In my opinion, olive oil cake is a dessert that’s surprisingly tricky to get just right. The poster child of bowl-and-whisk cakes is an easy one to whip up, but my Google search history (“can cake be too moist?” “olive oil cake too oily!!!”) reveals how things don’t always turn out as well as expected. That’s why up to this point, I’ve been content getting my fix at local places like Abraco that do get it right, but I knew I couldn’t avoid homemade olive oil cake forever. Maybe it’s the spring cleaning energy in the air, but I decided that it was time to finally check it off on my (long, unending) to-do list.
There are tons of olive oil cake recipes online (this side-by-side comparison is a great cheat sheet, if you’re curious), but I knew I wanted to create something that was more “cake” than “olive oil” — scented with good quality extra-virgin olive oil, yes, but neither overwhelmingly aromatic nor obviously a textbook olive oil cake upon first bite. I envisioned a crumb that was soft but structured, and an overall simple and homey dessert that had enough going on to prompt people to ask what exactly they were eating. If this sounds vague, that’s because it was — but it was the blueprint I needed to get myself off the couch and into the kitchen.
After a few rounds of testing, I’m happy to have landed on this pistachio olive oil cake. It may not be the most “classic” version, but I personally like it better that way. Finely ground raw pistachios are whisked into the dry ingredients for an edge of nutty flavor, and though olive oil adds moisture and flavor to each slice, it’s not pulling all the weight when it comes to the texture (cue sour cream, an extra yolk, and a spoonful of honey). Unlike a lot of other olive oil cakes, there’s actually no citrus zest or juice in the batter itself, but a dollop of lemony whipped cream on top is just the subtle touch of brightness that’s needed to pull everything together. The flavors aren’t loud or overly pronounced, but they don’t have to be to make the cake memorable, enjoyable, and worthy of a second serving.
As the weather finally warms up, this cake is a fun (and easy!) recipe to add to your spring baking repertoire. Neither wholly a pistachio cake nor an olive oil cake, it’s a balanced hybrid that reminds me of sunshine, civilized mornings, and dinner parties where no one is in a hurry to leave — a cake, in other words, that I’d consider it a success.
Pistachio Olive Oil Cake with Lemony Whipped Cream Recipe
Makes one 8-inch round cake
For the pistachio olive oil cake:
1 cup (120 grams) cake flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (60 grams) raw shelled pistachios, plus more for garnish
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
½ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup whole milk, at room temperature
⅓ cup (75 grams) full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
1 large egg plus 1 yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the lemony whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream, cold
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with a parchment circle and grease the parchment.
Step 2: Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until ground to a fine powder, then whisk the nut powder into the dry ingredients.
Step 3: In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, milk, sour cream, egg and yolk, honey, and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth and fully combined. Gradually add in the dry ingredients while whisking and mix just until no flour streaks remain and the batter is smooth (take care not to over-mix).
Step 4: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan against the counter a few times to release any air bubbles on the surface. Bake the cake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Step 5: Let the cake cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then gently run a small offset spatula around the edge of the cake to loosen. Invert the cake and transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Step 6: While the cake cools, make the lemony whipped cream: Using an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt just until medium peaks form (try not to over-whip it).
Step 7: When ready to serve, cut the cake into slices and top with a generous dollop of lemony whipped cream. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped pistachios, if desired.
Joy Cho is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and pastry chef based in New York City.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning