Olive Oil Cake - Easy. Exquisite. Italian.

No, the title is not a self-descriptor. It's simply the three words that come to mind when I think of my favorite Olive Oil Cake recipe. Last summer I was lucky enough to take an Italian Cooking Class from Diane Lavonne of Diane's Market Kitchen. Along with falling head over heels in love with the KitchenAid pasta attachment, adopting the Microplane as my new must-have tool and experiencing the stomach-turning ins and outs of cleaning a squid, I was introduced to a lovely Italian dessert (or dolce), the Olive Oil Cake. (Torta di olio di oliva - sounds heavenly, right?!)

This cake is not overwhelmingly sweet, it's light with a hint of citrus (freshly squeezed oranges add flavor and moisture to this cake) and it's relatively easy yet impressive. (Love it when those worlds collide!) Plus, it's the perfect dinner party cake to fill your home with a fragrant sweetness while baking. Just pop it into the oven when your guests arrive and by the time you're ready for some after-dinner espresso, it's ready and waiting!

Torta di olio di oliva - Servings: 12
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups flour
pinch salt
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/2 cup pignolia, pine nuts
4 tbsp sugar, to top

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a nine inch cake pan.
Mix together all of the dry ingredients.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs and 1 cup of sugar. Add olive oil, milk, juice and zest. Mix well. Add the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Pour into prepared pan and top with pine nuts and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.


A Sweet (and salty) Spring

As quickly as corn syrup, sugar and a little water can transform into a sticky sweet caramel - poof! Spring is over. It passed so quickly and alas, I was post-free. Of course I haven't been sweets-free. In fact, there have been several tasty adventures over the past few months: a new love (aka recipe) became an old friend, dozens of cupcakes were pumped out for Seattle's first Cupcake Camp, I met the famous Johnny Cupcakes and checked several bakeries off the list during a recent trip to New York City. 

Here's a re-cap of my sweet (and salty) Spring:
Sweet? Check. Salty? Check. This cake has quickly shot to the top of my go-to cake list. While it is a labor of love (I'm averaging 4 hours!) the look, taste and praise is worth the constant focus of watching sugar caramelize. I've made this cake for a dinner party, an Easter brunch and a 40th birthday party - all to rave reviews. Whomever coined the phrase "that takes the cake" has not tried this one because I'm not sure who could take this! The boys from Baked share this recipe beautifully in their cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking but of course Ms Martha had them on her show and shared the recipe here

7 hours in line...2 cupcakes. I've been a fan of t-shirt entrepreneur Johnny Cupcakes for a few years now - even shelled out $40 for a black cotton tee simply for the words: Make Cupcakes Not War. (How could you resist that mantra?) When I heard that Mr Johnny Cupcakes himself was hitting the road for a Suitcase Tour I marked the date on my calendar and cleared my schedule. By the time he made it to Seattle, word had traveled about the 8 hour waits, the fans camped out overnight, the craziness that was following Mr. Cupcakes. I admit, I was a little turned off by the hype but I guess it got the best of me because there I was, standing in line with the best of them...in hour 6, still no cupcakes. I was amazed at the following Johnny Cupcakes has created and the fact that people would stand in line for over 24 hours for t-shirts! (Heck, I was one of them. But let's be honest, I really just wanted a Johnny Cupcakes-branded cupcake from Trophy Cupcakes.) So, with the sun down and the temperatures headed down as well, I finally made it in the door to peruse the tiny selection of tees. I loaded up on stickers (they're so fun!) picked out the special Suitcase Tour tee and last, but certainly not least, bought two lovely cupcakes. Cupcakes with an edge. Was it ultimately worth it? Not really. Were the cupcakes amazing? Most definitely. Judge for yourself...check the video of Johnny Cupcakes in Seattle. 

Calling all campers! When I heard about Seattle's first Cupcake Camp (via @bellacupcakec) I knew it the kind of camping I could do - no sleeping bag or bug spray required. I immediately signed up to bake and donate 48 cupcakes. Enlisting some help from my dear friend Celeste, we gathered our ingredients and set aside our Friday night for some wine and lots of baking. We used a favorite recipe from the Barefoot Contessa...I call them "Fork and Knife Cupcakes." Rather than skimping on the serving and making minis, we produced full-fledge individual cakes. Dense cakes more fitting of a large mug rather than a "cup." When the big day finally came, we loaded up our creations and brought them bright and early to an event space in South Lake Union. We had no idea what to expect or what to do. One thing that was clear...we had arrived at the cupcake mecca. Tables and tables of beautiful creations. Smiling faces. Sugary air. While it was crowded and there were lessons-learned that I'm sure they'll apply to next year's event, it was a unique and tasty event - and one that I will most certainly participate in again next year. Maybe next time as a competitor! 

I heart New York. On a springtime trip to NYC, my sister, some of our friends and I packed our weekend visit with brunch, cocktails, shopping and bakeries! A favorite from the weekend? Brooklyn-based, One Girl Cookies. What can I say? They had me at the Pumpkin Whoopie Pie with ricotta cream cheese filling. (By the way, mark my words - I think the Whoopie Pie is the new cupcake.) One Girl Cookies is a beautiful store brimming with glorious petite cookies (so that you can enjoy two bites of this, two bites of that, oh, and two bites of that one too!) with lovely names like "Lucia" and "Sadie." It's the classic cookie...with class. It's girly and dainty and sinful at the same time. Their touch isn't only in their baked goods but of course the packaging as well. Each box comes complete with a vintage family photo. It's like you can smell the fresh baked cookies coming from their grandmother's kitchen...and right into your hands. A perfectly perfect stop in an otherwise less than perfect weekend.