eat variety of sponge cakes, pound cakes, jelly rolls (mocha, please), light-as-air cheesecakes, sometimes incorporating Asian-friendly flavors like green tea or red bean, sometimes pushing into pastry and Danish territory. You know a good ajumma cake when you taste one. These usually not-too-sweet cakes are enjoyed alongside weak coffee or tea with fellow ajummas over long conversations where tales of church life, kids' academics, can't-miss-sales, and spousal gripes are shared freely and empathized with openly.

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When I first tasted this olive oil loaf from Abraço in New York's East Village nearly a decade ago, I knew it'd be a hit with my mom. Not too sweet, tender, tinged with the scent of orange zest, and a perfect foil for Abraço's amazing coffee, it had all the markings of a great ajumma cake. And when I was lucky enough to come upon a recipe for it from a back issue of Bon Appetit, I obviously had to make it for her. (I've also since made it for my Korean mother-in-law, whose enthusiastic approval and immediate request for a recipe told me everything.)

You might as well x2 all the ingredients from the start.
You might as well x2 all the ingredients from the start. Photo by Rocky Luten

Well, guess what? This is also just a plain ol', good ol' olive oil cake beloved by anyone who tastes it! My husband, my 4-year-old, the legions of fans who've helped take the tiny Abraço kiosk of a storefront across the street to larger digs where their signature olive oil cake continues to fly out of their never-too-sweet, savory-leaning pastry case.

This loaf comes together shockingly easily, but also disappears with frightening speed: I've smartened up to know that when I make it, I'd better double up on the recipe. My family and I can zip through a single loaf the day it's made; the second loaf benefits from a bit of rest, and is superb for a quick breakfast on-the-go in the ensuing days.

The recipe is perfect as is, but sometimes I'll tweak it slightly to make it even less sweet (2/3 cup of sugar versus the whole cup), increase the amount of zest, change up the citrus (Meyer lemon is heavenly), even grease the pan with butter and coarse sugar and/or cornmeal to give the lovely loaf a bit of texture and character. Go wild. And while you're at it, make a loaf for your mom—I bet she'll love it, too.

Abraço Olive Oil Cake

Abraço Olive Oil Cake

Hana Asbrink Hana Asbrink
Makes 1 loaf
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup mild-flavored organic olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
Go to Recipe

Here's Another Delicious Cake

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Tags: Bake