Baking Science: Dough Hydration

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There’s a lot of bread that comes from this kitchen. This post is courtesy of a happy little 79% hydration accident with some pizza dough that has me very, very excited.

There are several ingredients that create big impact in different types of bread. One of the ingredients that has the biggest impact…is water.

Just starting with bread? Check out this post!

That’s right. The amount of water that you use in your bread dough impacts the texture and chew of your bread in a huge way.

Let’s jump right in.

Water = Hydration Level

In bread baking, hydration level is determined by comparing the amount of flour versus the amount of water (or other liquid) in that dough.

So, if you have a bread dough that uses 1000 grams of flour, and the recipe calls for 600 grams of water, then the dough is a 60% hydration dough.

In his book Water, Flour, Salt, Yeast, author Ken Forkish artfully uses baking percentages to create various types of artisan bread and incredible pizza dough.

Why Does Hydration Matter?

The hydration level in your bread dough impacts the interior crumb and the external crust of your bread. So, it’s important because it literally impacts everything about your bread’s structure.

Low Hydration Doughs

In lower hydration doughs, this means a slightly thicker crust and a tight internal bread structure with smaller holes.

Low hydration doughs can be easier to work with, since they don’t contain as much water and are thus not as sticky as high hydration doughs. I say can be because low hydration doughs can be extremely stiff, which can make it difficult to tell when the dough is ready to rise (and can lead to over-mixing, which, ironically, makes the dough even more stiff).

Popular examples of lower hydration doughs include bagels (55-65%), and sandwich bread (58-65%).

High Hydration Doughs

In higher hydration doughs, the higher ratio of water to flour means a thinner crust and those signature huge, non-uniform holes that we love to see in our favorite artisan breads.

High hydration doughs are a dream come true for many bread bakers, since they create that amazing chew that’s so popular in artisan breads. They can be a challenge for new bread bakers, since more water in the dough means a more sticky dough. Some high hydration doughs require more advanced kneading techniques as well, which can be intimidating for newer bread bakers.

Popular examples of higher hydration doughs include my new favorite pizza dough (79%…recipe soon!) and focaccia (70-80%).

If you’re starting to develop your own bread recipes, it’s important to consider hydration during your initial process. Want a chewy, light dough? Try 68-70% hydration to start. Want something more toothy and dense? Try 60-62%. Whatever you do, I encourage you to try. Proof your yeast, write out your recipe, and go for it.

If you need help I’m here! You can always, always always reach out to me at hello@beginwithbutter.com with baking questions. I’m happy to help!

Until next time, Friends!

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The BwB Home Baking Academy!

Hi Family! It’s May 1, 2022, it’s irrationally early in the morning in Maryland (and STILL too cold for spring 🥶), and I’m sitting here, giddy and full of gratitude.

The Begin with Butter Home Baking Academy’s first TWO courses will be released exactly nine days from now, and as I think about the journey to get to this point, I am so amazed and so proud. A little exhausted too, but mostly amazed and proud.

But first…

What is the Home Baking Academy?

The Home Baking Academy is a series of downloadable-on-demand courses, created by yours truly. Its goal is simple: to demystify baking with thoughtfully-designed, fun curricula designed especially for home bakers, aspiring bloggers and cottage bakers. The ultimate goal is for those bakers to feel completely empowered in the kitchen. The courses contain video instruction, PDF downloads, and access to me, as well as a tremendous community of supportive bakers who support one another.

Ready to learn more?

Visit the BwB Home Baking Academy

The initial two courses focus on cake specifically, but there’s a robust curriculum currently in development (next up: bread basics!), so that you can continue learning about baking science and techniques in a fun and approachable way!

These courses are geared towards beginning and intermediate bakers who want to deepen their understanding of the principles of baking. Understanding the principles will help you create more consistent, delicious baked goods: you’ll know the “what” and the “why” every time you set foot in the kitchen. And that knowledge is liberating!

What Courses Are Available?

Starting on May 10th, you’ll be able to download the first TWO courses! The first, Perfecting Cake Basics (USD $167.00), is for people who want to free themselves from others’ baking recipes; instead of following the rules, they want to literally write them. Whether you want to create your own cake recipes from scratch, or whether you want to be able to change existing cake recipes with confidence, this course is for you!

