A little while ago my incredibly lovely and generous neighbours gave me some of their olive oil, made from their very own olives, hand-picked and pressed from a small orchard of trees they keep a few hours north of the city.
Bold and grassy it has a beautiful flavour, and while I've been enjoying it on pasta and drizzled sparingly over salads I wanted to bake them something as thanks that also featured their wonderful produce.
Enter this delightful pistachio, polenta and olive oil cake, an impressively easy adaptation of the classic British pound cake. Rich and moist, the grassy overtones of the olive oil ensure that it's not too sweet, and it pairs perfectly with candied slices of blood orange and their syrup. It keeps well, the nuts and polenta give the crumb a nice subtle 'crunch', and the crust has a lovely meringue-like crispness thanks to the egg-sugar emulsion used in its preparation. Delicious and elegant, this is a beautiful simple loaf to add to the everyday repertoire.
PISTACHIO OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH CANDIED BLOOD ORANGE (Adapted from this recipe by Emiko Davies)
For the cake
- 5 large eggs
- 240 ml olive oil
- 250 g caster sugar
- 160 g shelled pistachios, raw
- 160 g fine polenta
- zest of half a lemon, finely grated
- syrup from candied blood oranges (see below)
For the candied blood oranges
- 2 blood oranges
- 200 g caster sugar
- 100 ml water
To prepare the cake, pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely ground then set aside. Whisk the eggs in a stand mixer until light and creamy. Slowly add the olive oil, beating continuously, until you have a thick emulsion. Beat in the sugar then gently fold through the ground nuts, polenta and zest. Pour into a loaf tin lined with baking paper in an oven preheated to 180°C for 60-80 minutes, until golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. If desired, ten minutes before the cake has finished baking, layer slices of blood orange down the centre and continue baking until done.* Remove the cake from the oven and brush the surface with syrup reserved from the candied orange pieces. Allow to cool for ten minutes or so before removing from the tin and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve simply as is, or with a dollop of double cream.
To make the candied blood orange, slice each orange into 2-mm-thick rounds. In a small saucepan bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium heat, then add the slices of orange before removing from heat. Allow to steep for 30 minutes then transfer to baking trays lined with baking paper, making sure to drain any excess syrup before you do. Reserve the syrup for later use.
Bake the slices at 100°C for 1 hour, then turn off the heat but leave the slices in the oven for a further 1 hour so that they continue to dry. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
** The timing here is important - you want the surface of the cake to be soft enough so that the slices stick, but they'll also burn if they're left in the oven for too long. If you're not sure, just bake the cake plain and brush with syrup, then add the slices of candied blood orange when you're getting ready to serve.