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A light and fluffy cake recipe without butter. Subtly sweet and herbaceous rosemary olive oil cake that’s perfect for both breakfast with a cup of coffee or as a dessert with a fruit compote.
I really, really love this recipe. This cake was one of those perfect first time around recipes that just works. After my Oils for Cooking: A Basic Introduction post, I was really inspired to explore the world of extra virgin olive oils. I knew that as a delicious fat it could be used in a wide variety of cooking. Olive oil cake was born.
Okay, not born. I’m not the first person ever to create a cake recipe without butter. Olive oil cakes are classic! It was my goal to learn the best technique for a fluffy, spongy cake, that didn’t overwhelm the flavor of olive oil with sugar. After some plotting and planning, I had a recipe that paired the delicate grassy notes of olive oil with fresh rosemary and just the right amount of sugar. The result? A light, subtly herbaceous rosemary cake that was simply perfect.
Let’s Talk About Pans
Before we get into the recipe, let’s talk about pan choices. You can of course bake in a classic cake pan, but I chose to use a spring form pan.
This gave me a few benefits I really liked:
- This cake cools best out of its pan. The easy removal of the sides and bottom make this very simple!
- Flipping the cake out of a traditional cake pan shatters the sugary crust that forms on the top. Rather than lose that, I prefer the spring form pan.
- It’s WAY easier to line the bottom! Just tear off a square of parchment paper, place on the bottom of the spring form pan and tighten the ring. Then trim the excess. Done!
In any case, please don’t let not owning a springform pan stop you from making this cake! I’ve done it both ways, and I promise it will taste great. But be careful during cake removal. Use a light touch and have a cooling rack ready to prevent any permanent indents in the top.
Ingredients for An Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary
One of my favorite parts about this recipe is the simple ingredient list. Start with the basics: flour, sugar, eggs, milk, salt, and baking powder. All that’s left after that are fat and flavor. Traditionally this would be butter and vanilla for a yellow cake. But, in this recipe, we’re substituting extra virgin olive oil and fresh rosemary.
- Olive Oil – The main fat and flavor in this cake, it’s essential to choose a quality olive oil, more on that in a second.
- Rosemary – Use fresh rosemary to maximize the fresh, bright, grassy notes that the herb is known for.
- Eggs – A huge component for the volume and texture of the cake.
- Sugar – Just enough to make it cake instead of bread, use a white granulated sugar.
- Flour – all purpose is my go to here, light and doesn’t affect the flavor.
- Milk – Choosing milk over water helps add just a little richness to the cake.
- Baking Powder – Volume!
- Salt – Salt enhances every flavor here.
The Oil of the Olive Oil Cake
Olive oil is a unique thing. The region that produces it, the way it’s processed, and each harvest all affect flavor. As such, using the cheapest extra virgin olive oil possible is not the best idea for maximum flavor.
I recommend a cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. This information should be right on the bottle, and they’re sold at any grocery store. Extra virgin, unlike pure or light olive oils, isn’t processed or refined. This means maximum flavor, all the health benefits, and highest quality.
Is it really extra virgin…?
Sadly, many extra virgin olive oils available to use at supermarkets aren’t the best quality, no matter what fancy terms the label claims. It’s a BIG topic to delve into, so for now, if you’re curious about understanding olive oil, and making sure you get a good one, check out Gastropod’s episode on Extra Virgin Olive Oil. These ladies are fantastic food reporters and it literally changed the way I shop for olive oil.
But if you don’t have time at the moment, here are some basics to know about shopping for olive oil:
- Look for a 3rd party certification on your bottles to avoid fraudulent producers. DOP or AOC certifications on European imported oils are a signal of real extra virgin olive oils. In California, look for the California Olive Oil Council’s seal marks CA produced olive oils as good choices.
- Harvest date – high quality producers realize that their product is best within a certain time frame. They will share the harvest date of the olives on the bottle somewhere. This signifies freshness. If you can find that, that oil is a safe bet.
- Buy from somewhere you trust! A store that let’s you taste and is happy to discuss harvest dates and locations is a safe bet. Farmers markets are a great place to find quality suppliers. This is a store I love:
- Amphora Nueva – an AMAZING olive oil and vinegar store in the bay area of California (they do ship from their online store). They supply a lovely variety of high quality imported oils, and are happy to discuss flavor profile, harvest date, and seasonality of each of their oils.
Trust me when I say spending the extra money on a good oil is a huge difference. Not just for this rosemary cake, but your dressings, vegetables, and pastas will thank you too.
How to Make Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary
As with any cake the mixing is important for texture, but the steps are simple if prepared. From start to finish, you can have it out and cooling in under an hour.
Step 1 – Foam Eggs & Sugar
Turn your oven to 350°F and take a few minutes to chop your rosemary. You’re looking for a tablespoon of finely chopped herbs.
Because this is a cake recipe without butter, the creaming method just doesn’t work. Instead, we’re going to use the foaming method. This involves beating the eggs and sugar together to create large bubbles, and leads to a wonderfully fluffy sponge.
