The Genius Olive Oil Cake That's Never Let Me Down

Not even once.

March 24, 2023
Photo by MJ Kroeger

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not enjoy baking. My short attention span can't handle the precision it so often demands, plus I find all-purpose flour (and the ease with which it coats every surface in my kitchen) endlessly annoying. For that reason, you'll rarely find me pulling out my mixing bowl set from the back of the cupboard to whip up a batch of cupcakes or cookies, or (shudder) something more complicated like croissants or macarons—I'll leave that to the professionals.

There is, however, one very notable exception to my bad baking attitude: Maialino's Olive Oil Cake.

Members of the Food52 community are probably well acquainted with this cake. With approximately 568 reviews and countless five-star ratings, it quickly became a favorite after it was first featured in Kristen Miglore's Genius recipe column in 2014. (For those who hadn't yet come across an olive cake back then, she had to guarantee that the cake in no way resembled salad dressing; these days, no such assurances are needed.)

My most recent olive oil cake, served alongside fresh tulips to trick me into thinking spring is indeed here.

“Finding what turned out to be the most beloved Genius dessert of all time was a happy fluke,” Kristen told me recently. “Unlike most other Genius Recipes, it hadn’t been published in a cookbook or anywhere else. Our editorial team just loved the olive oil cake at Maialino in New York City, not far from our office, and we asked then-pastry chef Rachel Binder if she’d share the recipe. When she did, it was perfectly sized for a home kitchen and couldn’t have been simpler to bake.” She added that this rarely happens (lucky us!).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have two bottles of Sicilian lemon olive oil(gift) and could I substitute that for the EVOO? And use lemon zest & juice instead? But what can I use instead of the alcohol? I don’t have any Grand Marnier and actually don’t like it. TIA”
— MC

The cake’s effort-to-reward ratio has a lot to do with why it's pretty much the only thing I’ll ever bake. Requiring just two bowls, it is virtually impossible to screw up. All you have to do is stir the wet ingredients, stir the dry ingredients, then combine ‘em and—voila—your cake batter is ready to go in the oven.

Since it is, well, an olive oil cake, the type of olive oil definitely makes an impact (Kristen recommends something floral to complement the citrus). Fresh orange juice and zest are key; I typically use navel oranges, but blood oranges also work nicely, and Meyer lemons could be fun. I've swapped in triple sec many times in a pinch, but Grand Marnier gives you the most depth of flavor. The actual baking part is equally foolproof: All you have to do is keep an eye on it around the hour mark, and you’ll know it's ready once a tester knife or toothpick comes out clean. In my oven, the cake takes about an hour and 20 minutes to cook through.

The resulting cake is simply perfect.

The crust is a deep-deep golden brown and very crackly (it makes a wonderful sound when you slice through it). The crumb is ultra tender and rich, thanks to the oil—though “oily” is never a word I've heard used to describe this cake. And the taste? Fragrant with citrus and just the right amount sweet, it’s the ideal base for topping with anything from whipped cream to fruit compote.

I have made this cake dozens of times since discovering the recipe a few years ago—for birthdays, dinner parties, and for no reason at all. One summer, I made it three times in the span of two weeks. My boyfriend, who requests it often, calls it “a cake for all occasions” and one that “actually tastes better the day after you bake it.” One reviewer wrote, “Threw this together last minute for the holidays and was a hit, night after night, even three days later,” so I think he's on to something. It should be noted that we don't even bother ordering olive oil cake when we go out to eat anymore, since “they'll only disappoint in comparison,” he says.

All to say, this is the one cake I can count on—and there's nothing sweeter than that.

Does this recipe hold a special place in your kitchen? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Tucker &. July 26, 2023
Is there anyone out there that has made this gluten free with 1:1 GF flour??
Solana July 29, 2023
I have and it turned out great! I've used Cup4Cup and Bob's Red Mill. And I didn't have Grand Marnier so I subbed extra fresh squeezed oj and extra vanilla.
TraceyH April 6, 2023
Just made this for the first time and I love it! Perfectly light sweetness and tender crumb. Will make again!
FS April 4, 2023
Will anyone please answer the questions?
Allison T. April 4, 2023
Has anyone tried to make this with a gluten free flour blend?
Stacie N. April 1, 2023
Been making this for years, and it is foolproof. I have tried variations, I have left things out, added things in, used one single unlabeled scoop to estimate the measurements of the ingredients - nothing can defeat the ultimate perfection of this cake.
Solveig M. March 30, 2023
Do you know if it would work with gluten free flour?
Laura March 28, 2023
This is our all-time favorite (non-chocolate) cake.
I've made it with lemons and used limoncello in place of the Gran Marnier. Works well and is also delicious.
Ticketytwo March 28, 2023
I’ve been making this cake for years and years. It really is perfect.
MC March 28, 2023
I have two bottles of Sicilian lemon olive oil(gift) and could I substitute that for the EVOO? And use lemon zest & juice instead? But what can I use instead of the alcohol? I don’t have any Grand Marnier and actually don’t like it. TIA
Barb Y. April 29, 2023
Pearl's Lemon Olive Oil cake (also from Food 52) is delicious. Very similar although contains yogurt (I've used lemon, vanilla, plain - doesn't seem to matter) and is always a huge hit.
FS March 28, 2023
What can be substituted for the alcohol? Would orange extract work? Orange oil?
Many years ago I found Ethiopian orange flavored EVOO in a store - it was delicious and would be perfect for this cake!
Lindatrecek March 30, 2023
Can this olive cake recipe be made with vegan ingredients and if so what can I
use instead of eggs and whole milk?
Hannah March 31, 2023
The recipe might turn out more dense than airy, but you can find vegan egg replacers in the supermarket. Otherwise, using a quarter-cup of vegan yogurt per egg might be your best bet for a more fluffy cake. Iv
Hannah March 31, 2023
Didn't mean to post that right away...oops...I was going to say that when replacing eggs for my vegan cousin, I've had the best success with Silk or Almond Breeze plain yogurt. Kite Hill leaves a metallic aftertaste. As for a dairy free milk, oat milk would give the best structure to a cake. The Oatly brand has a "full fat" option that would work in place of whole milk, as well as a dairy-free creamer that would work in place of cows cream.
Lindatrecek March 31, 2023
Thank you!! Will give this a try, for sure !