Lately I’ve been coming across all these articles about desserts made with olive oil or using olive oil in baking as if it is this new trend. Well in a way it is a trend, outside the Mediterranean that is. Many bakers are just discovering the beauty and merits of baking with olive oil. But here in Greece it is a common ingredient for baking.
This is probably due to two factors: First, olive oil was abundant and much cheaper then butter, which was considered a luxury item. Secondly, Greeks had all those fasting days where they were not allowed to consume animal products, so they had plenty of dessert recipes made with olive oil. And many recipes that require butter also have an olive oil version.
So traditionally Greeks have sweets that are made with olive oil such as melomakarona (cookies made with honey, walnuts and olive oil), halva (not to be confused with the tahini based sweet, it is a cake made with semolina and olive oil), koulourakia lathiou (cookies made with olive oil), baklava made with olive oil and other desserts depending on the region. I remember my mom making all sorts of cakes with apple or pear that were made with olive oil. We thought nothing of it, for us olive oil was not weird in cakes and desserts.
Why Bake with Olive Oil
Now obviously by using olive oil you are eliminating a lot of the saturated fat that comes with butter, but you are also getting the good monounsaturated fats and some antioxidants. I’ve been trying olive oil in all sorts of recipes and I find that olive oil can be substituted in many desserts. They work best with desserts that have a citrus ingredient in them so for example cookies with orange rind or the lemon cupcakes I made here. Olive oil also goes well with cakes that have fruit or vegetables in them such as apple, raisins, pears, banana and carrots, check out here and here these recipes for ideas. I also find that olive oil works fine in chocolate cakes and brownies. I recently was making a birthday chocolate cake and absentmindedly put olive oil in the cake and the difference in taste was not that obvious.
In certain cakes especially those with nuts and fruit, olive oil complement them well providing an aroma and another flavor dimension. Olive oil also makes cakes and muffins more moist.
Tips When Using Olive Oil for Baking
- If the recipe requires a vegetable oil you can substitute with olive oil in equal amounts.
- If the recipe requires butter, you can substitute with olive oil by using ¾ of the amount. So for example if the recipe requires 1 cup butter use ¾ cup olive oil. Start by replacing part of the fat with olive oil and see how it works.
- Look for mild tasting olive oils for baking. For example early harvest olive oils tend to have a more peppery taste as also certain olive varieties, you may want to avoid those when baking.
- Don’t use old olive oil, you will notice the taste in your dessert. Actually never use old olive oil for anything.