AndyTalk: The Surprising Lesson in Olive Oil Cake

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I want to share a recipe that didn't work. Actually, part of the recipe worked, and part didn't. I've been nibbling at the good part for a couple of days, but I think that the lesson associated with the unsuccessful part is more valuable than the simple recipe for my Olive Oil Cake.

Cakes made with olive oil have been around for a long time. They show up at trendy bakeries and restaurants, but have never really garnered the momentum to be a real trend on their own. Done right, olive oil cake is as tasty as salted caramel.

Because I wanted to share a recipe that's easy enough for a beginner I decided to adapt a recipe I've been making since I was in high school. Until this week every upsidedown cake I've made since my school days has come out beautifully.

The cake part of my olive oil upsidedown dessert was great. In fact, it's a serviceable recipe for a basic coffee cake - and that's the recipe I'm sharing. It's dense, moist, and gently sweet. On the other hand, the brown sugar upsidedown part of the original recipe was a burned to a carbon-black mess.

What I didn't take into account is the missing water. Butter is mostly fat, but it's also somewhere between 15 and 19 percent water.

In the cake 1/2 cup of olive oil has more fat than 1/2 cup of butter, so the end result is a very moist cake. Drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar it was a well-received hors d'oeuvre. Sliced, toasted, and slathered with jam it made today's breakfast a good way to start the day.

But, the water-free olive oil did not work in the bottom of the pan. Butter and sugar will turn into caramel. But when I used olive oil I burned the fruit and sugar to a crisp. With butter there's an evaporative process. When water evaporates it cools the bottom of the pan just enough to keep the fruit from turning black. With olive oil I basically fried the fruit to death.

Sometimes you can substitute olive oil for butter; sometimes you can't.

Next time, I'll use olive oil in the cake, but if I want an upside down cake you can bet that there will be butter on the bottom of the pan. The water hidden in the butter was the secret ingredient that I hadn't taken into account.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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