Monday, 6 February 2012 | 83 comments

A grapefruit olive oil cake for a cold winter day

I take pleasure in the spareness of this season: the quiet, the grey light, the bare branches. It’s been such a mild winter so far that whenever we get a rare dusting of snow, I find myself walking around in the woods for hours.All the silence and sparseness are a bit misleading, though. I think about the secrets under the quiet white veil; the life that is there, dormant, waiting to wake up; the soil that’s teeming, always, with all kinds of micro-critters. Nature is like this, I think. She enjoys vibrance hidden beneath humble exteriors. Like seeds.And jewel-bright grapefruit.This is a cake to which it’s nice to come in from the cold. Olive oil-citrus cakes have always been a favorite of mine, somehow zingy and earthy at the same time, but this recent adaptation for grapefruit might be the best I’ve tasted. With a cup of tea, this is my preferred type of cake, one that’s more at home on a breakfast table than for dessert.I get so excited when technicolors appear in real life that didn’t require one drop of Red 486 or whatever it’s called. Besides how good it tastes, this cake is worth making for the dramatic, mood-improving pop of ruby-rose against the grey backdrop of winter. I am off to Jakarta on Friday for a busy couple weeks so there might be some radio silence on my end. I hope I have some time to snap a few photos to post here, but otherwise, see you on the other side!

Grapefruit olive oil cake

Cake adapted from Melissa Clark’s blood orange olive oil cake, and glaze adapted from Heidi’s glaze that she used, coincidentally, on another Melissa Clark cake

You will need

    Butter for greasing pan
    2 grapefruits
    1 cup sugar (I used turbinado; white granulated would work just fine)
    Scant 1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
    3 large eggs
    2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    For glaze:
    1/2 cup brown or muscovado sugar
    1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
    4 teaspoons grapefruit juice (squeezed from one of the grapefruits above; see recipe)


    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan or standard Bundt pan.
    Zest the 2 grapefruits into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar to the bowl, and using your fingers, rub the zest and sugar together until they’re well-incorporated to infuse the sugar with the grapefruit essential oils.

    Halve one of the grapefruits and squeeze its juice into a measuring cup. Add buttermilk or yogurt to juice in the measuring cup until there is a total of about 2/3 cup of liquid (you may not need the entire 1/2 cup of buttermilk or yogurt, depending on the size of your grapefruit).

    Pour the grapefruit juice/buttermilk (or yogurt) mixture into the bowl with the zest and sugar and whisk well. Then whisk in the eggs and olive oil.

    In another bowl, whisk or sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Pour the batter into the buttered and floured pan.

    Bake the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, until it is golden brown on top and doesn’t jiggle in the middle (this is especially important in the loaf pan—it might take a bit longer to bake through the middle). A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. When done, remove the cake to a rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

    Then unmold the cake (if you want to; sometimes I just serve a loaf cake out of the pan) using whatever crazy method works for you for unmolding. For me, this means getting up my gumption. inverting a plate on top of my Bundt pan, and flipping it over in a motion that displays more confidence than I truly have. If you are lucky, you will hear a soft thump and then do a happy dance. If not, bang it on the table a few times, and if all else fails, run a knife around the edges and then try to invert again.

    For the glaze, halve and squeeze the juice from the remaining grapefruit. Mix the brown/muscovado sugar, confectioner’s sugar, and 4 teaspoons of the juice together. Allow the cake to cool before spreading it over the top of the cake, or it will get all drippy and melt a bit, as mine did (evidenced in the photos!).


§ 83 responses to A grapefruit olive oil cake for a cold winter day

  • I know what you mean about the technicolors or real life…ruby red grapefruits always make me giddy :) Thanks for sharing this recipe…breakfast cake is one of my favorites, and this would be great to add to the rotation!

  • Love that first photo by the window. Looks like you have a lovely view from your kitchen! (My only kitchen window faces the brickwork of the neighbouring building.)
    I haven’t made a citrus-olive oil cake since late last winter. I like the idea of grapefruit rather than orange, and my boyfriend always appreciates it when there’s cake around for breakfast! I’ll have to keep this in mind when there’s time to to catch my breath this week.
    Happy travels!

  • It is just about zero degrees here in Zurich and I’m busy praying for mild weather that doesn’t freeze my eyelashes together every time I go outside. It’s just about too cold to wander outside, but it’s the perfect baking weather (if I can get my but to the store for ingredients…brrrr). This cake looks perfect for a cold winter day and I love the idea of using grapefruit, a personal citrus favorite. And I agree, there is something super satisfying about a breakfast cake…it just begs to be eaten, sliver by sliver, all through the day. Sending you some snow and shivers.

  • Wow, Sarah, what gorgeous pictures. I love that you’re sharing your new surroundings– what a spot!
    As for the grapefruit cake, I’m definitely trying this. Funny how I’ve done lemon and orange versions of cakes for decades, but never thought to use grapefruit!

