Grapefruit and Olive Oil Pound Cake & The Beauty of No Routine

I love my current work schedule. There’s something about sitting down at my desk and turning my computer on a little before eight, leaving the office just after five. Maybe it’s waking up minutes before six that adds to this, or my three-minute showers, or the fact that it takes me a total of five minutes to put on a dress, clip up my hair, brush my teeth, and wash my face. An added five seconds to put on the same sandals I’ve been wearing all summer.

It’s likely all of this that makes me believe my mornings are endless, that I have an infinite supply of time before I drive the five minutes to the office. (In Vermont you’re either five minutes from work or an hour, no middle ground.) Because of all this, I have about an hour and a half each morning to slowly eat breakfast, get caught up on blogs, and drink coffee with my mom and sister. Snuggle the cat too, of course.

It’s a similar case when I come home. I have time to write, read, go on a long walk with my mom, and not have to rely upon 20-minute rush-and-serve recipes for dinner. There’s always enough time for a glass of wine as well. I’m usually asleep by 9:30, a truth consistent with other people’s suspicion that I’m not twenty-two, but seventy-two. An observation I play off as a compliment.

I don’t work 6-day weeks like the friends who work in finance, or in stress-heavy city jobs. My work is important, yes, and I gain value and self-worth from constant writing (dependent, at times, upon content), but it’s never woken me up in the middle of the night or made me complain of its volume. I never experience the sense of busy-stress that other women always seem to claim pervades their every thought. And I’m thankful.

Despite all of this though, I love Sundays. I live for my day off, not with an overworked hunger or desperate urgency, but with the knowledge that this is my day to do everything, to complete anything I want completed, be it a personal writing project or nap. I wake up with a sense of possibility that seems just the smallest bit more full, more promising than other days. This morning began in just that way, and before I tallied a mental to-do list, I had decided I wanted to make cake.

By way of introduction, I’ll note that I love The Smitten Kitchen, blog and cookbook, reveling both in Deb Perelman’s witty, slightly self-effacing but also hilariously confessional writing. The recipes are accessible, making use of simple ingredients and elevating them to a position of worship, rendering bananas beautifully caramelized in a butterscotch tarte tatin and setting the sweetest butternut squash on a bed of caramelized onions, all brought together in a simple galette. Two days ago, I discovered a large, unloved grapefruit in our refrigerator, deciding then that I needed to experiment with the book’s olive oil pound cake, delving into my first use of grapefruit in a baked good. I designated Sunday the day to dive in.

Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake*

Adapted From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

Cake

Butter for pan

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Grated zest of 1 large grapefruit, about 2 tablespoons

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup olive oil

2 large eggs, at room temperature**

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon table salt

2 tablespoons grapefruit juice

⅓ cup plain yogurt

**A trick for bringing eggs to room temperature if you were either a) neglectful and forgot to do it the night before (me) or b) are making this cake on a whim at six in the morning (not quite me, but also a little me). Place the two eggs in a bowl and cover with warm tap water. Do this right when you walk in the kitchen and your eggs should be ready by the time you need to add them to the sugar mixture.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt about a tablespoon of butter and lather either two 6-inch bundt pans or a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Be generous, not only does a thick coating of butter save you from will-my-cake-come-out-clean-or-come-out-at-all anxiety, but it will also give your cake the most beautifully sun-kissed sheen.

In a large bowl, rub the grapefruit zest into the sugars with your fingertips for about half a minute. If you’re like me though, you’ll want to do this for longer, meditating upon the sugar’s transition from individual granules to a single mass of tender sweetness. The result is a gorgeous, shining mixture of softly-pink sugar. The oils from the grapefruit zest leave the sugar no longer coarse, but something akin to how I imagine fairy dust.  I licked it off my fingers when I was done (and promptly proceeded to re-wash my hands.)

Once this is done and you’ve indulged long enough, whisk in the oil, watching the chartreuse-like hue stream slowly into the bowl, mixing until smooth. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until combined, and the whole mixture becomes a subdued yellow, restrained by the oil’s green.

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in another bowl. Use a liquid measuring cup to combine the 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and yogurt. Alternate between the flour and yogurt mixtures in adding each to the oil-and-sugar mixture; beginning with the flour, I did about four separate additions, three of the yogurt in between.

Spoon and then spread the batter in the pan. If you’re making a loaf cake, you’ll want to leave it in for 45 minutes to an hour. If you like the geometric interest of the bundt pan and are freezing one of your cakes for early next week, then you’re going to cut your cooking time. Mine was down to half an hour, start checking around then. In either case, when the tempered sweetness of grapefruit’s scent begins to waft from the oven and the top of your cake is becoming less pale in color, taking on the slight brown that signifies a perfectly-baked good, it’s ready to come out. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully run a butter knife around the cake’s edges, loosening it from the pan. Invert onto a plate, giving slight taps to encourage the cake’s release.

Make the grapefruit syrup In a small saucepan over low heat, dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in ⅓ cup grapefruit juice. Spoon syrup over the cake, preparing yourself for a moist forkful of cake.

Make the glaze Whisk 1 cup confectioners’ sugar with 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice and a pinch of salt to balance out the flavors, stirring until smooth. Artfully (or not so artfully) drizzle glaze over the cake, letting it run slowly down the sides.

*A note: the recipe link I’ve attached is for one of the first versions Deb put out of the recipe. If you want to get closer to the recipe I used, I’d recommend buying The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It’s the kind of cookbook I take to bed with me, lusting over recipes and enjoying the clever narrative strung through the headnotes.