Dario’s Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Pine Nuts

August 16, 2016
Photo by Mark Weinberg
Author Notes

The brilliant butcher and my dear friend Dario Cecchini serves this at his restaurants in the town of Panzano, in Tuscany. After a seven-course fixed menu of meat dishes, Dario brings out this cake, cut into squares and stacked high on a plate. As he sets it down, he explains to guests that the reason he makes this cake after the animal-heavy feast is that it is the rare dessert that doesn’t contain any dairy products—so it’s a sort of nod to those who don’t like to mix meat with dairy.
The olive oil cake I’d been making for years is made with equal parts olive and milk, so I was intrigued when I learned that Dario’s cake doesn’t contain milk. Dario’s lovely wife, Kim Wicks, shared the recipe with me, and my pastry chefs worked to replicate the cake back in Los Angeles, which is always a challenge because of the difference in flours and leavenings used in Italy and here. After further experimentation by my friend Ruth Reichl, we determined what, deep down, I already knew: there is no substitute for Italian leavening. Alternatively, you can use equal parts baking powder and baking soda, and the cake will be delicious. But if you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating this cake in Dario’s restaurant, perched as it is over the mountainside in his little village south of Chianti, you might notice that Dario’s cake is ever-so-slightly airier.

As I said, I’ve made my own version of an olive oil cake for years, but where mine has a pretty straightforward, sponge cake–like texture, Dario’s contains a lot of “goodies,” including chopped oranges (including the peel), wine-soaked raisins, and pine nuts. But my favorite thing about Dario’s cake is that it’s so moist it lasts for days. Put it on a plate with a knife and leave it on the kitchen counter and I guarantee not a single individual will be able to walk by without taking a sliver.

You will need a 10-inch angel food cake pan to make this. Use a good extra-virgin olive oil, but not a drizzling quality oil, to make this ideally Italian.

Excerpted from Mozza at Home by Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreño Copyright © 2016 by Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreño. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • Serves 10 to 12
  • 1/2 cup plump raisins (preferably Flame raisins; about 5 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vin santo (or another sweet dessert wine)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, preferably Sicilian
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 navel oranges, halved through the stems (unpeeled), seeds removed and discarded
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Italian leavening 
(such as Benchmate or Paneangeli; or 1 teaspoon baking soda plus
 1 teaspoon baking powder)
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups pastry flour
(or unbleached all-purpose flour)
  • Rosemary tufts pulled from 2 long fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting
In This Recipe
  1. Bring the raisins and vin santo to a simmer in a very small saucepan over high heat. Turn off the heat and set aside for the raisins to absorb the wine for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  3. Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are fragrant and golden brown, shaking the baking sheet and rotating it from front to back halfway through the cooking time so the nuts brown evenly. Remove the pine nuts from the oven and set them aside to cool to room temperature.
  4. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F. Spray a 10-inch angel food pan generously with nonstick cooking spray and dust it lightly with flour.
  5. Leaving the peels attached, lay the orange halves flat side down and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices. Chop the slices into ¼-inch-thick cubes.
  6. Put the eggs, Italian leavening, and ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on medium-high speed until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Gradually add the olive oil by pouring it down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream and mix until the batter is emulsified. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add one-third of the flour and mix until it is no longer visible. Add one-third of the raisins and mix just to incorporate them. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat two more times, mixing in one-third of the flour at a time, then one-third of the raisins at a time, and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions, until all of the flour and all of the raisins have been incorporated.
  7. Turn off the mixer and remove the bowl from the stand. Add the chopped oranges and use a rubber spatula to gently fold them into the batter. Set the batter aside to rest for 10 minutes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the pine nuts over the top. Sprinkle the cake with the remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar and stick the tufts of rosemary into the batter, distributing them over the surface of the cake in an attractive way.
  8. Bake the cake for 10 minutes. Rotate the cake and lower the oven temperature to 325°F. Bake the cake for another 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, rotating the cake once during the baking time so it browns evenly. Remove the cake from the oven and set it aside to cool to room temperature.
  9. To serve, run a knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pan to release the cake from the pan and put a large plate over the top of the pan. Swiftly flip the cake and the plate to invert the cake onto the plate. Invert the cake again onto a large serving plate or cake stand. Pour the confectioners’ sugar into a fine-mesh strainer and tap the strainer over the cake to dust the cake lightly with the sugar. Serve the cake with a cake spatula or knife for guests to cut the size serving they want and serve themselves.

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