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Olive oil cake is something I rarely make, but it’s such a dessert workhorse, I’m not entirely sure why. Generally more moist than pound cake, olive oil cake is a perfect base for virtually any kind of topping (ice cream! macerated fruit!) yet is also perfect on its own.
In any case, I realized if someone asked me to make them an olive oil cake, I wouldn’t have a go-to recipe–hence this bake off to find a favorite recipe!
METHODOLOGY // RESULTS // FACTORS // ANALYSIS // RECOMMENDATIONS
- 15 total tasters
- 6 recipes were baked the day before tasting
- All cakes were baked in parchment-lined baking pans
- Tasters ranked each cake on a scale from 0-10 for overall flavor, texture, and as a whole
- Ingredients were measured by weight according to the King Arthur website
- Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour
- Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Land O Lakes unsalted butter
- Bob’s Red Mill baking powder and soda
- Chobani Greek yogurt
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated sugar
PARTNER NOTE: I’m delighted to be partnering with Imperial Sugar on this bake off as I’ve consistently used their consistent, high-quality pure cane sugar products throughout my bake offs. Imperial Sugar is non-GMO verified, allergen free and gluten-free!
For more sweet inspiration, you can visit Imperial Sugar to find more than 4,000 expert-tested recipes, free downloadable vintage cookbooks, sugar scrubs and bath products at the Sugar Spa, and lots of helpful guides on their blog. You can also check out their Pinterest, You Tube, Instagram for even more recipe inspiration!
What is olive oil cake?
Olive oil cake is typically a simple, one-bowl recipe that involves flour, eggs, leaveners and sugar in addition to olive oil. It’s often paired with citrus to accent the flavor of the oil and is generally served unfrosted. Some like to serve olive oil cake with an extra drizzle of olive oil or with a fruit compote.
Because this cake is so simple, it’s important to use high-quality ingredients–typically, extra virgin olive oil is used for the stronger flavor. Here, Stella explains why using a high-quality olive oil is worth it in olive oil cake. Basically, the internal temperature of a cake never rises high enough to degrade the flavor and aroma of a fancy olive oil. So splurge away! (I used Kirkland extra virgin olive oil in this bake off mainly due to the balance of price and quality.)
Admittedly, I didn’t find a TON of variation in the ingredients for this bake off. (This is one reason for the slightly smaller recipe pool of 6 recipes instead of the typical 9 or 12.)
- Fat: Obviously, all of these cakes used olive oil as the main fat source. Just one recipe used a combination of butter and oil, and I was curious to see if this would reign supreme flavor-wise. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) This small sample size test makes me think that butter has no place in an olive oil cake. Flavor-wise, we’re aiming for the delicate flavor of the olive oil and texture-wise, oil typically lends a softer, plusher texture. So really, why bother with butter?
- Dairy: Both Flour and Feel Good Foodie included yogurt as an extra source of moisture and body (all other recipes used milk). A number of tasters noted the slight “sour” taste in Feel Good Foodie’s recipe that used Greek yogurt. For a more balanced tang (if desired) in your cake, I might opt for a full-fat buttermilk rather than Greek yogurt.
- Eggs: While most recipes used whole eggs, Flour Bakery used a combination of whole eggs and egg yolks. While egg yolks tend to add richness and moisture, I don’t think egg yolks are the key to a good olive oil cake. Relying on a high ratio of olive oil to tenderize the cake seems more important for flavor and texture.
- Flour: In this round of testing, 3 recipes used all-purpose flour, two used a combination of all-purpose or cake and almond flour, and one used cake flour. Personally, I don’t think olive oil cake necessitates cake flour the way a delicate layer cake might. As a sturdier cake, it can tolerate a little more gluten and a coarser crumb. But I was intrigued by the almond flour in Flour/King Arthur as it generally provides richness, density and heft. However, the texture between these two cakes were quite different, so clearly almond flour wasn’t the biggest factor affecting texture. (But most did notice a pleasant almond flavor in both recipes.)
This bake off had a much smaller taster pool compared to most (I distributed the samples via a pop up and submitting the data rankings was optional). So as always, please take these results with a grain of salt. Each of these cakes were delicious, and I encourage you to read through the descriptions of each to find the one that’s right for you!
Food & Wine: a coarse-crumbed, slightly crumbly olive oil cake with a buttery flavor
Nearly identical to the popular “Kylie Jenner” recipe on Tik Tok, this F&W recipe was unique in its use of both butter and oil in an approximate 1:3 ratio–most olive oil recipes only rely on oil as the fat source. This is the recipe with the highest amount of fat (~27%) by a significant margin (the second highest recipes were Feel Good Foodie and Maialino at ~20%). It also has a relatively high ratio of eggs (~22%, second only to King Arthur) and calls for lemon zest.
