Mediterranean flavors of olive oil, lemon, thyme and Limoncello liqueur are the basis for this dairy-free cake.
No family stories or dives into my past this week. Instead I am going to do a little geeking out on the science of baking.
There are times when you need a substitution for one or more ingredients. Allergies, preferences, and an empty fridge or pantry can all come into play here.
So let’s say you want to bake a cake for someone but that someone has an allergy to milk proteins. That tosses out butter and milk but it doesn’t toss out the possibility of making a cake!
Why? Because the milk protein is not the essential factor in the recipe. It’s the fat in butter and the liquid in milk that makes the difference.
Butter is essentially fat, 80-85% fat depending on whether or not the butter is cultured (or European style). The rest of it is water.
Oil is 100% fat.
So the first thing to know is that you can substitute one fat (oil) for the other (butter) at a 3:4 ratio (3 tablespoons of oil for 4 tablespoons of butter).
The oil will help tenderize the gluten in the flour, just like butter.
The oil will make the cake moist, just like butter.
The oil will help the surface of the cake brown, just like butter.
What it won’t do is provide the unique creamy flavor of butter.
But that’s okay because there are a lot of oils that have flavors which work well in cakes.
Like Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Mediterranean cultures having been using olive oil in baking for centuries. The slightly savory notes of a good quality extra virgin olive oil are delicious with citrus, almond and thyme (things that grow together usually pair well together!). Together they make a cake which is densely moist and flavorful but not overly sweet.
We are not using butter so the oil will be added later. Instead start with whisking sugar, eggs, and lemon zest until it is very light in color and thick enough to leave a trail in the batter when you lift your whisk.
With the mixer on high, slowly stream in the olive oil until it is emulsified into the egg mixture and even thicker.
Alternately add the dry ingredients and the liquid flavorings and fold them in until mixed.
Pour the cake batter into a cake pan which you have prepared by greasing with olive oil and then coated with a mixture of sugar and lemon zest.
Once the cake is baked, remove it from the oven and poke holes in the top with a toothpick and drizzle with some more limoncello.
Let it cool completely before taking it out of the cake pan.
If you can resist eating it right away, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it sit for a day before cutting into it.
- 2 c cake flour
- 1/3 c almond flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 5 tbsp Limoncello see note
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ c sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 ¼ c extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Spray the bottom and sides of a 9” springform cake pan with oil. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper. Mix ¼ c of sugar with 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest. Add them to the pan and tilt it all around until the bottom and sides are covered with the sugar and zest.
- Whisk together the cake flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and thyme in a bowl.
- In another small bowl stir together 3 tbsp of Limoncello, the lemon juice and vanilla.
- Put 1 c of sugar, the eggs and 1 tbsp lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk together on high until the mixture is very light in color, quite thick and leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted out. This should take 3-5 minutes.
- Still at high speed, drizzle in the olive oil and whisk it until it is even thicker (about 2 minutes).
- Add the dry ingredients and the limoncello mixture in five turns, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
- Use a rubber spatula to fold the ingredients and scrape the bottom and sides of the mixer bowl until it is all mixed in.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle some sugar over the top of the cake.
- Put the cake in the center of the oven and reduce the heat to 350 degrees.
- Bake 40-55 minutes until the cake is done. It will spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the cake will come out clean.
- Remove the cake and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Poke holes all over the top of the cake and drizzle the top with 2 tbsp Limoncello.
- Allow the cake to cool completely and remove it from the pan. You can eat it right away although it will be better wrapped in plastic and allowed to sit at room temperature overnight.
- Store the cake at room temperature. It will remain moist and delicious for up to five days.
Note: Limoncello is an Italian liqueur made from lemon zest, sugar and alcohol.