Olive Oil

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

June 15, 2018

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.

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. 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.

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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.

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Top Comment:
“I made it as muffins (cupcakes?) and they came out fine after 35 min of baking time. I also used turbinado sugar and lemon zest instead of orange.”
— FrugalCat

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.

Here's Another Delicious Cake

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  • Lee
  • Meg
  • Julia Landau Dewees
    Julia Landau Dewees
  • FrugalCat
  • Smaug
Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Lee November 1, 2021
could buttermilk be sub’d for milk?
Meg March 12, 2019
A mild flavored olive oil? Any suggestions?
Julia L. June 16, 2018
Can I use almond milk instead?
FrugalCat June 16, 2018
I made it as muffins (cupcakes?) and they came out fine after 35 min of baking time. I also used turbinado sugar and lemon zest instead of orange.
Smaug June 16, 2018
For what it's worth, "abraco" (don't know to type the cedilla) is Portuguese for "embrace".
Lee June 15, 2018
Can this bew made as muffins?
Hana A. June 15, 2018
I'm sure you could, I'd just adjust the bake time and monitor it starting at 15-20 minutes, depending on your muffin tin tray size.
Lee June 15, 2018
Could chocolate chunks be added?
Or candied orange peel?
Or nuts?
Hana A. June 15, 2018
Hi Lee - I don't see why not! I would just adjust the sugar levels accordingly if you're adding sweet things. Go nuts! And please let me know how it turns out. :)
Eric K. June 15, 2018
I think you should write a book called Korean Ajumma Cakes.