Kitchn Love Letters

Zingerman’s Bakeshop Tunisian Orange and Olive Oil Cake

published Feb 28, 2022
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tunisian orange and olive oil cake on a plate
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The first time I baked the Tunisian orange and olive oil cake from the Zingerman’s Bakehouse cookbook, I was testing recipes for a holiday cookbook gift guide. At the food magazine I was working for at the time, we would divvy the new cookbooks up among our staff members, then everyone would go home, cook a few recipes from their respective books, and bring back their (often strong) opinions. From there, we would whittle down the list and share our top picks with our readers to help them choose which cookbooks to buy for their friends and family. 

I love to bake, so I snagged Zingerman’s Bakehouse. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Zingerman’s, it’s a 30-year-old bakery, deli, and specialty foods store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It started out as a small bakery and has grown into an institution. The founders wanted to open a place where they could produce beautiful artisan breads and other baked goods, all made and served by a dedicated staff. They also wanted to be deeply rooted in the community they served. They’ve accomplished all of that — and much more.

As I flipped through the book looking for recipes to try, the Tunisian orange and olive oil cake caught my eye. It was simple and sounded really delicious. I also loved the backstory: Majid Mahjoub and his wife, Onsa, the family behind Les Moulins Mahjoub, once came to Ann Arbor for a visit. At the time, Zingerman’s carried the company’s hand-rolled couscous, harissa, and their Tunisian olive oil. Majid and Onsa taught a cooking class during their stay and Onsa made this delightful olive oil cake — and the recipe ended up in the Zingerman’s cookbook.

The cake is so terrific that based solely on this one recipe, the cookbook won a spot on our holiday gift guide (the book is also packed with other fantastic recipes). It’s moist, incredibly complex in flavor, and SO easy to make. I think the key to its mysteriously complex flavor is that a whole orange, peel and all, gets tossed into a food processor and puréed until completely smooth before adding it to the batter. That, combined with the fruity flavor from the olive oil, and the slight nuttiness imparted from the sprinkling of sesame seeds that top the cake just before baking, complete the deliciousness of this 8-ingredient marvel. 

I became an annoying orange olive oil cake evangelist, spreading the word about the glories of this dessert through social media — and IRL too. I brought it to parties. I carried it to work on the subway. I gave it to friends as a housewarming gift. I told nearly every friend and family member that they must make this cake.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

And it worked. As my friends and family tried it, they loved it too. My 87-year-old dad, whose cooking experience was limited to warming up leftover spaghetti, wanted to learn how to make it. Both of my daughters added it to their regular dessert rotation. My daughter Claire, who lives in Los Angeles, swapped out the orange with Meyer lemons from her backyard tree with great success. She sometimes stops short of totally puréeing the fruit so there are a few toothsome pieces of peel in every bite. 

It’s a multi-purpose cake. Serve it for dessert solo or topped with a little whipped cream, or try it as a snacking cake. And don’t forget that it’s equally fine for breakfast served with a side of yogurt drizzled with a little honey. 

If You Make the Tunisian Olive Oil Cake, a Few Tips

  • You might need to adjust the baking time. I’ve found that the cake needs a little longer baking time than the recipe calls for. Like most baked goods, the bake time varies depending on the pan you’re using, how hot (or not) your oven runs, etc.
  • If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it. For the best results, weigh the orange and the flour. And if you don’t have one, I highly suggest you buy a kitchen scale! Your baked goods will thank you.