9 Favorite Oil-Based Cakes | The Case for Making Cakes with Oil (As Opposed to Butter)
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In early December, I taught a holiday baking class at the Vischer Ferry General Store. We made three recipes and baked each in mini loaf pans, perfect for holiday gifting. Each of the three cakes — orange-ricotta pound cake, pumpkin bread, and coffee cake (more on this soon) — was whisked together in one bowl, and each used oil (as opposed to butter).
This got me thinking about my favorite cakes and how many of them are made with oil. And it made me wonder about the butter-cakes in my life and if they, too, could work well with oil? (Chez Panisse Almond Torte—I’ve got my eye on you.) And it also made me wonder if my favorite oil-based cakes could be given the one-bowl treatment?
I get lazier and lazier.
The thing is, when cakes are leavened by baking soda or powder, as opposed to beaten whole eggs or whipped egg whites, not as much care needs to be taken with the mixing process: beat eggs, add wet ingredients, add dry ingredients, don’t over mix. Right? Let’s review:
The Case for Making (Winter) Cakes with Oil
- No need to wait for butter to soften. If you have a microwave, softening butter is likely no big deal. If you don’t, it’s a pain in the rear. This time of year, butter doesn’t soften quickly on the countertop, so other tricks must be employed.
- No need to beat butter. Many cake recipes call for beating butter till it’s light and fluffy. No such instruction is called for with oil-based cakes.
- Speed. Without having to soften butter or beat it, oil-based cakes come together very quickly.
- One-bowl potential. I have not tried the one-bowl method with all of my favorite oil-based cakes, but I have with a number of them—orange-ricotta, pumpkin, zucchini—and it works beautifully.
- Texture. This is a personal thing: I prefer (often) the texture of oil-based cakes.
- Longevity. In my experience, cakes made with oil keep longer, which is a boon this time of year, when anything that can be made ahead of time holds strong appeal. Often, too, the flavor of cakes made with oil improves over time.
I’ve rounded up 9 of my favorite oil-based cakes below. Do you have a favorite oil-based cake? Let me know if so. Happy Holiday Baking, Friends!
1. Orange and Olive Oil Cake: This was the cake that introduced me to olive oil-based cakes, and it is still one of my absolute favorites. So good this time of year.
2. Teddie’s Apple Cake: Another long-time favorite recipe.
3. Pumpkin Bread: I’ve given this one the one-bowl treatment, and it works beautifully.
4. One-Bowl Orange-Ricotta Pound Cake: The original recipe for this one calls for butter, and it’s delicious, but oil allows it to come together in a snap. This one’s flavored with Grand Marnier—so good.
5. Geri’s Applesauce Yogurt Cake: A dear friend and neighbor made this for nearly every gathering she hosted. It’s super moist thanks to yogurt, applesauce and oil.
6. Gourmet’s Double Chocolate Cake with Black Velvet Icing: One of my favorite chocolate cakes—this one’s got buttermilk, coffee, cocoa, and oil… so much goodness.
7. Beatty’s Chocolate Cake—An Ina Garten recipe; another favorite chocolate cake made with coffee, cocoa, buttermilk, and oil. Unlike the cake above, this one uses cocoa powder exclusively.
8. Zucchini Bread (Award Winning 🎉🎉🎉)
9. Yotam Ottolenghi’s lemon-semolina cake: Here’s another one made with olive oil. The color is so pretty and the flavor and texture are lovely as well.
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27 Comments on “9 Favorite Oil-Based Cakes | The Case for Making Cakes with Oil (As Opposed to Butter)”
I never thought about the difference between the two but definitely prefer skipping steps like beating butter and the extra cookware required so thank you for all of these oil based cakes, for pointing out why they are at least much faster to make
🙂 🙂 🙂
I LOVE this! Hurray for oil-based cakes! I am with you, the moist tenderness of oil cakes and how they just get better day after day–I love them so much. Can’t wait to try all of these!
Hurray hurray is right!! Happy New Year, Cynthia!!
Thank you for these! I had never given this any thought until I found your (old) post for Teddie’s apple cake this past fall. I’ve made it about a zillion times since, everyone LOVES it, it’s super easy, and it lasts all week (well, it theoretically could, if I didn’t eat it continuously). I am going to get on the oil cake train and try a couple more.