The second course, Perfecting Cake Techniques (USD $67.00), is for bakers who want to learn the techniques that will help them make consistently delicious cakes. This course is my love letter to anyone who isn’t exactly sure how to properly cream butter and sugar, and for those people who can’t understand why their cake batters are frequently curdled. This course is also perfect for people who are just starting to bake, and who want to avoid a very costly and steep learning curve!

(note: a costly and steep learning curve is a completely legitimate way to learn how to bake. It’s how I learned! But it’s not necessary.)

What Level of Baker Can Take These Courses?

These courses are geared toward all levels! However, if you’re completely new to baking, and just trying to get a handle on the basics, then I’d recommend starting with Perfecting Cake Techniques. Learning the techniques will give you tremendous confidence! And the other course will be there when you’re ready!

If you’re ready to take your baking skills to the next level, and you want to start creating your very own cake recipes, then Perfecting Cake Basics is your course! Not only will you master the techniques that are covered in the Perfecting Cake Techniques course, you’ll learn fundamental baking equipment, the science of ingredients, and the magic of ratios as well! It’s truly freeing to be able to pick up flour, sugar, butter, and eggs and make something from your own inspiration.

Bakers of any level can take the self-paced Perfecting Cake Basics course, because it contains fun lab assignments that help you deepen your baking knowledge even more! And there’s oodles of support, both from me and the community of bakers who have come before you!

Why Should I Take a Course?

When you’re learning to bake, you can absolutely read and experiment. And read and experiment. And read and experiment some more. I learned exactly this way and it took me several years (and thousands of dollars in ingredients) to master basic cake techniques. First, there was the matter of finding great sources (like my absolute favorite baking textbooks), then digesting the information in those books, and practicing what I’d learned. I had no idea whether I was even on the right track until I’d spent hours reading and practicing. But, since culinary school was out of the question and I was determined to learn in a way that made sense to me, I kept at it.

For the first year, all of my attempts were hit or miss, and I was pretty dejected and frustrated a lot of the time. But I was remained determined, and I had wonderfully supportive taste testers, so I kept going.

I created these courses for the 2014 version of me; I wanted to shorten the learning curve (and those dejected feelings) for others. The truth is that trial and error has always been an effective teacher. The goal of these courses, though, is to cut down on the trial and error phase! With all of the information in one place, as well as a community to let you know you’re on the right track, you’re set up for success the moment you click “buy”. 😊

Where Can I Learn More?

The Begin with Butter Home Baking Academy is located on my Thinkific platform. You can go directly to the main Home Baking Academy Page right here! Or, you can click here to send an email with your questions! I love hearing from community members and am happy to answer any questions that you have about the courses. 😊

Happy Sunday Y’all! And Happy First Day of May!


(psst….want a free lesson? Go ahead and sign up for the mailing list!)

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Hi Friends!

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the best tips and techniques to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

And I do mean a lot of time. So much time, in fact, that I’ve hit a lot of common snags in the process, and have tested different methods for fixing those snags!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (or SMBC for short) is luscious and airy and decadent. The version that I settled on for my Limoncello Layer Cake is perfectly balanced between sweet and buttery, and the texture…

FAMILY…THE TEXTURE…

But while Swiss Meringue Buttercream is incredibly rewarding, it has a bit of a reputation for being difficult to make. Which is a shame, really. Because it belongs on everything.

So I’m here today to walk you through the whole process from start to finish! Let’s gooooooo!

Before You Begin

The main ingredients in Swiss Meringue Buttercream are egg whites, granulated sugar, and, ahem, butter. 😊 So it’s best to have the best ingredients that you can source to get the most out of this amazing cake topper.

Speaking of egg whites, I always separate fresh eggs to make meringue. I’ve heard legendary tales of people who are able to whip carton egg whites to stiff peaks, but I have never seen carton egg whites whip up to the beautiful, stable stiff peaks that I’ve gotten consistently with freshly separated egg whites.

More on egg whites (because I’m clearly invested): the egg whites have to be completely separated in order for the meringue to work. Because any trace of egg yolk in your egg whites (or residual fat in your mixing bowl) could prevent the meringue from forming properly, which wouldn’t be a good sign for your buttercream.

Weather will play an important role in making SMBC. If it’s hot and humid outside, it can take longer for the buttercream to finally come together. It’s definitely doable though!

The temperature of the butter plays a huge part in the success of this buttercream. If the butter itself is too warm, then it could actually prevent the buttercream from fully forming and encourage a soupy, separated mess. If it’s too cold, you could get chunks of butter that don’t nicely incorporate into your buttercream.

