Limoncello Lemon Olive Oil Cake with Mascarpone Frosting
The thing about quarantine (hence less frequent trips to the grocery store) is that I often find myself digging through my cupboard or freezer looking for any forgotten goods that I can use to make up our meals for the day. This is a good thing - it's like a creative challenge as I find flavour bombs (like frozen parmesan rinds to add to a soup broth), year-old spices (perfect for throwing together a curry when I am left with just a handful of cauliflower and carrots in the fridge), and leftover tiny portions of pasta or beans that can bulk up pretty much any dish.
The other day I found the bottle of limoncello sent from Puglia by my boyfriend's mother, with just a few tablespoons left in it, stashed in the back of the freezer behind some nori sheets and a bag of bananas. After drinking up about a litre of it, it was obvious we had forgotten about it.
Now, limoncello is one of those things that I love to hate. First of all, it's confusing because you (Italians) call it a 'digestivo', but it's super sweet, so my question always is, is it really good for digestion (probably not) or is it more like an alcoholic dessert substitute? Personally, I prefer a good whiskey if I am looking for an excuse to drink something super-alcoholic after a meal. Secondly, I've had some bad experiences with cheap limoncello at restaurants, so I am always hesitant to take it. Like how some French DJ friends of ours once pointed out: "it tastes like hand wash". (They accompanied this with the gesture of rubbing their hands together as if washing them - this has become a running joke of ours ever since.)
Of course, the stuff made by a southern Italian mother with organic lemons from her garden is another thing. That's the kind that you want to actually drink, ice-cold, preferably straight from the freezer (the very high sugar and alcohol content in it means it will never actually freeze). This delicious limoncello also inspired me to make this cake.
Lemon cake is nothing new. But have you ever tried it spiked with limoncello?
If a classic lemon pound cake got an Italian makeover, it would be this limoncello olive oil cake. There is the zest of three lemons, a good dash of limoncello (3 tablespoons of it), extra virgin olive oil, plus mascarpone cheese in the frosting. It's delicious, it's moist, it's rich, it's lemony.
This cake will take you to southern Italy where olive trees and lemon groves shine bright under the warm sun as far as the eye can see.
Isn't that just a wonderful thought? It's the Italy of the summertime that I absolutely adore. And I do hope the 'new normal' in this pandemic will let us get down there in time to feel the warm caress of summer again this year.
How to make this lemon olive oil cake
It goes without saying that you should use good lemons (unwaxed of course, since you are using the peel), good limoncello, and good olive oil in this cake. If you are Italian or live in Italy, then I apologise for stating the obvious - it goes without saying for you guys that olive oil always has to be good.
I am blessed to have friends from Puglia, which I call 'the land of olive trees', and one mate just passed me a 5 L tin of freshly milled olive oil from his family's centuries-old olive farm. (We went there in the summer last year and he showed us around the old, yet still lived-in masseria (farmhouse) in the countryside, it was complete with peepholes for shooting down approaching enemies!).
To make the lemon olive oil cake, you will whisk together the dry ingredients, whisk together the wet ingredients, then combine them into a very wet batter. The batter is wetter than usual, but that's ok.
It will bake up beautifully in the oven into a fragrant cake that tastes and smells like lemons, with a hint of limoncello at every bite. The aroma of olive oil plays in the background, gently rounding off the lemon flavour on the palate.
Lemon Limoncello Olive Oil Cake with Mascarpone Frosting Recipe
Makes 1 standard loaf for about 10 slices
This recipe makes for a very moist, soft cake that's full of natural lemon flavour from the zest of three lemons. Use a good olive oil here, the flavour will shine through. A delicious limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur) is at the core of its flavour, so make sure it's a good one, too. Mine is a homemade limoncello sent directly from my boyfriend's mother in Puglia, but any will do. Just remember - if it's not something you would drink or eat on its own, it's not going to be good cooked inside a cake either. The lemon olive oil cake is delicious as-is, but if you want to make it extra decadent, make the frosting as well. Always remember to wait a few hours until the cake is cooled down before adding any cream on top.
190 g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
200 ml good olive oil
200 ml milk
zest of 3 lemons
40 ml lemon juice
45 ml limoncello (lemon liqueur)
230 g sugar
For the frosting:
125 ml heavy cream (whipping cream), very cold
100 g icing sugar
125 g mascarpone cheese, cold
optional: a few drops of almond extract
1. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan). Butter a 25 cm x 10 cm loaf pan and line with baking paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil with the eggs until creamy. Add the milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and limoncello, whisk well to combine. Add the sugar, combine well.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, stir until just combined.
5. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle come out clean. Let cool about 20 minutes in the loaf pan before turning on to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. For the frosting: If you are making the frosting, make sure the cake is completely cool before adding the frosting on top. Place the cream and icing sugar to a large bowl and whisk (or beat with electric beaters) until soft peaks are about to form. Add the mascarpone cheese and almond extract (if using) and beat until stiff peaks form. This shouldn't take very long - be careful to stop when the frosting looks firm; the cream will start turning grainy when you go over the 'stiff peaks' stage.