You know what would make today into a celebration? A glorious cake. Enter pastry chef Paola Velez's gorgeous recipe for an Olive Oil Cake with Buttercream Frosting and Sour Candied Oranges, which she makes on this week's episode of Pastries with Paola. The cake gets an earthy flavor from buckwheat flour as well as some spice thanks to ground ginger and ground cloves. After it's baked and cooled, Velez brushes the cake with citrus syrup and swathes it in a blanket of homemade buttercream frosting. To crown the frosting, she decorates the top with jewel-toned candied orange slices, and edible flowers and leaves can join the party, too, creating a riot of color against the white frosting. It's a beautiful dessert, perfect for parties, special occasions, or any time you want a slice of cake; you certainly don't need a reason to have one.
Want to make it this weekend? Read on for Velez's step-by-step method and follow along with the video above.
Start with the Cake Batter
Take out an electric mixer and beat the granulated sugar and eggs until they're pale yellow. In the meantime, grab a medium bowl and whisk together the dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, ground ginger, kosher salt, baking powder, baking soda, and ground cloves. With the machine running, slowly stream the olive oil into the egg mixture and beat until it's smooth and then slowly beat in the milk.
Turn off the mixer at this point so you can add the dry ingredients. Mix everything on low just to blend, then bump the speed up to medium and mix until the batter is smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. Next, pour it into a 9x13-inch baking dish that's been sprayed with cooking spray, and lined with parchment paper that's also been sprayed.
Transfer the pan to a preheated 350°F oven and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, which should take about 50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then invert it onto a wire rack, running a knife along the edges of the pan if you need help loosening it. Remove the parchment paper and let the cake cool completely before decorating.
Cook the Orange Slices
While the cake is baking, you can candy the orange slices. They should be 3/8 inches thick. To start, fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Next, add the citrus slices and cook them for two minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the slices to a wire rack set within a rimmed baking sheet to drain, then repeat the process two more times. Make sure to use a fresh pot of boiling water each time. If there are any seeds in the slices, remove them.
Next, take the same saucepan and add some water, granulated sugar, honey, and corn syrup to the pot, stirring everything together. Then, add the citrus slices and bring them to a simmer over medium, occasionally giving them a gentle stir. Once the sugar has melted, knock the heat down to low and cook until the citrus rinds begin to turn translucent — like how Velez demonstrates in the video — which should take about 30 minutes, gently stirring occasionally while they cook, and make sure the slices stay intact. Transfer them to a wire rack and let them cool for 15 minutes. Make sure to save that syrup in the pot, too. You'll need some of it to brush the cake, and the rest can be refrigerated and used to add flavor to drinks like cocktails and soda.
After the citrus slices have cooled, you can coat them. Whisk the remaining granulated sugar, some citric acid, and a pinch of fine sea salt together in a wide, shallow bowl and dip the citrus slices in, turning so they're coated on both sides and pressing so the sugar mixture sticks. The combination of the sugar and citric acid will make the orange slices delightfully sweet and tangy. Return them to the wire rack so they can dry slightly while the cake is cooling.
Make the Buttercream
The last component you need to make is the buttercream, which only requires four ingredients: softened butter, solid vegetable shortening, powdered sugar, and a pinch of kosher salt. (You can also use milk to adjust the consistency if you'd like, and add either vanilla extract or lemon zest for flavor.) Add the butter and vegetable shortening to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat on low speed until the mixture is smooth and glossy, stopping once to scrape down the bowl.
Next, add the powdered sugar and mix on low to blend, covering the stand mixer bowl with a towel so the powdered sugar doesn't splash out and create a mess. Increase the speed of the mixer to high and mix until you've got pale and fluffy buttercream, stopping once to scrape down the bowl. More mixing equals a whiter buttercream. At this point, you can add milk 1/2 teaspoon at a time to make it more spreadable. Next, beat in the kosher salt as well as the lemon zest or vanilla if you're adding flavoring. Then, your buttercream is ready to use.
Photo by Sarah Crowder / Food Styling by Drew Aichele
Decorate and Serve
Once the candied citrus and frosting are ready, you can go to town. Brush the top of the cake with some of the reserved citrus syrup first, then cover it with the buttercream, using an offset spatula to create a pretty pattern. Next comes the citrus slices, which glow brightly against the frosting. Dot some edible flowers and leaves on there too, if you want to go all-out. Now it's time to cut yourself a generous slice and enjoy the fruits (and cake) of your labor.
"The flavor is so unique on this," Velez says as she samples a bit. "It is perfectly balanced. The buckwheat really adds this flavor of earthiness that's not too overwhelming. It balances out the sweetness of the buttercream, and my favorite is going to be getting a little piece of this candy."