Plan to take your time. This buttercream is extremely decadent but it is not a “quick and easy” recipe (quick: no; easy: YES!). I’ve never had a good SMBC come together in less than 45-60 minutes, and sometimes it takes longer than that if your buttercream has to take a time out!

Intimidated? Don’t be! For visual learners, I even did an entire Office Hours on SMBC the other day, which you can view right here!

First Steps

To make Swiss Meringue Buttercream, first begin by separating egg yolks from egg whites. I separate using my hands, but a separating tool or the shell-to-shell method work just as well. Note that your egg whites will look yellow-ish at this stage. If the yolk is intact when it’s separated, it’s all good.

Next, add the separated egg whites and granulated sugar to a stainless steel stand mixer bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk until most of the snotty texture from the egg whites is broken up and incorporated.

Place two or three inches of water into a large saucepan (large enough to accommodate the whole bottom of your stainless steel mixing bowl, but not enough to touch the bottom of the mixing bowl) and bring to a boil. Reduce the water to a steady simmer.

Place the mixing bowl over the saucepan while the water is simmering, making sure not to touch the water beneath. Stir constantly with the balloon whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. This takes anywhere from 2-4 minutes. It’s important that the sugar is completely dissolved before moving on from this stage. You can check by rubbing a very small amount of the mixture between your fingers. If you feel absolutely no sugar granules and the mixture looks completely uniform (no snotty streaks!), then you’re ready to move on!

Making Meringue

From the double boiler, place the mixing bowl directly on your stand mixer. Both the bowl and mixture will be pretty warm, so be careful! Using the whisk attachment, start mixing on low speed (on a KitchenAid Artisan, this would be speed 2-3). Keep going for 1-2 minutes, or until the mixture stops sloshing around in your bowl.

Turn up the speed to medium (on a KitchenAid Artisan, this would be about speed 4-5) and allow the mixture to continue working for anywhere from 4-10 minutes (you read that correctly; temperature and humidity can impact this step greatly). The meringue will go from a yellow-ish color to a stark white color during this second phase of mixing, but it will still be very loose. *Note: this is also the time when I usually cut my butter into chunks of about 1-1.5 tablespoons.*

Turn your mixer up to max power and let ‘er rip. This is one of the few times that I open my mixer wide up like this, and honestly, I think my mixer appreciates the opportunity to show off. Keep an eye on your mixer; the meringue will start to climb the bowl once it’s formed.

For a great video on meringue technique, check out this short video!

For SMBC, we want a stiff meringue. This buttercream is different from the meringue on my Easter Coconut Cake, my Coconut Meringue Pound Cake, and my Lemon Meringue Pound Cake in this regard; those all use a more floppy meringue topping. Here, we want a nearly stiff peak. So, in addition to climbing the bowl, we’re looking for meringue that doesn’t slide back down the sides of the bowl after climbing it. You’ll be able to see when it reaches this stage.

Test the meringue by pulling the whisk attachment out of the bowl. If the meringue peaks don’t flop over and are nearly stiff, you’re ready to move on.

Becoming Buttercream

The temperature and timing of the butter are especially important to Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Family. Practice is key!

With your mixer on low/medium speed, add 1-1.5 tablespoon-sized pats of butter at a time.

Some people like to switch from the whisk attachment to the flat beater attachment on their stand mixer, to get a smoother buttercream. This is purely a matter of personal preference; staying with the whisk attachment will lead to a lighter, more whipped Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and the flat beater attachment will lead you to a smoother, more uniform buttercream.

Both have their place, but I love the look, texture and mouthfeel of a slightly whipped Swiss Meringue Buttercream in the spring and summer months.

Don’t add another pat of butter until the previous pat is completely mixed into the meringue.

Make sure that you only add 1-1.5 tablespoons of butter at a time. My butter cuts are never perfect, but if a piece gets larger than 1.5 tablespoons, I know that it needs to be cut down. Adding too much butter at once can encourage the buttercream to separate instead of forming.

A Word…

Yes, this note deserved its own heading, because it’s the place where people think they’ve gone horribly wrong.

Remember that gorgeous, fluffy, stiff meringue that we made to start this endeavor?

Of course you remember. It took half an hour to make! 😊

It WILL deflate a bit once you start adding butter. RIP to the first few batches of SMBC that I threw away at this point, thinking that I’d ruined them.

