Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

July 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm 40 comments

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?

Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

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.

Basil Olive Oil

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.

Last crumb

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!]


Lemons & Basil

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.

Printer-Friendly Version – Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake

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40 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bell  |  July 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    This sounds so lovely. I can’t wait to try it. I’m a bit of a olive oil fiend…and lemon………..ok, and basil too. I love how the flavours are combined to make a sweet dish out of such savoury flavours. Thanks for sharing!

  • 2. Molly  |  July 1, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    I’ve lived in Boston for 7 years and have never heard of the places you love visiting. All of a sudden I feel like a tourist in my own town!

  • 3. 365Daysofbaking.blogspot.com  |  July 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    I FINALLY have a basil plant that is producing LOTs of basil. This will be added to my list of to-do’s.
    Enjoy the discovering and rediscovering of Seattle. I’ve always wanted to go.

  • 4. Chef Tom Minchella  |  July 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Happy Birthday America!! Looks great and I bet it tastes even better!!

  • 5. Janey  |  July 1, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Lovely post and that cake looks gorgeous. I live in Australia and would love, love, love to travel more.

  • 6. Mary @ stylefyles  |  July 1, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    I made your 4th of July cake today for a work potluck. It was a HUGE hit!!!

  • 7. Margaret  |  July 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    I never thought of approaching my neighborhood like that! Salt Lake City would look very different through a new lens.

    This reminds me of a coworker of mine who suddenly declared, “My day just got so much better.” When I asked why, he simply replied, “It’s all about perspective.” :)

  • 8. Katie  |  July 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I love the idea of taking an extended vacation in your own city. I’m going to try to regard my summer in New York City that way! The cake looks delicious!

  • 9. Marta  |  July 1, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    It’s always so nice to see you back on 17! Another lovely post… I love to travel and always manage to feel at home while abroad, depending on the time I’m given, or the right mindset. So I found it very interesting, this new lens on your eye you shared here. :)

  • 10. stefj  |  July 2, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Gorgeous post! Also, one of my good friends works at Top Pot, so now that you’ve recommended it, I have to go! I’m an Angeleno myself (so glad you liked California!!) but living in Seattle this summer for work.

    Would love more recommendations of things to see (places to eat) here in the city! Thanks for the great recipes!

  • 11. Erika  |  July 2, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Interesting combination. This will have to be tried sometime in the very near future. Glad your having such a fun and exciting summer.

  • 12. Procrastibaking  |  July 2, 2011 at 5:40 am

    I find this pairing really interesting because Lemon and Basil both share similar aromatic chemicals. I’m gonna try this for my “aromatic chemical pairing in food” tests. Looks divine.

  • 13. Sally R.  |  July 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Wow, can it really be the 4th again already? That means I’ve been following your blog for a whole year! This post is lovely and makes my mouth water, as usual.

  • 14. Elaine  |  July 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Yes, I remember the weirdness of that summer after the first year of college: you go home because you want to, but also a bit out of default, and you may find you don’t fit that well anymore. I found work up at school the next few summers for that reason. Later on, it gets easier to go back, but when your independence is still so new it’s a little tricky for everybody involved.

    Looks yummy!

  • 15. Sanjeeta kk  |  July 3, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Basil and olive oil in a cake! Must have been flavorful and lovely.

  • 16. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  July 3, 2011 at 3:16 am

    This is a really great idea! I love basil as well and am excited to try it in cake form. Yum!

  • 17. kyleen  |  July 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    This cake sounds delicious. I’ve been waiting for my basil plant to grow large enough for me to use it.

    One question: do you strain the olive oil after you puree it with the basil?

    • 18. Elissa  |  July 5, 2011 at 12:15 am

      kyleen – I didn’t, mostly out of laziness, but you could. I made the oil intending to bake it into this cake – if I just wanted basil infused olive oil, I’d probably strain it and heat it for 30 seconds or so.

  • 19. thelittleloaf  |  July 5, 2011 at 2:35 am

    What a beautiful dessert. I’ve made olive oil cakes before, but never would have thought to put basil into something sweet. Can see how the sweetness of the herb would really work though. Lovely.