    Thanks for the inspiration– the pictures and recipe both.

  • Hey, we cook in sync :)
    Grapefruit and olive oil sound perfect right now !

  • Just wanted to say that your words and photos are lovely.

  • These photos are amazing, and the cake looks really good.

  • We’ve just had snow in the UK for the first time this season and it was beautiful – not as incredible as your photos though :-) I love olive oil cake – it is so beautifully light and moist, and how gorgeous baked in a bundt tin.

  • what a great way to use grapefruit. my local produce guy is always trying to give me grapefruit as they are plentiful right now (along with strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, and watermelons). I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  • I find it somewhat amusing that the sparest season offers us some of the brightest fruits. This cake sounds heavenly and frankly, here in San Francisco, we’re been having an unseasonably warm winter but there are days I wouldn’t mind taking a brisk walk through the woods as you describe them.

  • Katie

    We don’t really have any of that winter stuff down here in Florida, but the grapefruit are abundant. I was so excited for another use for the mountain of them on my kitchen table that I went straight home last night and baked this cake. I’ve never made an olive oil cake before – delicious! Thanks for the heads up :)

  • This is so lovely. The grapefruit against the snow is so poetic — and it makes me really want to cozy up with a slice of that cake.
    Safe travels!

  • I was hoping to stop by a while….I took Tea’s advice and came across to visit and I’m so glad I did.
    Your words and photos take me to a new place. I’m located in warm sunny Melbourne at the moment, so its good to chill.
    Safe travelling and I’ll catch up reading your previous posts whilst your away…I know I’m in for a special time :D

  • Love this recipe… Your pictures are so pretty. Have a great trip!

  • That right there is my kind of cake. I’m not sure a person can go wrong with an any-time-of=day cake, or citrus in winter, or olive oil in baked goods…etc. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Grapefruits are really starting to come in here in Gainesville, Florida and I’m always trying to find new ways to use up the abundant citrus. Thank you!

  • As I started reading this post, I immediately thought of Melissa Clark’s blood orange cake, and here it turns out to have been your inspiration! I can see them being good riffs on each other; segments of a blood orange can almost taste like grapefruit, and for all I know they are perhaps close cousins on the citrus family tree. Lovely photos and have a great trip!

  • michelle

    Beautiful! I just made a walnut/olive oil/orange cake recently. Now, with your inspiration, it’s time to ramp it up with bundt pans and grapefruit! Thanks for sharing!

  • I love these pictures so much. They truly are rest for my heart. I love the peaceful feel, the simple beauty of simple things. Wonderful. :-)

  • I loved the idea of this cake and tried it and blogged about my results….not overly fantastic, but you can see why.

    • Oh no! I’m sorry it didn’t turn out very well—-although it was written for grapefruit, not lemon :) The cooktime issue is troubling; I’d like to look into that.
      p.s. Your Charlottesville Swap sounds awesome. Such good food-world things going on down there. I should visit soon; it’s an old haunt of mine.

      • We are planning a spring swap in the next few weeks (months). The family still ate it, so it turned out okay all in all. (Like we ever throw out cake.) I ended up making a raspberry sauce to go with it that took care of the dryness.

  • I found your blog through the recommendation of tea & cookies, and I’m so glad I followed it! This cakes is delicious – comforting enough for winter, with a hint of spring to come, and a refreshing finish. I’m sure it makes a lovely breakfast, bu it’s also pretty nice with an IPA at the end of the day. Thanks for sharing!

    • I can totally see that :) Especially an IPA with some nice grapefruity hops (like a Bell’s Two-Hearted, one of my favorites!) Thanks for stopping by, Lisa.

  • Amanda

    I made this on a rainy day this weekend and it was great! I baked it in a bread pan for 50 minutes and it turned out quite lovely; the cake carries a lot more grapefruit flavor than I thought it would. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Hi Amanda! Thanks for letting me know how it turned out. The first time I made it, I also used a loaf pan—can’t decide which way I like it better.

  • This looks so good. Beautiful… I am a huge fan of the grapefruit and when you pair it with olive oil and whole wheat flour and sweeten it up with a little sugar, well, I am ready for a slice. I really must buy myself a bundt pan.

  • Beautiful photos and great idea using grapefruit in baking! I’ve never gone down this road before and I can see how it’d taste wonderful! love the idea!

  • mvk

    Beautiful photos! I made this cake today, and it’s in the oven now — so excited to try the results. I wanted to ask though, my grapefruit was a juice monster and made 2/3 cup of juice on its own, I added a tbsp or two of buttermilk anyway, but I was wondering what to do. Do you think this was the right move?

    I ate the other grapefruit with arugula and mint, bulgarian feta, and a grapefruit vinaigrette. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • I am late on this Melissa, I’m sorry! I’m guessing your cake turned out fine. Regardless, I probably would have just used a scant amount of the grapefruit juice, and then added in buttermilk to close the gap. Let me know how it turned out. I do think the buttermilk/yogurt is helpful for making the cake moister, so I’m glad you included it.

      p.s. That salad sounds amazing. Love mint + grapefruit.