As the fat in the butter disperses into the meringue, the meringue will deflate quite a bit. As the video just showed, it might actually even become kind of runny.

KEEP. GOING. DON’T. PANIC.

Keep adding butter, on pat at a time, with your mixer on a consistent low/medium speed. You will be almost at the end of the butter phase (usually 3-5 pats of butter left) before you’ll notice a buttercream texture. If your buttercream starts to thicken too long before those last 3-5 pats of butter, turn the speed down and keep going.

Yes, really! You don’t want it to come together too quickly or you risk over-mixing it.

After all of the butter is fully incorporated into the buttercream, and no traces of butterfat remain, add the vanilla and salt. Continue mixing on low/medium speed, just until you see the buttercream reach a smooth, fluffy consistency.

Pro Tip: For an even more fluffy consistency, stop mixing at this point and refrigerate the buttercream for about thirty minutes. Finish with a flat beater for the most amazing buttercream of your life!

The Big Finish

If it’s worked consistently (and not over-whipped), Swiss Meringue Buttercream comes together in about 45-60 minutes. A lot of this has to do with air temperature as well, since a warmer kitchen will make the butter melt faster. Faster butter melt contributes to soupy buttercream, so in really warm weather, I’ll leave the butter in the refrigerator for a longer period of time.

At the time you start adding butter, your butter should still be cool, but not straight from the refrigerator. If the butter is room temperature (like it would be if you were making a cake or cookies), it’s generally too warm for Swiss Meringue Buttercream and you should start again with cooler butter.

When it’s done, it’s a dream. It can be spread on cakes, piped on cupcakes, or just eaten with a spoon (don’t judge me).

It’s definitely a time commitment, but it’s totally worth it. It can also be made several days ahead! In order to revive it, allow it to sit on the countertop for 10-15 minutes, then put it back into a stainless steel mixing bowl over a double boiler. Stay with it and keep it over the double boiler just until you see the sides start to melt.

The very instant that you see the sides of the buttercream begin to melt, put it back on the stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix until it’s smooth and dreamy. It will be as fresh and ready to use as if you’d piped it directly after making it.

Troubleshooting FAQs for Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a process, to be sure, but it can also be a little intimidating to execute. I’ve gotten a lot of amazing questions about this buttercream since I posted my Limoncello Layer Cake, so I’ll answer some of them here! If you have additional questions, ask away! I’m happy to update this section.

In general, there are two pieces of advice for Swiss Meringue Buttercream; either put it in the fridge (a “time out” as it were) or keep mixing. I’ll explain further in each FAQ:

At the end of the mixing time, my buttercream looks really watery and loose. Can it be saved?

It’s possible! The most important thing to do at that point is to stop mixing, as loose buttercream at the end of mixing means it is over mixed. Take the buttercream off of the mixer and place it in the refrigerator for an hour. Yes, an hour. The butterfat needs an opportunity to firm back up so that it can help create the buttercream texture. I call this a buttercream time out!

My egg whites won’t go to stiff peaks. What do I do?

The meringue part of Swiss Meringue Buttercream is actually the most time consuming part of the whole process. In a KitchenAid mixer, it usually takes about 20-25 minutes to make a good, stiff meringue from start to finish. If you’re at the 20-minute mark and the meringue still isn’t at stiff peaks, check your temperature. Is it hot and humid in your kitchen? Then a 15-20 minute meringue timeout in the fridge will help!

My buttercream is chunky. What do I do?

Make sure your butter is the right consistency before adding it to your buttercream. If it’s too cool, then it won’t transition seamlessly into your buttercream; it will break into pieces. If you’re adding butter too quickly then you’ll start to get a chunky buttercream. Once you notice this, stop adding butter until the butter that is already in the buttercream gets completely smooth.

My buttercream looked perfect and then got really lumpy and gross! Should I throw it out?

Don’t throw it out! It’s just been over-whipped and needs a good time out in the fridge. Start with 30-45 minutes (depending on how hot your kitchen is), then gently try to re-mix it on medium speed using your flat beater. If it doesn’t show signs of coming together within 10-15 seconds (yes, that quickly!), then it needs more of a time out in the fridge.

This SMBC has been my literal obsession for longer than would be sane to admit. But I’m so happy that I spent the time with it that it needed. I hope you have an amazing time, making incredible cakes, with this as the final topping. It’s the LBD that every cakes needs, in my humble opinion.

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream


  • Author: Shani
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour

Description

This Swiss Meringue Buttercream is perfectly sweet and perfectly buttery.  It belongs on everything.