  • 20. Denise Rambo  |  July 5, 2011 at 10:06 am

    “… ice cream, so thick it’ll snap your spoon.” “… so richly green you can smell the color.” Oh Elissa, how I LOVE your writing! And – basil is also my favorite herb. I tell people that I love it so much I would like to rub it on my like perfume.

  • 21. Baking Serendipity  |  July 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Seattle is high on my list of cities to visit. You make it sound so inviting! I think a slice of this cake and a rainy Seattle day would be perfect :)

  • 22. Bunny from Couleur Nature  |  July 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Yummmm. I have piles of basil growing (finally!) in my kitchen garden, and I happen to have some lemons left over from the libations I mixed on the 4th. So I’m trying this tonight. Thanks for the gorgeous recipe. . .

  • 23. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction  |  July 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Just love the flavors in this cake… It looks perfectly moist!

  • 24. RY  |  July 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I moved to Seattle for the trees. I’ve lived in many states and traveled to several places around the world, and have never seen such beautiful trees anywhere else. Trees are comforting, like good food. Hope you enjoy your time at home before school starts again. Looking forward to your next posting.

  • 25. greenthyme  |  July 7, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Beautiful writing and pictures of that cake! I have never made an olive oil cake before…and the addition of lemon and basil sound amazing. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more from your blog.

  • 26. Friday Favorites – Episode 99 | my kitchen addiction  |  July 8, 2011 at 7:02 am

    […] baking with olive oil lately, and I just love the flavor it adds.  I can’t wait to try this Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake from 17 and Baking… It just looks […]

  • 27. Hazel  |  July 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Lemon basil olive oil! This looks amazing!

  • 28. teganrebecca  |  July 22, 2011 at 3:03 am

    my goodness! it looks fantastic and i’m sure it tastes delectable! i love to bake, and i’m at uni..just about to return to my second semester actually, so i can empathize with the juggling you’re doing with baking and writing, etc! keep at it, you’ve clearly got a talent.

  • 29. TEC  |  July 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I’m planning a trip to Seatle for the first week in September. Do you have any recommendations of places to visit or fabulous restaurants/bakeries?

    • 30. Elissa  |  July 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      TEC – Definitely! Check your email. :)

  • 31. riannabennett  |  July 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Looks delicious! Your blog is so full of wonderful recipes and photos!! I loved looking through it. I will definitely be trying this one out very soon…I’m always looking for something to do with all my basil in the summer.

  • 32. Robert  |  August 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Weird, that cake came out not being green at all. I usually blanch my fresh basil (works with mint or other leafy herbs too) for some seconds, then chill in ice water, drain and press out as much water as possible. Then I weigh it, blend with the double amount of olive oil and leave it for an hour. Optionally you can drain it through a coffee filter. The result is a really green oil with outstanding basil flavor. I don’t know if it will help the cake to keep its green color after baking, but maybe its worth a try.

    btw: I’m a great basil fan too, I like to use them candied as decoration in desserts. You can candy them just like rose petals.

  • 33. overtimecook  |  September 6, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I know I’m late, commenting now, but I just found your blog today and I LOVE it. This recipe looks so up my alley- I absolutely love basil. Been thinking of making an olive oil cake for a while- might have to try this one. :)


  • 34. layersuponlayers  |  December 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Emailed this one to my hubby! My husband’s Italian so the basil(during outdoor gardening season) and olive oil is always on hand at our place! He is going to love the simple ingredients and flavors of this cake! Also,the lemon zest really gives this cake appeal! Can’t wait!

  • 35. Bobbi  |  September 1, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Hi. I have a pot full of gorgeous basil to harvest. The other day I was thinking that it would be an interssting addition to olive oil cake. I am going to try your recipe. Your writing is superb and convinced me. I will let you know what my dinner guests think! One is a baker and former innkeeper.

  • 36. Kaylee  |  August 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks for a marvelous posting! I actualpy enjoyed reading it,
    you might be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog
    and will come back in the future. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great
    work, have a nice morning!

  • 37. smc-goldach.ch  |  October 9, 2014 at 7:40 am


    Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake | 17 and Baking

  • 38. Abdul  |  October 13, 2014 at 3:40 am


    Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake | 17 and Baking

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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