Kitchen magic: how an olive oil cake landed me my first internship in LA

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was an aspiring plus sized model visiting Los Angeles. It was spring of 2013, and I had just wrapped my first-ever professional photo shoot for a new makeup line. I fell in love with Los Angeles at first sight. Creatives aren’t ashamed of their ambitions in LA; they embrace the hustle. Friendships are also built-in networking allies, and the sun is always shining. With literal stars in my eyes, I wanted to make my visit to LA a bit more permanent.

 

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back in 2013 for Skorch Magazine

 

One evening, I was invited to a producer’s house on Mulholland Drive for freshly made pizza and bites of his renowned sourdough bread. I knew nothing about bread baking at the time and my blog was nowhere near its conception, but at this point, I knew I wanted food to be part of my future in some way or another. I was enchanted

I happened to know that this producer, writer and co-creator of Everybody Loves Raymond was embarking on a new project this summer and needed some help with production and writing. I wanted to be the person who helped.

So I baked an olive oil cake.

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In my cousin’s sunlit galley kitchen on LaBrea and Third, I made a cake about as foreign to me as the city I was vacationing in. Thick, glossy egg yolks for texture and body, sugar, flour, and an entire CUP of olive oil. I wish I had taken a picture at the time, but it was a beautiful and formidable cake. I had no idea if it tasted good; we would just have to see that night at dinner.

After pizza, wine, and the jarring/gifting of what would be my very first sourdough starter, I tentatively unwrapped the cake and offered a slice to the producer. As he lifted the fork to his lips, his eyes narrowed quizzically. He chewed slowly. He nodded.

“Would you like to be my intern this summer?” he asked.

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For this reason and more, I relegate olive oil cakes to be some kind of summertime kitchen witchery. A hearty glug of good olive oil has a way of enhancing a baked good, all while imbuing the eater with a sense of wonder and unmistakable luxury.

This springtime weather has me swept up in a similar kind of fervor. It’s a time of magic. It feels like anything can happen, and in a lot of ways, everything is happening. I’m not one to say no to the great and terrible vibrancy of the unknown, so here I am, welcoming it with an olive oil semolina lemon cake.

You can find the original recipe here, but I’ve posted it below for convenience, too.

I added candied lemons/rosemary and turned this into a poke cake, lending from the Lebanese tradition of soaking their semolina cakes with syrup. It’s not a necessary step, but a smart one. Serve this with a dollop of Greek yogurt and your morning coffee. You won’t be sorry.

Semolina Lemon Rosemary & Olive Oil Cake

Using a blend of semolina, all-purpose and corn meal, this herbaceous, bright cake is the perfect way to beckon in summer. Or, to land you that internship you've been pining for. Whatever works for you. This recipe originally appeared on Italianfoodforever.com. I don't use a bundt pan, nor do I use Fiori di Sicilia, because I didn't have either in my kitchen. 

I added candied lemons/rosemary and turned this into a poke cake, lending from the Lebanese tradition of soaking their semolina cakes with syrup. It's not a necessary step, but a smart one. Serve this with a dollop of greek yogurt and your morning coffee. You won't be sorry.

Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Keyword cake, dessert, Olive oil, semolina, spring, summer, summer dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • zest from 2 large lemons
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary finely chopped
  • 1 cup olive oil high quality
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup greek yogurt

Candied Lemons/Rosemary (plus syrup)

  • 1 - 2 lemons thinly sliced
  • a few sprigs rosemary fresh
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

    Lightly grease a cast iron. If you have a cake pan or bundt pan, that works too. Make sure you flour it lightly as well!

    Place the three flours, baking powder and soda, and salt in one bowl.

    In another bowl, mix together the sugar, lemon zest and rosemary and stir to mix.

    Using the whisk attachment on your mixer, add the oil to the sugar and mix on medium speed.

    Add the eggs one at a time, then the extract and lemon juice, and beat until well mixed.

    Add half the flour mixture to the eggs, then half the yogurt and beat until mixed, then add the rest of the flour mixture and yogurt and mix just until blended. The yogurt is crucial, as it brings out the tartness and acidity of the lemon/zest!

    Pour the batter into the Bundt pan, and spread evenly with the back of a spoon, then bake for about 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

    Cool the cake 10 minutes, then using a fork, poke holes along the top of the cake.

    Pour rosemary/lemon syrup mixture over the cake, evenly distributing. Use a pastry brush to make sure the top of the cake is covered. 

    Decorate the top of the cake with your candied lemon slices and rosemary. Have fun with this one. 

Candied Lemons and Rosemary (plus syrup)

  1. In a large saucepan, heat 1 cup of water with 1 cup of sugar to a simmer until all of the sugar is dissolved.

    Place lemon slices and rosemary in an even layer. Turn heat down to medium/low simmer.

    Let the lemons and rosemary simmer gently in the liquid for 15 minutes, turning two to three times. 

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