Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake
Ten days in LA weren’t enough.
As the plane lifted, I caught my last looks at California through the gauzy clouds. I was already thinking about the restaurants I couldn’t try, the neighborhoods I hadn’t seen, and the gems I didn’t discover. The state was simply too big to experience in a mere week and a half. When we’d parted, my friend and host C- said, “But you’ll get to see Seattle!” I rolled my eyes and told him, “I live in Seattle.”
During this summer, I’ve lived up north by the bluest water in Maine. In Atlanta, I embraced the heat in sundresses, the warm air dampening my skin in minutes. And in California, I rummaged through antique cast iron skillets and pearl rings at farmer’s markets and artisan festivals. I’ve visited more places in the past year than ever before. But the few days I spent at home? I sat around, spinning the dusty globe in our office.
By the time I unpacked my suitcase and fell onto my bed, I’d decided to make things different. I needed to change my perspective. What would I do if I only had ten days in Seattle?
We live slightly outside the big city, enough distance that it can feel foreign or familiar depending on my mood. I tackled Seattle with a fearlessness I’d never shown.
Downtown, I drove in circles trying to find parking before giving up and walking a good distance to reach any kind of store. I explored the U District alone, the little boutiques and second hand shops. I ducked into the independent theaters, painted seafoam green and dusty pink, outlined in bulbous lights, signs cracked with age… Somehow, the same movies come alive in a new way inside a theater with character.
My favorite sweets come from Seattle. In Boston I craved bullseye donuts from Top Pot, sticky with sugar glaze and raspberry jam, and Molly Moon’s Theo chocolate ice cream, so thick it’ll snap your spoon. I’m realizing just how much is still undiscovered. Last week I walked into a Middle Eastern restaurant the size of a closet and ordered something I couldn’t pronounce. I still don’t know what it was, but it was tangy and spiced, followed by a slice of cake drenched in honey.
If I approach summer in Seattle as an extended trip, the potential is incredible.
When I exit I-90 after an afternoon in the city, I’m filled with a strange appreciation for home. I pass my favorite old school diner, the one with the dumpy sign and the bad coffee. I like to drive slowly around the gentle, winding curves of my neighborhood.
Inevitably my eyes are drawn up to the unbelievable trees. Until I spent time out of Washington, I never knew how special our evergreens are. They tower, so tall and old, so richly green you can smell the color. In other cities the trees feel planted for decoration – but here, the houses have been nestled where the trees allow space. And when the sun is at the right angle, the light filters through in hazy planks, and suddenly my life is breathtaking.
My house is green, from the soft moss carpeting our cement patio (Mom hates this, I sort of like it) to the homegrown lettuce patch beyond my bedroom window. Our family doesn’t have the greenest thumb, but plants line our living room window, stems bowing towards the glass. My favorite of the bunch is the fragrant pot of basil.
Basil is my favorite herb. I like it sautéd with pasta, baked onto pizza, layered in sandwiches and churned into ice cream. With bunches of fresh basil at my fingertips, it’s hard to resist experimentation. When it results in something as lovely as basil olive oil, can you blame me?
We had a bag of bright lemons, so olive oil cake was necessary. I love the way this cake gently rises and falls, the way the sugar-sprinkled crust cracks, the way it perfumes the mouth. Each bite tastes like sunlight and comfort and dare I say it… green.
[Unsure about the 4th? Why not tackle my 4th of July Flag Cake? People have been making it ever since its creation 2 years ago. It’s deceptively simple and always impressive. Check out the post for instructions, plus a video of me making it. Have a great weekend!]
This cake is a little tough to describe. It’s dense, the way that egg cakes are dense, but tender and pillowy at the same time. I’m awed by the short list of ingredients and simple techniques that bring this batter together. For all its simplicity, I think it also looks elegant, good with after dinner tea.
Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake
Slightly tweaked from Gourmet
Makes a 9” cake
3/4 cup basil olive oil (recipe below)
Zest of a large lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup cake flour
5 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons raw sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Use oil to grease a 9” springform pan. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then oil the parchment.
Whisk the lemon zest and cake flour in a small bowl and set aside.
Beat the yolks and 1/2 cup white sugar in an electric mixer at high speed for 3 minutes, or until thick and lightened. Reduce the speed to medium and add the basil olive oil and lemon juice, beating until just combined. Use a wooden spoon to gently stir in the flour-zest mixture until just combined.
In a new, clean bowl, beat the egg whites and salt at medium-high speed until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup white sugar, a bit at a time, beating until the egg whites hold soft peaks (about 3 minutes.)
Fold a third of the whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.
Transfer the batter to the springform pan and gently rap it against the counter once or twice to release air. Sprinkle with the raw sugar. Bake until the cake is puffed and golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let the cake cool 10 minutes in the pan before running a knife around the edge and removing the sides of the springform. Cool completely to room temperature, about 75 minutes, before peeling off the bottom parchment and transferring cake to a plate.
Basil Olive Oil
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
1 cup virgin olive oil
In a food processor or blender, puree the basil leaves and olive oil until completely smooth.
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