The nomenclature that lumps the olive oil cake into the same category as the rich and buttery stuff, the laden with frosting or fondant types, is really missing the mark.
I like to think of Olive Oil Cakes as the chic sophisticated Aunt who chose not to have any kids, travels the world with nothing but a carry-on bag and a good book. Unencumbered, light and rich at the same time, slightly whimsical, zesty, and easy to love.
The fact that it doesn’t need much accoutrement to be impressive is why the olive oil cake is the best friend to last minute dinner parties or Italian restaurant menus. Thought to have originated in the Mediterranean - which makes sense given the emphasis on olive growing in that region - they are usually flavored by citrus like orange and lemon, highlighting the notes of good olive oil in every which way and one can assume is also the result of it’s origin story. Though, perfect on its own it doesn’t mean that you can’t use the humble olive oil cake as your canvas for something equally delightful.
This Halva and Sunflower Seed Olive Oil Muffiin is my take on a basic version of olive oil cake. It incorporates cornmeal, enhancing the texture in a way that I adore. The dairy of choice is labneh because that is what we tend to have on hand, and the halva topping with crunchy sunflower seeds is a welcomed surprise. Halva transforms in the oven giving notes of burnt marshmallow and toffee.
I clearly have a ‘thing’ for using halva in baked goods and I’m not alone in this camp. My vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe from the LATIMES gets a good lump of halva on top before it gets baked and Molly Baz recently shared a brown butter version with halva and pistachios that the internet cannot stop talking about. Halva is King and Olive Oil cake is its Queen. (I’m not sure what that means but we are going with it.) Here’s the recipe:
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