I love baking with butter. I love the smell, flavor and texture butter gives to cakes, cookies and pies. But, the fat and calories can scare even a healthy, skinny person away. I have spent the past year, baking with extra-virgin olive oil. I’ve used olive oil in just about every possible baked treat with great success – and I don’t miss butter. Seriously, I don’t. That’s why it surprises me when a reader or a friend tells me their horror stories from baking with olive oil. So, it was high time I write a post sharing what I have learned and how to bake with olive oil.
1. Do not use old olive oil.
Yes, there is such a thing as old olive oil. Olive oil does have a shelf life and it varies depending on many variables: filtered vs unfiltered, container used, where it is stored, when the olives were harvested. If you are looking for a formula or answer to how long a bottle of olive oil will last, there is no easy answer. Plus, once you open that bottle, you have about one year to use it all before it turns bad, if stored properly.
Olive oil is not like wine or vinegar. It does not taste better over time. It is best to buy olive oil in small quantities to insure freshness and flavor, especially when you bake. So the next time you find a cool olive oil at Marshall’s or Ross, it’s best to pass on it. You don’t know how long it has been there. Remember, even vegetable oil will turn rancid. If you use rancid olive oil, those brownies will turn up noses.
2. Extra-virgin is the only way to go.
Extra-virgin olive oil is the oil generated from the olive’s first pressing. Olives are continuously pressed until all of the oil is extracted. Extra-virgin olive oil has more flavor and extremely low acidity level that makes it a higher quality oil than “virgin” or “light” olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is only extracted by mechanical means, and not refined or extracted by chemicals as the lesser quality oils require. All of this will affect how that cake will taste.
3. Find a brand you can trust.
There is tremendous controversy buzzing in the industry over the adulteration of olive oil. Many companies all over the world have been caught mixing other oils with their olive oil and calling it “pure.” Yes, some olive oil executives have gone to jail over this. This should really get your attention if you suffer from food allergies, specifically NUT allergies. Read your labels. If you can, know your growers. Ask questions, do your research, compare and taste other brands. “Light Olive Oil” is not 100% olive oil. It is typically mixed with other oils so that the olive flavor is not noticeable. If that is what you want, then there is nothing wrong with it. But be aware of the distinctions. This, too, will affect the flavor of that bread you bake with it.
4. Experiment with flavored olive oils.
Once you have found a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil that you trust, try some of the various flavor infusions. I have found garlic, pepper, basil and lemon infused olive oils in the supermarkets. It’s a terrific way to add that something special to your creations. I love using fruit infused olive oil for my sugar cookies. Who needs the frosting? Pass me another one!
What olive oils do I personally use? Well, when you co-author a book on olive oil, everyone wants you to try and like their brand! And honestly, I can not always buy $100 worth of olive oil to get all the baking that I have to get done on my list!
When I am doing bulk baking that requires no additional flavor for my desserts, I like to use Kirkland’s USDA Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. I have had these treats taste-tested by hundreds of people. The olive oil flavor is not noticeable when baking and no one thinks twice about eating that slice of cake. When buying in bulk you must remember to finish the olive oil before your year is up. Don’t buy big bottles if you aren’t going to use them often. I use a lot of olive oil and can go through a big Kirkland bottle in a couple months. And from what I read online, it has passed the purity test. It is also easy on the wallet.
But, for special treats, like my sugar cookies or cocktails, I like to use a special olive oil. Temecula Olive Oil has a wonderful Blood Orange Olive Oil that is DIVINE! Their Lemon Olive Oil is also just as wonderful and I use it often with my olive oil cocktails. My kitchen smells of sweet citrus when I bake with these oils.
When I’m enjoying a salad or want to dunk my bread, I like an olive oil with a robust olive flavor. The choices in this option are endless, and are probably how most people are accustomed to enjoying olive oil. I have a great collection of olive oils that fit in this category and I love them all dearly. And they come from all over the world: California, Greece, Italy and Spain. But remember, that woodsy, peppery olive oil is great for savory breads and pizza crusts, but it will probably not taste so good in your chocolate cake.
So there you have it. My tips on baking with olive oil. I have baked scones, pies, cookies, bread, cakes, muffins, you NAME it with olive oil and have had terrific success, too. People who have poo-pooed or had bad experience baking with olive oil are totally surprised when I give them a treat baked with olive oil. The oil used can make or break your dessert.
To learn more about cooking and baking with olive oil, our Gold Medal Winning Ebook is for sale. You can purchase it here.
And look out for the print version of our cookbook, coming out around February 2014!