Given the high fat ratio in this cake, it’s no surprise that I found the flavor of this cake quite buttery. However, I was surprised by the coarseness of the crumb and strangely dry texture. It had one of the lower sugar ratios (22% vs. 27% on the high end or 18% on the low end), which perhaps accounted for the rougher crumb. In any case, I didn’t love the crumbly texture and probably wouldn’t make this again.
- I really liked this one! Good flavor and texture.
- It was good but still could have more flavor and oil.
- Density is nice. Tastes more olive oil-y than the others but needs something to enhance the flavor. Undecided if I’d eat it again. Texture was good, maybe the best so far, aside from the dryness.
- Dry, tasteless, too crumbly
Flour Bakery: a coarse-crumbed olive oil cake with a robust olive oil flavor accented by lemon
Like King Arthur, Flour Bakery uses almond flour, but in conjunction with regular all-purpose flour instead of cake flour. The recipes are fairly similar except that Flour calls for whole-milk yogurt instead of milk, 2 eggs plus 2 yolks, and lemon zest plus juice.
I liked the way the lemon came through in combination with the subtle almond flavor of this cake. Texturally, it was a little coarser than I’d prefer and it seemed to dry out more quickly than other cakes. Overall, this would be a good pick if you like lemon and a slightly heartier olive oil cake. (I personally prefer a slightly plusher, softer, more moist texture with a stronger focus on the olive oil flavor rather than lemon.)
- Nice moisture and crumb
- In your face olive oil flavor
- A little dry and the lemon flavor was a little too strong. nice olive oil after taste though!
- Texture felt too spongy and while I liked the lemon flavor, it was very dry
- Crumbly and very very dry
Feel Good Foodie: an almost-too-springy cake boasting notes of citrus
Only a few recipes I found called for an alternative dairy like yogurt or ricotta cheese and I was curious to give one a try. Yumna’s recipe stood out to me for its use of Greek yogurt (typically an ingredient that helps make cakes much more moist) and cake flour. It also added the zest of a whole lemon in addition to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
This cake had an interestingly oily, springy texture that was somewhat soft but also tended towards being a little too dense and almost chewier than I preferred. Unfortunately, this recipe also had relatively less batter/rise than other recipes and I think the squat height of cake served as a slight disadvantage (less soft cake interior in each sample). The flavor was fine–sweet and citrus-laced, but the slightly dry texture kept this from being a favorite for me. I think it would pair beautifully with tea but I found it quite plain by itself.
- Best overall as a cake, would make for a beautiful dessert with frosting, great balance of floral and citrus notes and sweet! A cake should be sweet and this one was absolutely memorable
- Sweet, citrus AND olive oil flavor.
- Great flavor but really dense
- At first I thought this was the best one then, bam! Weird eggy, sour aftertaste. Way too eggy. The best texture of any though.
- Makes me want to come back and eat more of it even though I can’t decide if I like it. Much stickier cake, texture is a little gummy, lemon flavor, very oily, can taste the olive oil more but also a lot of lemon. Weirdly oily but dry, like it’s a little crumbly. It’s oily but the citrus almost cuts it in a way so it’s more forgiving
- The texture wasn’t bad but it was too sour in a cloying way like sour cream heavy. Not a fan of the tartness. Least favorite
King Arthur: a very even-crumbed, flavorful olive oil cake that erred slightly on the drier side
This recipe stood out for its use of both cake flour and almond flour. In contrast to the other recipe that also used almond flour (Flour), King Arthur used milk instead of yogurt and 5 whole eggs instead of eggs + yolks. (It calls for being baked in a bundt pan but I baked it in a 9″ pan for consistency with the other recipes.) Interestingly, this recipe took the cake for the highest ratio of sugar (27%) and eggs (23%), but the lowest ratio for fat (12%).
I think King Arthur tried to get away with the lower ratio of fat by using a higher amount of sugar to try to tenderize the cake. You can see the very even, tight-crumbed texture of the cake that almost looks like a chiffon cake. Overall, this cake felt more moist and flavorful than the similar Flour recipe–but in contrast to America’s Test Kitchen, it had a drier crumb. Overall, I liked the tight, soft crumb and vanilla flavor of this cake, but I wished for a little more moisture.
- Love the vanilla flavor! Texture was good but not the best
- Most similar to traditional cake – if you told me this was lemon cake, I’d believe it
- Great flavor but a bit dry – second favorite
- Good almond flavor – is this olive oil cake? I taste more almond
- Not very flavorful and a little dry. Very mild, Sara Lee pound cake impersonater
Maialino (via Food52): a moist, plush, citrusy olive oil cake
This popular recipe often turns up as the first result when you Google “best olive oil cake.” Developed by Maialino in NYC, this base recipe is actually somewhat similar to Cook’s Illustrated, but adds quite a bit more liquid. It has nearly 50% more olive oil, an additional 1/2 cup milk, orange juice and Grand Marnier added to nearly the same ratios of flour, eggs and sugar.
