Cherry Olive Oil Cake

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This past weekend I felt like baking. Then again, when do I not feel like baking? But this was baking solely for the purpose of pleasure. These days, most of the time I’m baking there’s a reason that I’m in the kitchen. I’m either testing a new recipe for a cookbook, an article, or a TV show. Or, I’m whipping up sweets for a culinary event. It’s something I enjoy doing, but it’s also my job, and when I’m in the kitchen, I’m working. But this past Sunday was one of the days that I relish. I had no reason to go into the kitchen, which made me want to bake something even more! It meant that I could take my time with the recipe. There was no deadline, no requirement for what I needed to make. That kind of cooking and baking is quite cathartic. So I headed into the kitchen, and quickly discovered one of the obstacles of baking on a Sunday in Europe. The supermarkets are all closed!
Scratch my plan to bake anything I wanted, but I still had a pretty well stocked pantry, leaving me plenty of options. The first thing that caught my eye were the lemons and cherries I had purchased at the farmers’ market.

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I didn’t have any butter, but as many of you know I don’t usually use a lot of butter in my baking anyway. What I did have was plenty of was olive oil! I hadn’t made a lemon olive oil cake in years, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Especially being in Greece!
I know that most of the recipes for lemon olive oil cake call for Italian olive oil, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. Greece is the only country in the world whose olive oil production is up to 85% of extra virgin quality. If you’ve ever wondered what “extra virgin” means, it denotes a lack of impurities within the olive oil. In fact, many Italian companies purchase their quality olive oil from Greece and rebottle it as an “Italian Blend.” So I grabbed a bottle of my Greek olive oil, and started juicing lemons. I’d never tried a lemon olive oil cake with cherries in it, but I figured, since cherries pair nicely with lemon and with olive oil, why not combine all three?

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Even though I was baking for fun, I still wanted to make a lighter and healthier version of lemon olive oil cake. So I decided to replace part of the sugar with a mild Greek honey. I didn’t want anything too dark that might affect the flavor of the olive oil. So I settled for a nice light colored citrus blossom honey. In the end the cake wasn’t too sweet, making it perfect to enjoy with a cup of coffee in the afternoon. I then opted for a half portion of olive oil, only a half cup compared to the typical cup that you use in most recipes. Don’t worry about using less olive oil. As long as you use a really good quality olive oil, the cake will still have a lovely and distinct olive oil flavor. I replaced the remaining half cup of oil with Greek yogurt, which kept the cake nice and moist. In the end the cherries were, well, they were the cherry on top! The flavor of the cherries paired beautifully with the lemons and olive oil, and gave the cake a lovely fleck of color.
So next time you get the baking bug, try this recipes. I promise you it will be a simple pleasure to bake, and eat!

Lemon-Cherry Olive Oil Cake
Serves 12-16
¾ cup (95 grams) cornmeal
¾ cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1 /2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup (60ml) lemon juice
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
½ cup (105 grams) sugar
½ cup & 1 tablespoon Greek olive oil
2/3 cup (155 grams) reduced fat Greek yogurt
½ cup (120 grams) honey
2 cups (about 200 grams) pitted cherries

Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Oil a 10” (25cm) springform pan.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Set aside.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, yogurt, and honey. Make sure the honey is nice and runny, so that it mixes in smoothly. If the honey is too thick, simply heat the honey in a pot (or in the microwave) until it flows easily.
Place the eggs and egg whites in the mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs on high speed for several minutes, until they become quite foamy. Slowly begin to add in the sugar. Continue to beat for about 5 minutes, until the eggs are very thick, pale and doubled in volume. Stop the mixer and add in the mixture with the olive oil and honey. Beat on medium speed for one minute, or until well combined. Add in half of the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Add in the rest of the flour mixture, and beat just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan. Place about 1 ½ cups (about 150 grams) of the cherries on top of the cake. Push the cherries lightly into the batter. Bake the cake for about 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool for several hours before serving. To serve the cake, cut into slices and top with the remaining cherries, a little honey, and a dollop of yogurt.

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