If I could describe Italian olive oil cake in one word, it would hands down be: luxurious. Olive oil cake is no more or less complicated than any old regular cake, but it truly tastes like a special treat. Italian olive oil cake is richer, more flavorful, and seems to melt in your mouth when you eat it.
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Okay, but why is Olive Oil Cake so dang good?
Great, I’m glad you asked – let’s get nerdy for a minute. Almost all cake recipes are going to be made with some sort of fat – it’s kind of an important ingredient when it comes to baked goods.
Most of the time when you’re making a cake you’re using butter as your fat. Butter is good because when you cream it with sugar it gets light and airy and gives rise to the cake. Butter also has a certain amount of water contained within it, and when that water evaporates in the oven when exposed to heat it creates tender little air pockets.
But butter is also a solid at room temperature, and it’s even more solid in the refrigerator. Oil on the other hand? It’s liquid at both room temperature and when in the refrigerator. What does that mean for baking? It means when your baked goods cool, the fat you used to bake will return to its natural room temperature state.
So a cake made with oil is going to be more moist and tender at room temperature than a cake that’s made with butter. Italian olive oil cake tastes rich and soft any time you serve it.
There’s another key reason why Italian olive oil cake is so wonderfully luscious and addictive. It’s flavorful!
Most cake recipes that call for oil as their fat instead of butter will usually specify that it should be a neutral-tasting oil. This is usually for good reason – can you imagine trying to make a birthday cake with something like sesame or peanut oil? Those aren’t flavors most people are going for in your run of the mill cake.
Good olive oil shouldn’t ever be neutral tasting, so it’s not usually what people reach for when making cake. Canola or vegetable oil are far more ubiquitous for that. But when you embrace the flavor of the olive oil and plan your whole cake around it, some magic happens. You take something that’s normally only described as “sweet” into something that’s nuanced.
Italian olive oil cake tastes like the good Italian olive oil you use to make it. If you find an olive oil that tastes buttery and rich, that will translate to your cake flavor. If you find an olive oil that’s fruity and punchy, that will come through in your cake too.
Some olive oils have a strong peppery taste, and that’s the only olive oil flavor profile I would avoid in this cake. I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on how to pick out good olive oil after my cooking class in Italy last year. Basically look for olive oil that actually tells you on the label where the olives were harvested from and during what season. Olive oil does go bad, so you want to use olive oil that was made from olives harvested the season before and no older.
For this recipe, I used this Olio Verde because it’s not too bitter and has a really buttery taste to it. If you’re just starting to dip your toe into good olive oil territory, this is a great pick. I also used this olive oil quite generously in the Ligurian Focaccia recipe from a few months ago.
And finally, if you’re looking for an olive oil buying guide, my trusted resource, Serious Eats, has a good one here.
How do I make Italian olive oil cake?
Whew. We’ve focused a lot so far on the inputs to this really lovely olive oil cake, but now let’s talk about actually making it. This cake follows all your normal baking rules: bring your cold ingredients (eggs, milk, yogurt) to room temperature before you start baking, and mix your wet ingredients together & your dry ingredients together separately from each other, then combine them both together.
For this recipe, I lined a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper so the cake was easier to cool and remove from the pan. Waiting for the cake to cool is pretty torturous, so anything to speed up that process is a win for me.
To give the cake even more flavor, I added some citrus notes to it. Citrus and olive oil go really well together, so some orange liqueur and lemon zest helped add that dimension. To keep those flavors front and center, I purposely pared down the sugar in this recipe. The cake is still sweet, but that’s not the first thing that hits you when you eat this.
This Italian olive oil cake is wonderfully delicious and flavorful on its own, but if you want to dress it up a bit more then some toppings go a long way. Mascarpone cheese is a favorite frosting base of mine – on its own it tastes like sweet cream without any of the tang of cream cheese. Adding just a touch of honey to it sweetens the whole thing and makes it cake worthy.
And when fresh figs are in season, how do you not put them on absolutely everything? Keep it rustic by not frosting the cake all the way to the edges and piling the figs up in the middle.
Italian Olive Oil Cake
Italian Olive Oil cake is subtly sweet, ultra moist, nuanced with flavor and is an all-around luxurious dessert – it's easy to make to boot!
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup olive oil
- ¼ cup Grand Marnier
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
- ½ cup whole milk yogurt
- ½ cup 1% milk
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature optional
- 3 tbsp honey optional
- Fresh figs, sliced optional
Preheat the oven to 350 and while the oven preheats begin to prepare the cake
Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in a medium bowl
In a separate, large mixing bowl combine the eggs, olive oil, Grand Marnier, vanilla extract, lemon zest, yogurt, and milk. Mix the ingredients together thoroughly until a smooth batter forms
Add the flour mixture to the wet batter and stir together until the mixture just comes together without any large lumps of flour. Some small lumps are more than okay.
Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper to prevent the batter from leaking. Pour the batter into the pan and tap lightly to disperse the batter evenly
Baking the cake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden and the middle is set
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes
After the cake cools slights, undo the springform pan and remove the cake from the pan. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack
To make the honeyed mascarpone cream, mix the room temperature mascarpone with the honey. Spread over the cake and top with sliced figs or any other fruit of your choosing
Serve at room temperature. To store the cake unfrosted, cover and let sit on the counter. To store the cake frosted, cover and refrigerate, but bring it back to room temperature before serving