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.)
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.
- 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
Here's Another Delicious Cake
Are you a fan of olive oil cakes? Share your favorite with us below!