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 8 egg whites
  • 450 g (2.25 c) granulated sugar
  • 350 g butter, cut into 1-tbsp sized pieces
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Bring 3” of water to a low boil in a large (3 qt.) sauce pan.  Reduce to a simmer.
  2. Cut cold butter into 1-tbsp pieces and set aside.
  3. Carefully separate 8 eggs, placing the whites in a very clean, nonreactive metal bowl (either a stand mixer or large stainless steel bowl).  Add sugar and stir to combine.
  4. Place metal bowl over the top of the sauce pan while the water is simmering.  Whisk the egg white mixture over the sauce pan until all of the sugar is completely dissolved.  (~3 minutes)
  5. Remove the metal bowl from the stove.  Using the whisk attachment on either your hand mixer or your stand mixer, whisk the mixture on lowest speed until it is nearly opaque.  (~1-2 minutes)
  6. Increase the mixer to medium speed until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy.  (~4 minutes for stand mixer; ~5-6 minutes for hand mixer)
  7. Increase the mixer to highest speed until the meringue has reached nearly stiff peaks.  The meringue should be lukewarm before moving onto the next step.  This step could take anywhere from 10-15 minutes.  If the meringue doesn’t form nearly stiff peaks after this time, place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and whip again.
  8. With the mixer on medium speed, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Make sure that each tablespoon of butter is fully incorporated before adding the next tablespoon. (8-10 minutes)
  9. It is important to note that the Swiss Meringue Buttercream will begin to look more liquid while you add the butter.  Keep going!  It will firm back up as you get toward the end of the butter additions!
  10. After adding the last tablespoon of butter, you can switch to the paddle attachment on your mixer if you’d prefer a smoother buttercream.  Mix the buttercream on medium speed until it reaches a firm texture.  This generally takes between 2-6 minutes, but the temperature and humidity of your kitchen will be the big determining factor.  Watch your mixer carefully to make sure that the buttercream doesn’t curdle.
  11. If the buttercream won’t firm up, place the bowl into a refrigerator for about an hour.  Mix again on medium speed until it reaches a firm texture.
  12. Add salt and vanilla and mix until it again reaches a firm texture.
  13. Use as desired.  This buttercream should be stiff enough to pipe onto cupcakes or cake (if desired).

Notes

  • This recipe makes more than enough for a “naked” cake.  If you’d like to have more frosting, you can scale this recipe by 1.5 times and have plenty for a three layer, 8-inch cake.

Blood Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake

Sometimes, I get really wrapped up in the process of cake development–looking for perfectly creamed butter and sugar, checking for perfect emulsification of eggs, picking the perfect amounts of zest, juice and spice–that time just…evaporates.

You see, recipe development is about more than just baking science. It’s fun time, lost down a rabbit hole of research about ingredients and techniques. It’s relying on my extensive home training as a baker and trusting that the batter in my cake pan–a mere wisp of an idea an hour earlier–is going to bake up beautifully. It’s troubleshooting setbacks and celebrating victories. It’s knowing that I have the skillset to be creative as a baker.

That last part still gets me sometimes.

This Blood Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake took me through all of the emotions. It came together in two bowls, and there were no power tools involved. Just me, my bowls, and a whisk. As it baked, the spiced orange smell evoked childhood memories of the citrus boxes that my aunt used to send from Florida; those oranges and grapefruits were always a delicious highlight of the season.

I really enjoyed working with olive oil for this cake; while I will always prefer creaming method for cakes, the simplicity of this one truly captured me during the development process.

Let’s get into this Blood Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake, shall we? (I know it’s a mouthful, Y’all. 😊)

To Make this Cake

First, as with every recipe, proper mise en place is an absolute must. Prepping your ingredients in advance will help you stay incredibly calm during this or any baking process, and it really sets you up for success with this cake.

Start by preheating your oven to a true 325°F. An oven thermometer is extremely helpful to ensure that your oven is at the true temperature. To get the proper result, this (and every) cake really relies on your oven being at the right temperature!

Sift your dry ingredients into a large bowl. Sifting the ingredients helps aerate your flour mixture, which helps with cake rise in this olive oil cake. Because you’re not creaming butter and sugar together, the sifting step is extra important in this cake!

Place your sugar, eggs, olive oil, vanilla extract, blood orange zest (other oranges work just as beautifully!), blood orange juice, and sour cream in a medium bowl.

