Your Connection to Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Around the Globe
February 8, 2008
On the Rise:
Baking with Olive Oil
By Nancy Loseke
I have always preferred the smell of freshly-baked bread or cake to sweat, which is why, come January, you will never find me in a gym or putting down on paper patently disingenuous physical fitness goals.
Instead, I’ll be in the kitchen, my favorite place in the house, puttering, trying new recipes, making what I hope are good, nourishing, soul-sustaining things to eat and share.
Baking with olive oil is my current obsession.
The catalyst was a recently released book, “Olive Oil Baking,” by Lisa A. Shelton.
An avid baker before she went back to school to become a nutritionist, Ms. Shelton writes in the book’s preface:
“…it was impossible to ignore the basic problem with the traditional baked goods I enjoyed making for family and friends (but often denied myself): not only are the products basically empty calories, but the heavily processed ingredients they rely on tend to have negative health consequences.
My experience over the past few years has been that baked goods traditionally made with shortening, margarine, and butter can almost always be made with olive oil instead, without sacrificing richness or flavor.”
The first two chapters summarize the known health benefits of olive oil (she’s preaching to the choir here) as well as practical shopping and storage tips. The book’s Appendix gives general guidelines for replacing butter and other traditional baking fats with olive oil.
For example, she advises using less olive oil in the recipe than the amount of butter you are replacing; cookies made with olive oil take slightly longer to bake than cookies made with butter or margarine, and tend to be slightly lighter in color; if a recipe calls for more than 1/2 cup butter, replace only half the butter with olive oil.
If I have a criticism, it’s that the author’s guidelines aren’t specific enough. Not being an intuitive baker myself—that’s an oxymoron anyway as most bakers are strictly by-the-book types and probably earned straight “A”s in chemistry—I would have preferred to see a baking conversion chart like the one published by the
International Olive Oil Council. Here it is for your use and reference:
Butter/Margarine Olive Oil
1 teaspoon 3/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon 2-1/4 teaspoons
2 tablespoons 1-1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup 3 tablespoons
1/3 cup 1/4 cup
1/2 cup 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup 1/2 cup
3/4 cup 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon
1 cup 3/4 cup
Also, Sheldon’s rather arbitrary inclusion in some recipes of ingredients such as wheat germ, whole wheat pastry flour, and fat-free cream cheese irritate me slightly.
If I’m going to indulge in Banana Date Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting or Cherry Almond Mini Loaves, I want the experience to be sublime and authentic. I’m not looking for recipes that not only don’t sacrifice taste or texture, but that are enhanced and improved by the use of olive oil.
For that reason, I am unlikely to substitute olive oil for the butter/shortening mixture in my favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies, even though Ms. Shelton shares her own take on this iconic American treat.
But I will definitely be using olive oil in dinner breads, biscotti, and the chocolaty carrot cake my mom and I have been making for years, a compliment-magnet if there ever was one. (See recipe below.)
Petty complaints aside, the more than 120 recipes in “Olive Oil Baking” are appealing and well-written. They include cakes and desserts, pancakes and waffles, quick breads, brownies and bars, cookies and biscotti, muffins, coffeecakes, savory breads, and others.
Some recipes have helpful icons designating them as dairy-free or vegan. As the publisher suggests, this book would be an excellent resource not only for a cook who wants to incorporate more healthful ingredients like olive oil into homemade baked goods, but for a small commercial bakery seeking to appeal to a health-conscious clientele.
Below are two recipes. The first, for Fougasse with Herbes de Provence, is excerpted from “Olive Oil Baking.” I served it to positive reviews last weekend with cassoulet. The second is the carrot cake recipe I promised above.
Fougasse with Herbes de Provence
Makes 2 loaves
1-1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (see Note)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, plus additional for sprinkling on top
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
Pour water into a large bowl. Sprinkle yeast and sugar into water and stir until dissolved and yeast is activated, about 8 – 10 minutes.
Combine the two flours in a small bowl. In a large bowl, place 1 cup of the combined flours, 1 tablespoon herbes, sea salt, and 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir until well blended. Continue to stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until a thick and somewhat sticky dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 – 8 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place into an oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat the surface. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and let it rise in a warm draft-free location until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch dough down and divide in half. Shape into irregular ovals, about 1-1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle cornmeal over 2 baking sheets; transfer dough to pans. Brush each loaf with olive oil, and sprinkle the remaining herbes and a little sea salt on top. Make several slashes in the bread, cutting through the dough with a sharp knife. Cover the loaves with clean dishtowels. Let rise again, about 20 minutes.
Place baking sheets into a preheated 450 degree F oven. Quickly splash a small amount of water onto the floor of your oven to create steam and close the oven door. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
Note: If you don’t have premixed herbes de Provence on hand, combine 1/2 tablespoon each of dried basil, savory, thyme, and rosemary.
Source: “Olive Oil Baking” by Lisa A. Sheldon (Cumberland House, 2007, $19.95 U.S.; $23.95 Canada).
24-KARAT CARROT CAKE
(THE GOLD STANDARD)
This is a one-bowl wonder! Because the original recipe my mother and I have been making for years calls for 1 cup of vegetable oil, it was a no-brainer to substitute olive oil. Also, the cocoa powder (unusual in carrot cake) has a natural affinity for a spicy, fresh olive oil. With the help of a blender or food processor, you can have this cake oven-ready in less than 10 minutes. Be sure to let the cake cool completely before you frost it. If you’re feeling ambitious, make extra frosting, tint some orange and some green, and pipe “carrots” on top of each portion.
8 large carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 large eggs
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons good-quality cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray or soild shortening.
In a large blender jar or the bowl of a food processor, combine the carrots, eggs, olive oil, milk, and vanilla and process until the carrots are rather coarsely chopped. Add the sugar and cinnamon and pulse until mixed. Sift the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda together. Add to the carrot mixture and process until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a cake rack, then frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. Refrigerate cake if not serving immediately.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 pound powdered sugar
1 3-ounce package cream cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
Using a handheld or stand mixer, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Frost the cake with an offset spatula. Lick the bowl.
Source: Recipe courtesy of Nancy Loseke
Anyone who’s traveled by air recently knows that airlines often overbook popular routes: I was on a flight to Los Angeles last month that was overbooked by nine passengers.
First, of course, the airline tries to bribe volunteers to take later flights. If that approach is unsuccessful, the airline bumps the last passengers to check in. If possible, check in for your flight via computer 24 hours before flight time, or at least as soon as you reach the airport.
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