I am just back from TUTTOFOODMilano, Italy’s biggest food exposition. (Akin to our National Restaurant Association show, but on Italian-design steroids (!) The quality of the food that makers were peddling was head spinning, from truffles and balsamico, to fine pastas and panettone. I sampled Zaffiro Blu, a new sheep’s milk cheese from Sardegna, waited in line for slivers of cured Iberian acorn-fed pork shoulder, and marveled over new potted cream desserts made from the milk of buffalo carefully tended in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park. But I kept coming back to olive oil.
In Italy, olive oil production is multi-generational, as families work to keep ancient traditions alive while they also bring new products to market. The Barberas, for example, launched Italy’s oldest brand of olive oil in Sicily 120 years ago, and are still at it, with eight different product lines, and 35+ oils including Lorenzo No. 5 which I like very much in this recipe (It can’t be an accident that the label reminds one of a famous perfume!)
But while Italians have been cooking with olive oil for hundreds of years, olive oil’s popularity in the U.S. kicked in more recently, and is still growing. According to statistics from Statista, olive oil consumption in the States doubled in the last 20 years—up from 209,000 metric tons at the start of the millennium, to more than 406,000 now.
With its rise in usage here, most cooks now know to match the type of olive oil they choose to what they are making. High heat applications such as sautéing or frying tend to flatten flavors within olive oil. So, fancier oils are usually reserved for raw applications where the heat-sensitive volatile element won’t dissipate. But baking is the exception!
Which brings me to these lovely olive oil tea cakes. When you bake any cake, the internal temperature doesn’t go much higher than 200 degrees. As a result, the fruity, floral, grassy or peppery notes in a good extra virgin olive oil remain intact. Experiment and try a few to find which you think shines brightest here. Barbera’s Lorenzo No. 5, (pressed from pitted, hand-harvested Nocellara del Belice olives,) has a soft creaminess and lightly spicy floral scent which I really like.
And the cake is so easy to make! Everything is quickly mixed and bakes up in less than half an hour. I use a parchment lined 13x18x1-inch pan to bake the cake as a sheet (the parchment makes it easy to lift out) and a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut the cooled cake into little petit four circles. (Cut the cake into bars instead, if you wish.) Brushed with lemon-sugar glaze and garnished with fruit, these make for very pretty snacking or fancier soirees. Continue Reading…