Not Pictured: Sour Cream

That’s right! This is a two-bowl recipe!

Next, whisk the wet mixture until it is completely combined.

Not this:

In this photo, there are still streaks of egg and unmixed oil that need to be fully incorporated.

But this:

The reason for this is simple: once this wet mixture is added to your dry mixture, you want to stir as little as possible, in order to avoid too much gluten formation. If you still have unincorporated oil and egg when you add your flour, you’ll have to mix a lot more in order to get a fully mixed cake.

That would lead to a chewy cake, and who wants that?

The answer is nobody. Nobody wants chewy cake.

You want this:

Once the batter reaches this consistency, place it into a prepared loaf pan. Put the loaf pan onto a sheet pan that’s covered in parchment and get ready to bake!

(If you’re making the “candied” blood oranges, place them directly on the parchment paper to bake alongside the cake. Everything will finish at the same time.)

The cake is done when an instant read thermometer reads somewhere between 212°F and 215°F. Alternately, your cake is done when a fingerprint indentation springs back completely and a toothpick comes out completely clean. I much prefer the thermometer method though.

Finishing Touches

Let the cake cool in the pan for ten minutes, then remove it from the pan and put it on top of a cooling rack to cool completely.

If you’re using the simple syrup, brush it onto the cake right after removing the cake from the cake pan. The simple syrup isn’t mandatory, and I skipped it when I wanted to serve this as a quick/breakfast bread one morning this past week. It’s honestly a matter of personal preference. If you’re using the simple syrup and the “candied” oranges, brush it over the cake and the oranges at this time to give a stunning effect.

Allow the cake to cool for at least 45 minutes to an hour before cutting. This cake can be served warm (although I would not serve it warm if I added the simple syrup) or after it’s been fully cooled.

I truly enjoy this cake, and I’ve loved the trip down memory lane as I created it. I hope you love it as much as I do!

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Blood Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake


  • Author: Shani

Description

This aromatic, beautiful blood orange cake is spiced with cardamom, an earthy spice that has sweet and spicy notes.  Cara Cara oranges also work beautifully in this wonderful cake.


Ingredients

Units Scale

For the Cake Batter:

  • 192 g all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cardamom (optional)
  • 200 g granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 160 g extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp blood orange zest
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed blood orange juice
  • 110 g sour cream (can also use 125 g buttermilk)
  • 1/8” slices of blood orange (optional)

For the Optional Simple Syrup:

  • 67 g granulated sugar
  • 84 g water
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Instructions

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.  An oven thermometer is highly recommended, since many ovens run hot or cold.
  2. Place flour, salt, baking soda and cardamom (if using) in a medium-sized bowl.  Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Add granulated sugar, eggs, olive oil, vanilla extract, blood orange zest, blood orange juice, and sour cream in a medium bowl. 
  4. Stir wet mixture with a whisk until it is completely combined.  The oil and egg will be the last things to combine.  The mixture should be completely and consistently mixed before moving onto the next step.
  5. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture.  Use a rubber spatula to get all of the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture.
  6. Stir the batter with a whisk until only a few lumps remain.  The orange zest will make the batter appear lumpy as well.  Don’t be fooled by this!
  7. Add the batter to a prepared 9” x 5” or 8.5” x 4.5” loaf pan.  Place the loaf pan atop a parchment-lined baking sheet.  If making “candied” oranges, place the oranges directly on the parchment-lined baking sheet, next to the cake pan.
  8. Bake in a 325°F oven for 60-70 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 212°F-215°F.  Alternatively, your cake is done when a fingerprint indent springs back and a toothpick in the center comes out completely clean.
  9. Remove the cake and orange slices from the oven once the cake is complete.
  10. Place the cake pan on top of a cooling rack for ten minutes.  Then, remove the cake from the cake pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.  See below for simple syrup and “candied orange” instructions (if using).
  11. If you are not using simple syrup, this cake can be sliced about an hour after it comes out of the oven and served warm.

If Using Simple Syrup:

  1. After removing the cake from the oven, make the simple syrup.  Begin by adding sugar, water, and salt to a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce mixture to a simmer and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved.  
  3. Turn off the heat and add the orange juice.  Stir until dissolved.
  4. Use a pastry brush to brush the simple syrup over the warm cake (and orange slices, if using), immediately after removing the cake from the cake pan.
  5. Allow the cake to cool completely before eating.

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