Happy Hanukkah, folks. Have you had your latkes yet? Your sufganiyot?
If so, let’s try something different. Cake!
At the Hazon Food Conference last week, my friend Leah taught a cooking class on fried Hanukkah foods from around the world. We made perashki kartoskagi (Bukharian potato turnovers) with tamat (fresh tomato sauce) and frittele de riso (Italian rice fritters). I helped man the fry station — you should have seen me trying to figure out how to use an industrial oven. We staved off the fire alarm for a full twenty minutes.
Later in the day, Leah and I sat next to each other on a food writers panel, sharing the stage with Liz Reuven, Liz Traison, and Mary MacVean from the LA Times. As we waited for the audience to trickle in, Leah whispered to me “we’re going to smell like fried for the next few days.”
I still smell like fried.
This year, I left the latkes to the experts, opting to cook and bake with olive oil rather than fry with it. Faced with which extra virgin olive oil to buy, one that would really shine in the recipe, I stood in the store for almost half an hour. I had no idea how to decide between the different varieties.
So I guessed and came home with two different bottles – a Greek one for authenticity and a well-known Italian one just in case – and set up a tasting, throwing an Israeli one from my cabinet into the mix. The Greek was too peppery, the Italian too mild, the Israeli just right.
And then I researched how to choose a good extra virgin olive oil. It’s actually much more complicated than I thought, and there is significant fraud in the industry*. The gist? That “extra virgin olive oil” you just put in your cart might not be extra virgin, and in fact might not even be olive oil at all.
In this month’s article for the Jerusalem Post, I shared some tips on how to find a good extra virgin olive oil. Here are some of the main points:
Certification symbols are a good starting point. They indicate that an oil was properly made, for example demonstrating adherence to national or state olive oil association standards or conveying Protected Destination of Origin (“PDO,” or “DOP” in Italian) status confirmed by quality control committees overseeing production processes. Or course, just like kosher certification agencies, the symbol is only as reliable as the organization behind it.
Second, providing notation of acidity level is another positive, even better if the acidity is well below the 0.8% standard.
Further, good olive oils report the processing or pressing and best-before dates.
Finally, always choose a dark bottle over a clear one, as light exposure causes oil to go rancid. There are several online sources listing reputable, high-quality extra virgin olive oils (links below), including some sold in mainstream grocery stores.
Once you’ve hit upon your favorite oil, you’re ready to get cooking.
* Check out Tom Mueller‘s recently published Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, discussed on NPR here, in which he explores corruption within the olive oil industry, spurred by his 2007 New Yorker article. Thanks Molly and Sara for turning me on to this guy!)
A few fun holiday links I think you’ll enjoy.
Traditional vs innovative latkes? Two chefs duel. I think the wrong one won.
An electronic advent calendar with holiday cookies behind each door? Why yes! No peeking, guys, no peeking.
Olive oil orange cake
This recipe is adapted from Food & Wine magazine and I think it is one of the best cakes I have ever made with its moist crumb, crackly top, and aflash of citrus to complement the fruity extra virgin. You can use any orange liqueur you’d like – I chose Cointreau. Or you can go the lemon route and use limoncello (replacing the orange zest with lemon and the orange blossom water with vanilla). For a non-dairy option, substitute full fat, unflavored almond or soy milk.
The original recipe had a hefty 1 ¾ cup sugar which I reduced to 1 ¼ cup – the cake is still quite sweet. The recipe also called for a 10-inch round cake pan which I didn’t have, so I used a 9-inch round instead. The batter filled the 2-inch high pan about ¾ of the way up and rose a lot during baking, reaching the top of the pan at the edges and at least an additional inch above that in the middle. If it looks like your pan won’t be big enough for all of the batter, leave some out and make a few cupcakes.
Makes 8-10 servings
– 3 large eggs
– 1 ¼ C sugar
– 1 C extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 C whole milk
– 1 t orange blossom water or vanilla
– 1 orange for zest, about 2 t (then, eat the orange)
– ¼ C Cointreau or other orange liqueur
– 3 C flour
– 1 ½ t salt
– ½ t baking soda
– 1 t baking powder
Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut a piece of parchment to fit into the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch round cake pan.
Mix. In a bowl (I use a stand mixer), whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and yellow, 2-3 minutes. Add the oil, milk, orange blossom water, zest, and liqueur. Continue to whisk until everything is mixed. Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and use a spatula to fold in the dry ingredients until just combined.
Bake. Fit the cake pan with the parchment, and lightly grease the sides. Pour the batter in the pan and bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. (This actually took 65 minutes in my oven.)
Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan, about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and then invert the cake over a rack, peeling off the parchment. Let the cake cool completely, about 2 hours.