Yay for Teddie’s Apple Cake!!! Such a good one, right? So happy you found that one and I hope you find some more oil-based cakes you like. Happy baking!
Interesting post! Could you list down the downside of using oil in cakes, if any?
For me, there really aren’t any because I prefer the moist texture. But for someone who loves the light, airy texture of a whipped-butter cake, the oil cakes might not be delicious.
I love butter but baking at 6,300 feet, oil based cakes and cookies are more likely to turn out moist and last much longer. Can’t wait to try all of these!
Wow, that’s so interesting! I have never heard this. Thanks for sharing!
I’m especially fond of Gourmet’s double chocolate cake with black velvet icing and Yotam Ottolenghi’s lemon-semolina cake. I followed your guides in making those. Thanks for sharing. I really do appreciate it.
So happy to hear this, Cassandra!
I love oil based cakes. My red velvet cake is oil based and everyone claims it is the best red velvet cake they have ever had. I also make a pumpkin cake with oil. However, I absolutely love the taste of butter in my butter based baking.
Ohhh … I’m so going to try subbing oil in for butter in the red velvet cake recipe I use. Yum. Thanks for the tip! But I agree, there are certain things — shortbread comes to mind — in which butter tastes SO good.
Made your Beatty’s Chocolate Cake and my brother thought it was the best chocolate cake ever! Thank you for sharing.
A quick comment about oil-based cakes: I am a Cuisinart FP fan from 40 years ago. I make any oil-based cake or quick bread recipe in my FP. Add all the wet ingredients. Pulse until mostly smooth. Whisk dry ingredients and open top to add. Pulse briefly until smooth and into the pan. I have done red velvet, carrot and many others this way. With carrot, I shred the carrots, change blades, add the sugar and pulse until carrots are finely chopped, but not mushy. Then continue. In my very first Cuisinart FP cookbook, there was a similar recipe. Thank you for the comments about oil vs butter. I like the trend of adding some oil to butter based cakes. I think the oil will have far reaching effects. Merry Christmas!
Hi Susan! Thanks so much for sharing all of this! I am a huge fan of my Cuisinart FP, and I too love switching blades for the same project. I love carrot cake … you’re making me want to make one 🙂 I just spotted a recipe for a buttermilk pound cake that called for both oil and butter, and I was intrigued. I think I’m going to have to give it a go. Happy baking!!
How much oil is typically used to substitute for butter? Is olive oil your go-to for baking?
I think when you substitute oil for butter you typically use 25% less oil for butter. So for a cup of butter, you use 3/4 cup oil. That said, I often try with a 1:1 substitute because I love a moist cake, and then I adjust based on my results. Hope that helps!
Do you think any of these would work with melted butter, or a combination of oil and melted butter?
I definitely do. I’ve seen a lot of cakes recently that call for both oil and butter, which makes so much sense to me. I can’t give you specific amounts, as I haven’t tried, but I would start with a 1:1 swap and go from there. You may find you need more butter; you may find you need less. Take notes! Let me know if you make any discoveries.
Can’t wait to try your recipes have made carrot cake with vegetable oil and it was delicious.
Would it work with lemon drizzle ?
Yes, absolutely! Love a lemon drizzle 🙂
I’m stating the obvious, but using a good oil makes all the difference. I once made the mistake of baking my favorite oil cake (Buttermilk Cinnamon Coffee Cake from Margaret Fox’s “Morning Food”) using Trader Joe’s canola oil. Same goes for olive oil. Even a mild olive oil can sometime mute the other flavors. Apart from the Coffee Cake mentioned above, I like Alice Medrich’s Tiger Cake, which is a marbled chiffon cake made with olive oil from her book “Bittersweet.”
Louisa, you are absolutely right. Thanks for noting this. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but once I used oil that I had used previously to deep fry something … I forget what it was, but it was only lightly used, and I didn’t want to waste it, so I used the oil in my daughter’s birthday cake. Well, you can imagine the result: it was inedible.
Thank you for the recipe recs! I can’t wait to try them.
I agree with you: some cakes are better with oil instead of butter. Great selection! Love them all.
Great to hear, Morena 🙂 🙂 🙂