How even to begin a new blog post when it’s been nearly three months since your last one? Do you acknowledge the long absence with a rambling story about what happened in the interim (which sounds a lot like something I would do)? Do you skip the pleasantries and go straight into the recipe as if nothing ever happened (likely easier and certainly quicker)? As eager as I am to jump in and talk about this glorious cake, there is one major change that has occurred since November that at least deserves a brief mention: for the first time in several years– since before I even started writing this blog– I am not involved in any professional capacity with the food industry. I have packed away my kitchen clogs and retired the title “cheesemonger” for an exciting job that is considerably more science-focused and far outside the realm of food. There were many factors that drove this decision, none of which I particularly want to write about when I could be writing about cake, but I will say this– the transition has filled me with such relief and positivity that I can feel it creeping into every area of my life, including the kitchen.
This cake is a case in point. It comes from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which I have had on my shelf for several years. I had been eyeing this recipe for months, as I found myself craving hearty cakes and wanting to experiment with baking with olive oil. But for months, I ignored it. I just didn’t feel up to it. I didn’t feel like going out to buy grapefruits or making a recipe that required more than a few steps. I didn’t feel like devoting over an hour to any kitchen project. I just felt so tired and bogged down all the time that I didn’t much feel like being in the kitchen any more than was necessary. But now that I’ve made several healthy changes– the career shift being one of the most notable– I’m feeling like my normal self again. And my normal self definitely feels like making cake. So a couple weeks ago, I pulled SK off the shelf and spent a Saturday morning (because, for the first time in over six years, I do not have to be at work on Saturday mornings) making it happen.
I should say right off the bat that if you don’t like grapefruit, this is probably not the cake for you. There is grapefruit zest and juice in the batter; when the cake emerges from the oven, it gets a dunk in grapefruit syrup; and finally, once the cake is cool, it gets drenched in a grapefruit glaze. That’s quite a bit of grapefuit. But, if you only sort of like it, or if you would like to like it but are not wholly convinced– you should go for it! Despite the triple hit of grapefruit, the flavor of the cake is quite subtle, with not nearly as much citrusy bitterness as you might expect.
We start off by zesting a couple of grapefruits, then rubbing the zest into the sugar. This helps to release all the oils from the zest, making the cake batter extra fragrant and flavorful. Also, since the best way to do this is with your fingers, your hands will smell like sweet citrus for the rest of the day. Bonus.
Once the sugar is nicely blended with the zest, the recipe proceeds like most pound cake recipes, but with olive oil instead of the usual butter. The olive oil I had on hand was on the mild side, so the cake didn’t have a particularly strong olive flavor. I was a teensy bit disappointed with that– I was hoping for a nice vegetal tang–so be sure to taste your olive oil before you get started and decide whether to trade it in for something more zippy.
I’m not sure if there’s anything better than the smell of freshly baked pound cake wafting through the house, especially in the cold, gray days of early February. I’m also confident that there are few things better than the look of a loaf cake, all golden brown on the edges and blond in the middle where the cake cracks. (Not the greatest thing in the world: when the cake sticks to the pan. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.)
My favorite thing about this cake, though, is what happens after it comes out of the oven. Using a skewer (or a toothpick, though something thicker than a toothpick is ideal), you poke holes all over the surface of the cake, and then coat it with grapefruit simple syrup. The syrup soaks into all the little holes, keeping the cake deliciously moist and infusing it with an extra hit of grapefruit. And even then you’re not done! Once the cake is completely cool and all the syrupy goodness is absorbed, on goes the glaze– deliciously crackly citrusy glaze.
I need to revise my previous statements and assert that, actually, the best thing is seeing sweet glaze dribble down the sides of a freshly baked cake. Or maybe it’s the way the glaze cracks when you’re slicing the cake… or maybe it’s the pools of glaze that collect on the plate, just begging you to dip a finger in… or maybe it’s the fact that you get to serve it for breakfast, thereby starting your day with dessert. Maybe it’s all of the above.
Happy February! May yours be filled with cake and all the things that make you happy.
Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake
from the Smitten Kitchen
for the cake
Butter or non-stick spray for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons freshly grated grapefruit zest, from 2 large grapefruits
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
1/3 cup buttermilk
for the syrup
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
for the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
Pinch of salt
Heat the over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, rub the grapefruit zest into the sugars with your fingertips. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a second bowl. In a liquid measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and buttermilk/or yogurt. Add the flour and buttermilk/or yogurt mixtures, alternating between them, to the oil-and-sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour.
Spread the batter in the pan, smooth the top, and rap the pan on the counter a few times to ensure there are no air bubbles trapped. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
While the cake bakes, combine 2 tablespoons of sugar with 1/3 cup grapefruit juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
When the cake is finished, let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then invert it onto a rack set over a tray. Poke holes in the cake with a skewer or toothpick, then spoon or brush the grapefruit syrup over the cake. Let the cake cool completely while it absorbs the syrup.
When the cake is cool, combine the confectioners’ sugar, grapefruit juice, and pinch of salt in a bowl, whisking until smooth. Pour the glaze over the top of cooled cake, and allow glaze to drizzle decoratively down the sides.