Olive Oil Pine Nut Cake (Cy and Tom’s Wedding Cake)
Courtesy of Peter Brett
Makes a 13 x 9-inch cake, or you can use a 9 x 9-inch square or 10-inch round pan
6 ounces (1-1/4 cups) pine nuts, plus 2 tablespoons extra for the top of the cake
2 ounces (5 tb, packed) dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
8 ounces (1 cup) granulated sugar, plus more for the top of the cake
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces all-purpose flour (1-3/4 cup, measured by spooning the flour gently into dry measuring cups and leveling across the top with a knife)
1-1/2 teapoons baking powder
½ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
Optional soaking syrup: granulated sugar, water, Grand Marnier liqueur
Optional accompaniment: 8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, at room temperature, ½ cup prepared lemon curd
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F with a rack in the center. Grease the pan, line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit, then grease the paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder and set aside. In a measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the buttermilk and lemon rind and set aside.
Toast the 6 ounces of pine nuts in a skillet over low heat, or in the oven while you’re preheating it. Be careful not to burn them, they toast quickly because they contain so much oil. Spread the nuts on a plate to cool (you can put them in the freezer for a few minutes to speed this along). Grind the nuts in a food processor with the dark brown sugar. Don’t overdo this – they should be powdery but not turned into a paste.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt for a few minutes, until light in color and the batter forms a ribbon (this means that when you lift the beater off the batter, batter falls from the beater in what looks like a ribbon that slowly dissolves into the rest of the batter). Don’t go beyond this stage or the cake will be light and dry, rather than dense and moist.
With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the olive oil and beat until the mixture is emulsified. Then beat in the pine nut/brown sugar mixture. Keep the mixer on low, and add 1/3 of the flour mixture until just barely combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and add half the buttermilk/lemon rind mixture and mix again until just combined. Repeat with flour, buttermilk, and flour until everything is just about incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold the mixture with a spatula to make sure it’s all mixed.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan, and sprinkle about two tablespoons of sugar evenly over the top. Then sprinkle the untoasted pine nuts evenly over the sugar. Bake for 25 minutes, then start checking the cake. The 13 x 9 pan will take about 30 minutes, the smaller pans may take as much as 50 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is domed, lightly browned, and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan. You can press the center gently with your finger and it will bounce back. You can also test with a toothpick in the center (it should come out clean or with just a couple of moist crumbs) but I don’t like making holes in the cake.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Then put a cooling rack on top, tip out the cake, and remove the parchment. Put another rack on the cake bottom and invert. If you’ve made one of the smaller cakes and you plan to keep it around for a few days, you may want to make a soaking syrup for it: combine a half-cup each of sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat to dissolve the sugar. Add two tablespoons of Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Brush the syrup over the warm cake and let it cool completely.
To serve, gently beat the softened mascarpone cheese and lemon curd together and use the mixture to top each piece.