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Strawberry Balsamic Olive Oil Cake
Plus, come with me to Puglia for the next Brain Health Retreat in Italy
Hello everyone. I write to you from Madison, Wisconsin where we are celebrating my son Nick’s college graduation. After book tour events in California, I was only home for the blink of an eye—just enough time to perfect this new recipe for Strawberry Balsamic Olive Oil Cake. Today also happens to be my husband’s and my 33rd wedding anniversary, but we usually celebrate the day we met as our “real” anniversary; it will be 40 years in July.
Also on today’s agenda: I’m announcing a new Brain Health Retreat happening in April 2024 in Puglia. I can’t wait to take a group of you to this little-traveled slice of Southern Italy. I would say that these are enough reasons to celebrate with a special cake! Before I tell you about the recipe, though, here are some details about the retreat.
Brain Health Retreat: Puglia, Italy, April 7 - 13, 2024
As a paying subscriber to this newsletter, you are the first to learn of this retreat. I’ll be announcing it on my website and on Instagram next week, so if you think you may want to join, let us know so we can save you a spot. (Scroll down and tap on the Brain Health Retreat in Puglia button for more information.)
Just like with my Sicily retreat, I am offering this immersion in Mediterranean living in collaboration with Italian food writer and local expert Elizabeth Minchilli. She draws on 30 years of experience taking people to Puglia on culinary tours to curate a special experience for us. We’ll split our time between two of the most beautiful cities in Italy: Lecce and Monopoli. Here are a few details about what we’ll be eating, seeing, and learning:
Food shopping at the local market and cooking with local chef Gianna
Touring the pre-Roman architecture of Lecce, aka “the Florence of the South”
Tasting pastries that can be traced back to medieval times in village of Galatina
Lunching on local shrimp in the seaside town of Gallipoli
Basking in thousands-year-old olive trees at an olive farm to learn how olive oil is pressed
Walking through trulli (traditional cone-shaped houses) in the UNESCO-protected town of Alberobello
Meeting the famous “pasta nonnas” of Bari who make orecchiette outside their homes in the streets.
Each day, we’ll learn about a different theme in brain healthy Mediterranean living, such as Sleep, Exercise, Stress Mitigation, and the Four F’s of brain healthy food. There’s time for exercise each morning, “Aperitivo Talks” (brain health chats over drinks at the end of the day), and down time for resting, wandering, and exploring.
For more information and a detailed schedule, contact Elizabeth directly with this button.
Inspired by the rustic breakfast cakes of Italy
It is not unusual at all to have a wedge of cake for breakfast in Italy. While not the brain-healthiest breakfast, it’s wonderful as a special treat while traveling. My inspiration for this Strawberry Balsamic Olive Oil Cake comes from these simple, rustic cakes, often made with almonds, lemon, and a layer of whatever fruit is in season baked into the top. Elizabeth makes a classic version here using ricotta.
I have literally been having cake for breakfast as I baked a slightly different version of this recipe each of the four days I was home. My goal was to optimize the 4F’s of brain health nutrition (this hits on fats, fiber, flavonoids) without sacrificing texture or flavor.
Here are the key players:
Strawberries. While some cakes in this genre have a few strawberries pressed into the top, I wanted this cake to include a whole pound of these brain-boosting, flavonoid-rich berries. Just like blueberries, strawberries are one of the top foods for anthocyanins, an important bioactive with brain health properties.
Extra-virgin olive oil. Swapping in EVOO for butter gives the cake a more brain-friendly fat profile (read more about that here). Olive oil’s savoriness also provides a nice contrast to the sweeter elements in the cake, like the berries, maple syrup, and honey, for a not-too-sweet result. I am using my everyday olive oil here, not my very best high-end one.
Fiber-packed flour. To get the crumbly, polenta-like texture just right, I played with a combination of nutrient-dense ingredients in my pantry—almond flour, oats, flaxseed meal, and whole-grain cornmeal. Fiber, as we went into here, is an important addition to a sweet treat as it helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and mitigate a resultant spike in insulin which over time may harm your metabolic health.
Balsamic vinegar. If you’ve made the Roasted Strawberries on page 75 of my book, you know I’m a big fan of this flavor combination to bring out the floral qualities in the berries. Combining the vinegar with a small amount of honey makes for a nicely caramelized top. While good-quality vinegar has some health-promoting properities (like slowing the absorption of sugar from a meal), here we are using it for its flavor. I used my best bottle of balsamico de modena.
I am happy to report that this cake is ready for you and all your spring celebrations. I recommend baking it in a springform pan for ease of serving, but it also works in a parchment lined 9-inch round or square baking pan.
RECIPE: STRAWBERRY BALSAMIC OLIVE OIL CAKE
Makes one 9-inch round cake
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 pound strawberries
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup almond flour
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal (medium or finely ground)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plain, unsweetened whole milk yogurt
½ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Brush a 9-inch round springform pan with oil, line it with parchment paper, and brush the paper with more oil. Set aside.
Pick out 5 of the smallest berries and slice them thinly lengthwise; set aside to press into the top of the cake. Coarsely chop the remaining berries; you should have about 2 cups. Set aside.
In a small measuring cup, whisk together the honey and balsamic vinegar; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cornmeal, oats, flaxseed meal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, maple syrup, olive oil, lemon zest, and vanilla, then pour over the flour mixture. Fold with a rubber spatula until only a few streaks of dry ingredients remain. Gently fold in the chopped berries and scrape into the pan. Top the loaf with the sliced berries and drizzle the balsamic mixture overtop.
Bake until the edges are deeply browned and a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Cool completely, then release the sides of the springform pan. Cut into wedges and serve.
TIP: To make muffins, divide batter between oil- and paper-line muffin cups. Top with strawberry slices and drizzle with honey-balsamic glaze. Bake 38 to 42 minutes.
Finally, I want to wish all the mothers out there a very special Mother’s Day.
This includes ALL of you moms—working moms, stay-at-home moms, dog moms, cat moms, grand-moms, mothers-in-law, adopted moms, step-moms, expectant moms, moms living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, foster moms, single moms, and moms trying to conceive. And if you’ve lost your mother to Alzheimer’s, my heart goes out to you. You are well aware how Alzheimer’s steals her away before her time. Thank you for taking the best care of your brain.