To do this most effectively, set the eggs and sugar over a simmering water bath before beating. This dissolves the sugar and warms up the eggs, important for two reasons:
- Room temperature, or warmed eggs not only incorporate much better into a batter, but they aerate more fully than a cold egg will.
- Melting the sugar will also help it incorporate more easily with the liquid eggs.
This extra step only takes about 6 to 8 minutes, and the result is a pale fluffy egg/sugar mixture that has tripled in volume. This will give you that to die for light cake texture!
Step 2 – Mix & BAke
While the eggs and sugar are melting away, you’ll have just enough time to prep your other ingredients. Don’t worry about hovering over the eggs. they won’t scramble until they reach 170°F, and we’ll be back to them long before that.
- Line your chosen cake pan with parchment paper, then use a tiny bit of olive oil to grease the sides and bottoms.
- Use your kitchen scale to measure out your oil, milk, and flour.
- Sift your flour and rosemary into a bowl. Keep an eye out for leftover rosemary in the sifter and make sure to add it back to the flour.
- Remove eggs and sugar from the water pan, and begin beating until tripled in volume and a pale creamy yellow, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Begin adding flour slowly with your mixer on low until just incorporated.
- Continuing to beat on low, add your oil and milk in a slow pour. When incorporated your batter is done.
- Pour batter into your prepared pan and dust the top with a tablespoon of granulated sugar. This will create a crusty, sugared top when the cake bakes adding just that perfect extra hint of sweetness to the cake.
- Bake for 35 minutes!
Step 3 – Cool, Cut, and Enjoy!
Once your cake has baked take it out and let it cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. This is just enough time to make the pan a little friendlier to handle. Then, remove from the pan and let it cool on a cooling rack for about 20 minutes at least. The cooling rack will help air circulate and prevent a steamed bottom.
When you simply can resist no longer, cut a slice and sample your rosemary olive oil cake.
I’m positive you’ll love the light texture and subtle flavors given by the rosemary and olive oil. It has that perfect level of sweetness! Enjoy for a light dessert or take a slice with your morning cup of joe. Heck, have it for both! This cake will stay moist and yummy for about 3 days at room temperature, when kept in an airtight container.
I really hope you give this cake a try, it’s easy, delicious, and refreshingly unique. I think I’ll go have a slice right now…
With any baking recipe, I always recommend using a kitchen scale. Volume, while standard here in the US, isn’t the most reliable, consistent method for measuring ingredients.
I get it, my grandma’s recipes are cups too, but take this example. A standard cup should measure about 4.5 ounces of flour. I have 3 sets of measuring cups, the weight for each have come to 4.3, 5, and 5.2. I can’t say for certain that yours will measure similarly to mine so instead, use a scale, and you know for sure that your recipe will match mine.
I really prefer fresh, it simply has a brighter flavor. But in a pinch dried will work. Reduce the amount by half.
Of course! I prefer it without, but if you really like a sweet glaze on cakes try this powdered sugar glaze from Taste of Lizzy T, it’s simple and easy to add!
Yes you can! Cakes freeze remarkabely well. Simple wait until completely cool, place on a baking sheet and place in freezer. Once completely frozen, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap then place in a ziploc bag or wrap in freezer paper. Freeze up to 3 months!
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- 6 oz eggs 3 large
- 6 oz sugar + 1 Tbs divided (almost 1 cup, see note)
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary chopped
- 8 oz flour 1 2/3 cup
- 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon table salt
- 6 oz extra virgin olive oil 3/4 cup
- 2 oz milk 1/4 cup
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Start by placing 2 inches of water in a large pot over medium heat. While waiting for water to simmer, chop fresh rosemary until you have 1 tablespoons worth.
- Once water is simmering, measure sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer (or regular bowl if using hand mixer). Add eggs and stir to combine. Place egg/sugar mixture over simmering water, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, until sugar is melted and mixture is just warm to the touch. (about 95°F).
- While waiting on egg/sugar mixture, prep 8″ springform or cake pan by lining with parchment paper and lightly greasing with extra virgin olive oil. Next measure out the oil and milk, set aside.
- Place sifter into separate bowl, and measure flour, salt, baking powder, and chopped rosemary into the sifter. Sift, and make sure to add any rosemary that did not pass through the sifter onto sifted dry ingredients.
- The egg/sugar mixture should be ready now, remove from simmering water. Place bowl under paddle attachment of stand mixer and turn to medium low speed. Beat for 3-4 minutes or until eggs have tripled in volume and become a pale yellow.
- Reduce mixer speed to low, and slowly add in the dry ingredients. When flour is incorporated, add the extra virgin olive oil and milk by drizzling it in slowly with mixer on.
- When the batter is a smooth, creamy pale yellow, pour into prepared pan. Lightly dust top with 1 Tbs of sugar.
- Place in preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes. Remove when toothpick comes out clean and cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan onto cooling rack and cool completely before slicing. Store in airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for 3 months.
Last updated September 20, 2019
Nutrition information and cooking times are provided as a best estimate. Values may vary based upon ingredients and equipment.