A few weeks ago I went to a handmade cake class. It was part of a series called “Cakes our mothers taught us” being run at Tamsin’s Table, in Poowong East in Gippsland, in Eastern Victoria. I had wanted to see Tamsin’s farm and in particular her dining table for months, ever since I had fallen in love with it from photos that had been posted on Instagram (@tamsinstable). Tamsin runs lunches and gatherings as well as the occasional cooking class at her picturesque farm.
As if that wasn’t a good enough reason to drive to Gippsland, the fact that Julia Busuttil was running the class was the icing on the cake. I had not met Julia before, but I felt like I knew her as we follow each other on Instagram. She makes the most delightful cakes and posts photos of them (@juliaostro). Julia teaches Italian at a primary school and has a beautiful blog called Ostro. Some years ago she lived in Tuscany for several months as nanny to an italian family. Apparently the house where they lived had a tap for olive oil (there was an olive grove on the property) in the kitchen. So olive oil was used all the time in cooking so it is only fitting that at the class Julia showed us the recipe she had been taught by the mamma Roberta for an orange and olive oil cake.
The recipe is simply beautiful – the zest of the orange is rubbed in with the sugar so your hands become fragrant as the citrus oil is released. Although I had made olive oil cakes before, I had never used extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), in fact most recipes specify NOT to use the extra virgin kind, claiming it is too strong. So it came as a bit of a surprise that Julia’s cake listed the extra virgin variety as an ingredient. This cake is delightful because it does taste like EVOO – the greener the oil looks, the better. The problem with most EVOO you buy off the supermarket shelf is that it was pressed months ago, when in fact it is best consumed shortly after making, when it tastes deliciously green. I dream of having it on tap in my kitchen!
I made the cake at home substituting the oranges for mandarins and making a few minor changes with the quantities Julia had given us. The cake was delightful and the kitchen smelt like mandarins as it was cooking. I candied mandarin slices to lay on top once the cake had cooled. I took it to my mother’s house when I went there for lunch – she is back home after breaking her right wrist a month ago. She loved the cake and I left her a quarter of it to enjoy over the next few days, cutting it into slices (as she can’t use the knife yet). If she is anything like me, she might be having it not only for morning tea or afternoon tea, but even for breakfast….
mandarin and olive oil cake
3 mandarins medium size, zest and juice (of two only)
300g (10 and 1/2 oz) caster sugar
3 eggs, medium sized
275 ml (9 and 1/2 fl oz) milk
275 ml (9 and 1/2 fl oz or 1) extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
300g (10 and a 1/2 oz) plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 mandarin, thinly sliced and pips removed
1/2 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 cups water
Preheat the oven to 170C (340F). Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 in) diameter cake tin. Place the sugar and zest in a large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar starts to clump becomes fragrant. Add the eggs to the sugar and zest and whisk (either by hand or with a hand held electric mixer) until thick and creamy. Stir in the milk, EVOO and juice.
Place the flour, baking powder and salt in another large bowl. Stir in the wet ingredients a bit at a time, stirring gently until they are all incorporated. Do not over-mix. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes (or until a skewer inserted comes out clean). Allow to cool in the pan.
To prepare the candied mandarins, place all ingredients in a large non-stick frypan and bring to a simmer on low heat. Make sure the slices of mandarin do not overlap and stir every now and then. Cook for around an hour until very little liquid remains and the circular pith on the mandarin slices appears translucent. Place slices on a wire rack to cook and then use them to decorate the cooled cake.
This cake is best eaten completely cooled and is lovely the next day. Use a very sharp knife to cut it to get a clean edge on the candied mandarin. It keeps for about four days covered and in a cool place (I keep mine in the fridge). Serve on its own or with a dollop of double cream.