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Today: The effortlessly sexy dessert you can stir together from your pantry (+ the olive oil cake that will ruin you for all others).
Does anyone really want a fancy, frilled sweet on Valentine's Day? No, we want cake. Cheery, uncomplicated cake.
We want a cake that doesn't need to grab for attention with flashy swoops and barely edible embellishments (I'm looking at you, dragées) -- one that disarms and lures us in without trying terribly hard, then invites us to take it down in greedy, widening forkfuls.
Whatever you're in the market for this Valentine's Day, this particular cake should cover it: Last minute romance you can bust out with what's in your pantry? To be the coworker who brings treats that will get demolished, unlike that weird chocolate that's been hanging out since Christmas? Or just distraction -- to stir together a few things, and make your house thrum with warmth and happy, citrusy smells.
The answer in all of these cases, if you haven't guessed, is Maialino's Olive Oil Cake.
You're having one of two reactions right now. 1: You're someone who's never known an olive oil cake, and you're going to need to trust us. This cake bears no resemblance to salad dressing.
Olive oil cake at its best has a crackling crust and an aromatic oil-rich middle, which, if it held any more moisture, would be pudding. Pulling this off should be easy -- there aren't even egg whites to whip and fold, or butter to cream -- but it isn't always. They can be surprisingly temperamental -- dry or uneven or sodden with egg. Which brings us to Group 2:
You know olive oil cake well, and you've been on the hunt for the perfect version to make at home. This is it.
To develop their perfect version, Maialino's pastry chef Rachel Binder worked with Gerri Sarnataro, a pastry instructor at ICE -- they were looking for a cake you could find in Italy, but one that still felt original. "We didn't want it to scream olive oil," Binder told me.
To make it at home, first find 2 bowls and a cake pan.
Stir together wet ingredients: olive oil, milk, eggs, orange juice and zest, Grand Marnier.
Then stir together dry ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda.
Then stir them all together.
Pour into pan. Now bake.
Maialino also serves it at breakfast in muffin form, and they've been known to turn it into a birthday cake, layered with mascarpone buttercream.
And should you still want to sell it a little harder on Friday -- Binder will be serving it on Maialino's Valentine's menu scattered with heirloom citrus segments and pomegranate seeds. "A little bit different from your typical chocolate and raspberries," she said. Good.
Adapted slightly from Maialino Restaurant in New York City
Makes a 9-inch round cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Brette Warshaw and Marian Bull for this one!
Photos by James Ransom