      • Hey Sarah,

        Thanks for your reply — the cake was maybe a little dry, probably should have put more buttermilk as you suggested and just used the grapefruit juice for something else. Despite this, the cake was super-delicious all week. I think I need more practice getting cakes out of my bundt pan though — that was harder than it sounded!

  • What a lovely and different way to enjoy two of my favorite things!

  • Couldn’t wait for the bundt pan… I made it in my trusty bread pan today. My oven runs hot, so I set it to 325 degrees and the cake was ready in 40 minutes. I didn’t even glaze it and it is so delicious. My husband loved it as well. Thanks!

  • Susan Shores

    how can i print this recipe?

  • I posted my version, different from yours because of a little inattentiveness and a little winging it. It was amazing! My friends loved, loved loved it, and so did I.

  • Must be the season for grapefruit-y cakes – my friends & I recently made a citrus polenta cake to brighten up a gloomy March day (enjoyed with some Old Fashioned cocktails, which were a great compliment to the citrus!).
    The addition of olive oil in your recipe sounds interesting – the next time I’m in need of a grapefruit cake I’ll have to try this recipe (tho I’ll have to experiment a little to make a gluten free version).

  • Hi Sarah, I found your recipe a few days ago and I had to try it, I simply love it! moist, full of flavor… wonderful cake, it will be one of my favorites from now on. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe! have a nice day!

  • bkrupal

    Hi Sarah, I love your blog!
    I’m on a bundt-cake-kick and this recipe has been bookmarked for weeks. I finally made it this weekend and loved it.

    I made an adjustment that I recommend–adding grapefruit zest to the glaze. It really made a difference.
    I saw a similar recipe suggesting tarragon, which I didn’t have, so tried savory instead. Honestly, couldn’t taste. So next time would stick to your recipe + zest.

    Thanks again. Looking forward to making the moulles you recently posted.

  • Susan

    i just made this cake. It takes good, but it doesn’t rise very much and is very dense. Yours looks like much prettier and fluffier than mine. Is it supposed to be dense or fluffy? I followed the instructions very closely, so I’m not sure what I could have done wrong.

    • Hi Susan—I will shoot you an email, but off-hand, if you used the right amount of baking powder and baking soda for leavening, I’m not sure what could have gone wrong. Hopefully we can work it out :) This is a pretty fool-proof cake recipe for me. —S

  • Clarice

    I have been looking for a GOOD grapefruit cake with substantial amount of “grapefruit” flavor in it. This looks like the one. I have a question though. I want to make a 3-TIER CAKE for my son’s birthday with a grapefruit cream cheese frosting and filling. Will this cake hold up to the heavy decorations & tiers????

  • Joe

    This looks really good. I’ll have to try it next week!

  • Sarah

    I have been looking at this recipe for over a year. Once I’m home for winter break, I will definitely have to make it. It looks so good! I really have becoming a fan of grapefruit lately.

  • This looks great in Bundt pan form. I just made a pound cake version (ala Smitten Kitchen). Is there anything better than winter citrus this time of year? I’d say not! Happy to have discovered your blog. Love the words and photos. Happy New Year.

  • MrsC

    Does the grapefruit olive oil cake glaze really only use 4 teaspoons of Juice. I changed it to 4 tablespoons and it seemed to work better for us. Just checking? curious. THANKS

    • Hi MrsC—I’m pretty sure the 4 teaspoons is correct, but I’m glad you upped the amount as needed for your recipe. I’ll check it myself soon to make sure. Thanks—Sarah

  • Allison Smith

    This cake looks and sounds wonderful Red Grapefruit is plentiful here in Australia at the moment and I do have a bag of them so I will be giving this cake a go for sure, and I do love baking cakes in a Bundt tin, they look so good and yet with so little effort!

  • just made this for new years eve, couldn’t have been more delicious, i dusted it with some confectioners sugar instead of the glaze. Gorgeous!

  • Amy

    This was a great pick-me-up for a freezing cold weekend, and my super juicy grapefruits had enough liquid left over for a cocktail. Total win!

  • Really beautiful! I love the Georgia O Keefe-like grapefruit photo, and I love the idea of incorporating grapefruit into baking. Olive oil cakes are so wonderfully moist; seems like a wonderful combination.

  • Tracy

    I love this! I’m thinking about adapting this recipe by adding poppyseeds and making it into muffins. Any tips or advice about doing that, Sarah (or anyone else)? Thanks!

    • Poppyseeds sound lovely—I would give it a shot. For muffins, just keep an eye on them and bake for less time, until they’re a little golden on top and start to pull away from the sides of the tin. –S

  • Aw, this was an extremely good post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a good article… but what can I say… I hesitate
    a whole lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.

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