I was apprehensive about the amount of liquid in this cake (and am also not a huge fan of cakes spiked with alcohol), but this actually yielded a perfectly structurally sound cake! This was by far the popular lead among my small group of tasters thanks to its moist, plush crumb and robust, citrus-laced flavor. With a relatively high sugar (26.5%) and fat content (20%), this cake seemed to hit the nail on the head in terms of a pleasingly plush texture. I found it a little greasier than my ideal (I’d try reducing the oil slightly next time, perhaps to 1 cup), and I also would have enjoyed this cake more without the orange juice and Grand Marnier. (Spoiler alert: I’ve tried it without both and it bakes up beautifully–I far prefer this version.) However, for a classic olive oil cake with lovely citrusy notes, this recipe is popular for good reason!
- Soooo good! Super moist and just enough olive oil flavor
- Love love love the olive oil flavor, melt in the mouth and beautiful. Would have trouble eating it as a whole cake slice though, would work very well on it’s own with drinks as hors d’oeuvres
- The color was a bit surprising- like it was whole wheat or something. The texture was spongy and dense and oily…..I thought I wouldn’t like it but I curiously did.
- The color was so different it was hard for me to get past that. I was nervous about eating it, but I kind of loved it. It was super moist and had good flavor.
- Darker flavor, feels kind of soaked, feels greasy and oily, tastes fine but wouldn’t want to eat that much of it
- Visually looks like a heart attack. Is this for an olive oil cake pop? Not looking forward to this one. Tres leches of olive oil. Maybe the best flavor. Tastes like olive oil, but too “soppy.”
Cook’s Illustrated: a fine-crumbed, light and delicate white cake disguised as an olive oil cake
While most olive oil cakes are very simple one-bowl, hand-whisked affairs, this recipe calls for a stand mixer to whip the sugar and eggs to achieve an “airy but sturdy” texture. The recipe developer wanted to achieve the “even, fine crumb that the best butter cakes have,” and ultimately adapted a chiffon cake method to whip whole eggs to seed the batter with tiny air bubbles to achieve this texture. Ingredient-wise, it’s fairly standard–enriched with milk, eggs, and a tiny bit of lemon zest to accentuate the olive oil. It’s also the only cake to be topped with a layer of sugar before baking.
I fell in love with this cake at first bite–the whipped egg technique truly works to achieve an incredibly soft and light, fine-crumbed texture that’s both airy and structured. Even though this recipe had the second highest ratio of sugar (26%, just after King Arthur), it manages to be not overly sweet. The flavor is very subtle with barely a hint of lemon, and the sugar crust adds a delightful crunch to the top of each slice.
The biggest caveat for this cake? The delicate crumb isn’t really what I think of as olive oil cake. While it’s decently moist, I’d prefer a moisture level somewhere between this and Maialino for my ideal olive oil cake. I actually think this would make a really good layer cake (though you’d then miss out on the sugar crust). If you tend to like the slightly spongier, finer texture of layer cakes, you’ll love this cake!
- Feels like pound cake, not as crumbly as #1, very moist, very pound cakey, almond flavor, wouldn’t know it was an olive oil cake (more like pound cake)
- Great texture and olive oil flavor
- I love the sugar top, great level of sweetness but missing the olive oil flavor, more citrus flavor
- Texture and flavor were perfect, sugary texture on top was divine. My favorite!
- Flavor is missing something, too neutral. Texture is very pleasant
Erika’s picks: Cook’s Illustrated or Maialino (but I make it without the orange juice/Grand Marnier!)
Best classic olive oil cake: Maialino or King Arthur
Best moist olive oil cake: Maialino
Best hearty cake for toasting/pairing with ice cream/etc: Feel Good Foodie, Flour Bakery, Food & Wine
Love the Bon Appetit olive oil cake – it’s incredibly moist and somehow both a bit crumbly while maintaining spring. Truly a gem. Have you tried it? https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/olive-oil-cake
Do you replace the orange juice/Grand Marnier with water or another liquid? I love ALL of your taste tests! Thank you so much for sharing them!
Personally love the small pool /big spectrum result here. Sounds like a serviceable olive oil cake for almost every conceivable project (or palate), as you suggest. It’s interesting to see where the oil simply serves as a fat versus the primary flavor profile, which could prove useful for bakers who really, really want to showcase a favorite olive oil versus those who like the convenience of a flavored, sort of stable oil for snacking/tea/loaf cakes.
Wow, far more eloquently put than I had said myself in the blog post–thank you Saurs!!
I love Abraço orange olive oil cake. Find Maialino tad too oily. There is also the lemon olive oil cake from Epicurious Gourmet 2006 which is really good. Had read about it on The Kitchn.