Pink Lemon-Olive Oil-Rose Cake

This cake is dedicated to my friend, Na’ama, specifically for her birthday. Fun facts, she was one of my friends that attended my apron battle for season 12(she was in the podium instead of the balcony), and we went to college together, but did not actually know each other back then. Since Boston University was such a huge campus, we actually did not meet or become friends until the end of 2020, over 3 years after we graduated, at L,A,, where our friend Sylvie introduced us. We only had like 3 mutual friends on Facebook, which is very few considering how many people at BU we both were friends with. So, based on that number, it was very unlikely that we would have met back then, although I would not be surprised if we passed each other on Commonwealth Avenue and just did not know it. But enough pondering about the could’ve’s and would’ve’s of having an earlier-rooted friendship, since ultimately, we are friends now, and that’s what matters. Na’ama loves a lot of things. Primarily ice cream. But since I live so far from her, trying to transport ice cream across L.A. County sounded like a bit of a nightmare. But since she is Israeli, she naturally gravitates towards Middle Eastern flavors.

Ingredients like lemon, sumac, tahini, chickpeas, olive oil, Na’ama just loves them in spades. And fortunately for me, my parents gifted me a bunch of lemons, and I stumbled upon these gorgeous pink lemons when I was grocery shopping the other day. Pink lemons honestly just look like lemon-shaped grapefruits. In terms of the flavor, very grapefruit-like, with bitter notes on top of floral and sour. I figured, why not go down the route of a lemon-olive oil cake? That’s super Mediterranean, and pretty Californian too, since you would be surprised by how few restaurants serve citrus olive oil cake in L.A. these days. I was honestly between that idea, or a cake that used tropical fruits, but after talking with Sylvie about it, the olive oil route just felt more appropriate. With the (pink) lemons, and the olive oil, I figured rose would be the right compliment to those two. While rose and lemon might be challenging to balance, as they are both strong flavors, blending them with olive oil, which mellows out both, helps make that combination a little more compatible. Since I had both pink and regular lemons, I figured I would candy the pink to keep their color, and use the yellow ones throughout the other components. Optionally, since I was going for a pink, yellow, and mildly green-ish aesthetic, I did use a small amount of butterfly pea tea, which turns pink against high concentrations of acid, just to further lock in that pink color throughout.

For the components, we have a lemon-olive oil chiffon cake, stuffed with a lemon-olive oil curd, soaked in a lemon-rose syrup, topped with rose-olive oil cremeaux, and finished with candied pink lemons, Turkish delights, and an olive oil snow. Seven components in total. There is some synergy between the components as well. The candied lemons, which are the most time-consuming component, are made by heating up lemon slices in syrup, then drying them out slowly. The leftover syrup is then mixed with rose water and diluted with regular water to form the soaking syrup for the cake, so at least one process gets worked directly into another. Other cool things worth noting is that I used tapioca maltodextrin with olive oil to form an olive oil snow, the chiffon cake uses semolina flour to give it a more toothsome crumb, similar to a traditional olive oil cake, and the cremeaux was a happy accident, resulting from me initially attempting to do a French buttercream, realizing that I did not have enough butter nor would buttercream on an olive oil cake make that much sense, and then pivoting to what the final recipe wound up as. For those unfamiliar with it, a cremeaux is a custard that is mixed with chocolate, then whipped into a silky mousse. It is very similar to a namelaka, but using egg yolks as well to add a richer flavor. I loved using the egg yolks in this case, since they were a great way to emulsify the olive oil and white chocolate.

Makes 1 8-inch cake:
For the candied pink lemons:
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
2 pink lemons, sliced into 1/8 inch-thick slices

In a pot, heat up the water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Place the lemon slices into the pot and turn off the heat. Allow the lemons to sit in the warm liquid for 10 minutes. Transfer the slices, reserving the syrup to make the lemon-rose syrup, to a lined sheet tray. Bake at 220 degrees F for 2 hours. Allow the slices to cool down before transferring to an airtight container.

For the pink EVOO-lemon curd:
juice from 4 lemons
1/4 tsp butterfly pea powder
zest from 3 lemons
1/4 tsp gelatin powder + 2 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp EVOO
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a pot, heat up everything besides the vanilla. Bring to a boil, then start whisking the mixture until it thickens enough to cling to the sides of your whisk. Take off heat and whisk in the vanilla. Allow the mixture to cool down in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before using.

For the lemon-EVOO chiffon cake:
4 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup semolina flour(can sub with all-purpose flour too)

In a bowl, whip egg whites with sugar, baking powder, salt, and vanilla to stiff peaks. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with lemon zest and EVOO. Sift into the egg yolk mixture your flours. Then fold into that the whipped egg whites to form your batter. Pour the batter onto a lined half-sheet tray, spreading it into a thin, even layer, and bake at 350 degrees F for 18 minutes. After the cake cools down, cut out two 7 inch-7inch squares, and form a third using the scraps.

For the lemon-rose syrup:
Reserved pink lemon syrup
1/4 tsp rose water
a pinch of salt

Mix everything together. If the liquid measures out to less than 1/2 cup, add in enough water to the syrup to thin it out to measure out to such.

For the rose-EVOO cremeaux:
5oz white chocolate chips
5oz heavy cream
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp gelatin powder + 2 tbsp water
a pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1g rose water

In a pot, heat up the white chocolate, heavy cream, olive oil, gelatin, and salt on low heat. Once everything is dissolved, whisk half of the liquid into the egg yolks. Return the egg yolk mixture to the pot with the white chocolate cream, and whisk on low heat until the mixture resembles a thickened cream. Pass through a sieve, and mix in the vanilla and rose water. Allow the mixture to cool down in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then whisk until the mixture stiffens – it should resemble soft peak whipped cream.

For initial assembly:
Line a 7-inch by 7-inch square mold with olive oil. Place down the scrappiest square of cake first, then pour on 1/3 of the syrup. Then spread on 1/3 of the lemon curd and 1/3 of the cremeaux. Repeat this for the second layer. For the third layer, start by placing on the cake and the soak. Pipe the remaining cremeaux on top of the cake. Optionally, using a spoon dipped in hot water, you can form holes on the top of the creameaux to hold the remaining lemon curd in. Freeze the entire cake solid, at least 3 hours in the freezer, before attempting to unmold for the final assembly.

For the Turkish delights:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp gelatin powder
3 tbsp cornstarch
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups water, in three parts
1 tsp pitaya powder or red food coloring
1/4 tsp rose water
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a pot, mix together the sugar, gelatin, cornstarch, and salt. Add to that one part of the water, and bring the pot to a boil, and whisk the mixture until it begins to thickens. Add in another part of water, and continue whisking, allowing it to thicken again. Repeat one more time. The end product should be fully translucent, with no pale or white spots left. Take the mixture off heat and stir in the pitaya, rose water, and vanilla. Pour the mixture into a shallow, nonstick container(I used silicone bar molds), and freeze for at least 1 hour before attempting to unmold. Cut into 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch pieces, keeping these frozen until it is time for final assembly.

For the olive oil snow:
1 tbsp EVOO
3 tbsp tapioca maltodextrin
a pinch of salt

Mix together to form a fine powder. Store in an airtight container when not using.

For final assembly:
Unmold the cake first. Pipe the lemon curd throughout the top of the cake. Sprinkle the olive oil snow around the edges of the cake. Toss the Turkish delight in the olive oil snow as well, before garnishing the top of the cake with those cubes, as well as the candied pink lemon slices.

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