Growing up, my family and I never missed an opportunity to eat cake for breakfast. We’d cut slices of white-frosted birthday cake from the previous night and nibble it between sips of milk or coffee. Leftover Ho-Ho and Red Velvet Cake, too, we considered appropriate breakfasts following a celebration or as a kick-start to the weekend. Every now and then I’ll reinforce the tradition here in Greece and bake a banana or apple cake on a Sunday morning.
During our UK trip Spyros asked if I could develop a healthy(ish) breakfast treat in the New Year—something he could grab before work with a good amount protein and fiber. I wondered if I could create a more nutritious breakfast cake to fit his request. I did some research and came across this lovely recipe for an Orange-and-Olive Oil Cake, from Crete.
Oranges are in season now in Greece and along the sides of the highways you can see farmers with trucks selling the fruit to passing vehicles. When I come across one, I feel lucky to live near such agricultural bounty. I’d feel comfortable sending Spyros off to work having eaten cake enriched with fresh orange juice and olive oil produced right here in Greece.
So I reworked the original recipe somewhat. On my first attempt, I swapped the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat and decreased the sugar by ¼ of a cup. As the cake baked, the kitchen filled with a comforting, fresh scent. When it cooled, I cut thin slices for Spyros and me to taste-test. As I chewed my initial excitement turned to disappointment; my orange olive oil cake didn’t taste much like orange. The whole-wheat flour, it seemed, had overpowered the citrus and made for a bland, rather grainy, cake. Not something I’d like to start my day with.
I made a new version last Friday. This time I grated 2 full tablespoons of orange zest (about 4 oranges’ worth) and used spelt flour instead of whole-wheat. Spelt flour has an aromatic, nutmeg-like flavor and its soft texture and higher sugar content work well in baked goods. Compared to whole-wheat flour, spelt flour is higher in protein (15 grams vs. 13 grams), iron, and potassium. Spyros introduced me to spelt flour last year when he was working to source mills for it. One afternoon he brought home a bag freshly milled spelt flour which we we eventually made into delicious pancakes and breads. I hoped it would have a similar effect on my cake.
Last Saturday morning a few snowflakes danced outside of our window while I cut slices of Orange Olive Oil Cake, spelt edition. Spyros took a bite before me and said, without prompting, tastes nice! I picked up the cake with my fingers and lifted it to my mouth. It was soft, orangey, and rich in fruity olive oil. I thought of all those cake-mornings of my childhood and smiled to myself; this Greeker, January breakfast cake had turned out well.
Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake, with Spelt
*adapted from Orange-and-Olive Oil Cake by Danai Kindel on foodandwine.com
unsalted butter, for greasing
all-purpose flour, for dusting
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest (from about 4 oranges)
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon (slightly heaping) kosher salt
1 cup fresh orange juice (from about 4 oranges)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups spelt flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
- Butter and flour a Bundt pan or a 10-inch spring-form pan and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, orange zest and salt with an electric mixer until slightly foamy.
- In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil and orange juice. At low speed, stir the olive oil mixture into the egg mixture until well-combined. Beat in the spelt flour and baking powder until a smooth batter forms.
- Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake in the bottom third of a 350oF (175oC) oven for 45-50 minutes, or until golden and a tester comes out clean. Cool to room temperature on wire racks then invert the cake onto a large serving plate.