Holiday Primer: Baking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil … Not Butter

Pear Almond Cake 1

We go out of our way during the holidays – actually, all the time – to bake with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter for desserts like cakes, tortes, brownies, etc. That may mean preparing a baking recipe that specifically calls for olive oil – or substituting olive oil in a recipe that calls for butter. Good olive oil adds a great, nuanced flavor and keeps baked goods moist. Olive oil also contributes to a special, textured “crumb.” Moreover, swapping olive oil for butter cuts saturated fat. To help you with your holiday baking, we’ve assembled a Q&A.

How do I substitute olive oil for butter if a baking recipe calls for butter?

As a general rule of thumb, substitute three-quarters of the butter in a recipe with olive oil. For example: If a baking recipe calls for a stick of butter (8 tablespoons), use 6 tablespoons of olive oil. (Click here to see a conversion table.) If the recipe uses melted butter, follow the instruction and substitute the oil for the butter at three-quarters of the amount.

“Olive oil can replace butter and margarine in almost all baked goods,” said Chef Sarah House of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, the Oregon provider of high-quality flours and other natural foods.

What if the recipe calls for the butter to be creamed with the sugar?

“If the butter is creamed with the sugar, and there is additional liquid (such as milk) in the recipe, follow the recipe instructions substituting the oil for the butter at three-quarters of the amount,” cookbook author and olive oil expert Fran Gage advised.

If a recipe, like carrot cake, calls for vegetable or canola oil, can I use olive oil instead?

You bet! We do so all the time. Just use the olive oil on a one-for-one basis. If a recipe, say, calls for half a cup of vegetable oil, use the same amount of olive oil. Your cake and other baked goods will benefit from the fuller, delicious flavor of a good olive oil versus a neutral oil like vegetable or canola oils.

“Any dessert that’s already made with some kind of vegetable oil is a candidate for trying,” award-winning cookbook author and dessert chef Alice Medrich said.

What style of olive oil should I use in my baking?

Generally speaking, a delicate oil – like our Arbequina and Everyday Fresh oils – works well. “A delicate extra virgin olive oil, with low bitterness and pungency, is always a good choice, especially if it has buttery notes because it will then mimic the flavor of the butter that it is replacing,” Gage said. But she also notes that you can use a more robust oil in recipes using chocolate. “High-quality chocolate can stand up to the bitterness and pungency of a medium or even a robust extra virgin olive oil,” Gage said. Our medium-robust Arbosana is a particularly good choice for chocolate desserts.

Can I use any type of olive oil off the grocery shelf in baking?

Do so at your own peril! A good tasting olive oil, as we said, adds flavor. “Only use an olive oil that you enjoy eating on salads, as a bread dip, etc.,” Matthew Kadey, a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food writer whose work has appeared in EatingWell and Men’s Health, said. “If you don’t particularly like the taste of a highly processed olive oil, why sully your baking with it. As the old saw goes: ‘Never cook with a wine you wouldn’t want to drink.’”

(Click here to see olive oil baking recipes.)

Bon appétit,

Your friends at California Olive Ranch