Baking at my parents' house is always a bit of a...complicated adventure. Whereas I'd slowly and methodically built up a system in the London home where I lived for four years – I knew which specialty pans and ingredients I did and didn't have, and what stocks were low in the baking cupboard – living here in someone else's house, and especially working in someone else's kitchen, has really been a challenge. I never know what ingredients we have, in what quantities, and in what state of freshness (the other day I used molasses with a 'best before' in 2012, which is actually really recent for my mom's cupboards – it was fine). And while the double oven gas Viking range is amazing, the rest of the supplies are sketchy at best: we have a mini muffin pan and a popover pan, but no normal muffin tins; a heart-shaped silicone cake pan but no loaf pans; and one usable cookie sheet. One.
So when I offered to bake something with the blueberries that were lingering on their last legs in the fancy fridge drawers a few weeks ago, I figured it would be an experiment. I wasn't really prepared for just how many things I would need to change, but I was at least ready to be flexible. And thank goodness for that!
I found a blueberry muffin recipe, but no muffin tins – 'no problem, I'll double it and make a cake'. We were nearly out of sugar – 'no worries, here's some brown sugar in the bottom of the cupboard'. Out of vanilla extract – 'there's a bit of the powdered stuff left from years ago...' Oh, gross, this vegetable oil is rancid – 'well thank goodness we checked before using it, and I guess extra virgin olive oil will have to do'. I also eyeballed the batter, which looked too dry so I added some extra milk, and fiddled with the baking time and temperature to keep the cake from burning while it bothered to cook all the way through.
Needless to say, I was mightily uncertain about how this
cake would come out. The batter had definitely smelled like olive oil
when I did the final stir, and I was a little worried that might be
overpowering rather than 'sophisticated' (which was what I'd told myself
it would be). And we also started smelling some burning about an hour
into baking, so I did the aforementioned tweaking of temperature. It
smelled pretty stellar, though, and came out looking beautiful.
I had a wine tasting thing later that evening with a big group of new people, friends of my friend Kelsey, and although I'd already bought the table wine I'd been assigned to bring I thought it might be a good opportunity to share some of this monstrous baked good as well. But I was damned if I was going to bring it intact, without checking to see if it was edible. I pulled a chunk off the top, which left the cake a bit the worse for wear in looks but confirmed my hopes: it was TASTY.
Luckily, people at the wine gathering seemed to agree – or else they were just being polite, which is entirely possible. Either way, though, I was satisfied with my little experiment. Another day, another thrown-together cake.
But I still made a list for the next grocery shop.
Blueberry Olive Oil Cake
liberally adapted from Inspired Taste
oven to 400F/205C. Grab a deep cake pan and butter it if it's not nonstick silicone.
In a large bowl, whisk together, combining well:
3 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 tsp baking powder
In a 2-cup measuring jug, pour out:
2/3 c olive oil
2 eggs, room temp
enough low-fat milk to make the liquid in the jug come to the 2-cup line
2 tsp vanilla extract (if you have it!)
Whisk the wet ingredients and then add them to the dry – if the batter seems too stiff add a bit more milk, in small splashes, until it's quite thick but definitely wet and gloopy.
2 c (or as many as you can salvage from untimely shriveling) fresh blueberries
Spoon the batter into the pan and sprinkle with sugar (whichever kind you have to hand, although the larger the grains the better). Bake in the preheated oven at least one hour, checking regularly. If you suspect the cake is cooking too slowly and burning on the bottom/edges, turn the oven down a bit and settle in for a longer wait. When a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with a few crumbs on it, rather than a glop of batter, it's done!