Olive Oil Orange Cake: Portuguese desserts

If you just want the recipe, scroll down. Otherwise, take a trip back with me in recollecting the first meeting with this cake.

Birthday Cake at Costa do Caparica

There are a few moments when I look back on my year of travel that gratefulness just poured over me. Maybe it’s my time in life, being of childbearing age and all of that. But this was one of those moments. 

One of the last events I participated in Portugal was biking to this small fishing village Costa do Caporica. Our local tour guide, Joanna, told us that the village is preserved so no one outside of the locals can buy property there. It was a beautiful little place, and from what she was explaining, they lived communally, helping each other out. And they were all happy and satisfied with life, from what I could see. 

We started out the day biking along the water, grabbing a fried donut or “bolim” filled with cream or sweet potato or other fillings. Then, we continued on to a surprise in the park. We got there and it was 11 am or so, among some old ladies half-grinning at us. They were sitting next to big pots boiling, and some coolers nearby. We sat there dumbly, waiting for what was to come, thinking the old ladies were part of it. Then, Joanna told us we were about to hear a real Falo singer. A man of 60 or so came forward and was introduced. What impressed me most was his fluency in German, Italian, Swiss, and Portuguese. Life goals… Some of us shot some phrases at him in other languages to show off, but it was fun. Then, he started singing. It is the most lamenting sound, that’s romantic at the same time. One song was about a horse dying, and many others were about romance. It made me feel almost like I was riding a Gondola in Venice, him with a hat and black and white striped shirt carrying us down the village. It only lasted about 15 minutes, but many of us got teary and it felt both like not a minute passed but eternity at the same time. No reminders of time in the park and being in a foreign park, a foreign country you’re delivered straight to the present moment. As it should be more of the time here.

We continued on our bikes, a crew of 15 of us or so, tourists and locals together, through these tiny streets in the village. Joanna told us about cute stories and famous streets while we were biking through cement gardens and passing a wood fired oven, sometimes on the front porch. Houses were small, but there was so much pride with every piece that was on display. 

We finally got to the house we were going to have lunch at. Our “red carpet” were kid’s drawings on the cement that showed the pride they had for the village. It was colorful everywhere and almost looked like we were in a school yard. We entered the home, some beads gracing our shoulders into this little house. Later we found out that Joanna lived right next store and she convinced her neighbor grandma to cook for a bunch of tourists every once in a while. I’m so glad she did. We sat, maybe 7 of us tourists and 5 locals to start around a long table with the stone fired oven nearby, a noisy dog, and a table that was starting to fill up with food. We started with cheese, chorizo, olives and cracker bread and wine of course. It was a hot day so we didn’t all jump into the food. I think we were also trying to get a feel for our surroundings, take it in, and figure out what was going to happen next. Joanna had us on edge the whole day but we trusted her. 

The main course didn’t come out until her grandchild came. It was nice for once to know that we weren’t the first ones to be waited on. Sometimes it makes you feel like such a foreigner to do these tourist “bike tours” and everything set out for you- too easy. But, to be second to the grandkid- now I’m in a local place. Her son and daughter-in-law brought her 3-year old grandkid and he loved playing with the dog. He was also the star of the show, the special guest, not us. But, it was wonderful. 

For the main course, she brought out her famous fish stew, made with stingray or skate. It was a huge pot she came to show us first, the proud cook she was, and then serve us. Joanna had told us she won the competition recently for best fish soup, I guess their version of a chili cook off. Her smile while she held that huge pot, I’ll never forget. 

We started eating the soup, a very humble mix of vegetables and fish. It was like grandmothers food, simple, with the subtleties you could never recreate- even if she gave you her recipe. 

Then, we had pork and clams, an odd dish, but a popular one there. 

Then, a chocolate pudding and coffee, and for the pièce de résistance a wonderful orange cake covered in chocolate. That was for Joanna’s friend’s birthday. We got to sing for her too. It was another reminder we were just living the local life, instead of the tourist one. That made it one of the most special moments for me, to be completely welcomed into their life, like I was another high school friend. 

This recipe is that birthday cake I wanted to recreate and let’s be honest, to recreate the memories too! Making this made me bring back those warm feelings of being welcomed into a foreigners home like family.


Orange Olive Oil Cake

Adapted From “The New Portuguese Table” by David Leite

Serves 10-12


9-inch springform or 12-inch bundt cake mould


  • 5-6 large Navel oranges (3 zested, and juice for 1 ½ cups)
  • 3 ½ cup Flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 ½ mild extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 4 oz. dark chocolate chips
  • 4 oz. heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place rack in middle of oven with no racks above it. Butter the bundt pan or spring form with generous butter and dust with flour. Shake out excess flour well.

2. Zest 3 oranges and squeeze juice to get 1 ½ cups orange juice. Set aside.

3. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.

4. In a large bowl whisk the eggs, vanilla, and sugar until pale yellow in color, about 3 minutes. At a low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture, then some oil. Alternate between flour and oil, but don’t over-mix. It’s okay to have small streaks of flour in the batter.

5. Then, pour in the orange juice and zest and stir just to mix in.

6. Pour the batter into the pan and cook for 1 hour 15 minutes to 2 hours. Check, by placing a large wooden or metal skewer in the center. There should only be a few moist crumbs attached. Check every 10-15 minutes if it needs more time.

7. Cool on a wire rack for just 15 minutes before un-molding. Any longer and the cake may stick in there for good.

8. Make the glaze by heating the cream over a water bath or my preference in a microwave for 1 minutes. Then, pour over the chocolate to melt chips. Stir thoroughly. If there are still some unmelted chocolate chips, microwave for 20-30 seconds and then stir again. Add the tablespoon of butter at the end. Then, pour evenly over the cake. You don’t need to use a spatula. The glaze should be liquid enough to pour evenly.

*This cake is best the next day as it gets moister. Serve with a slice of orange or powdered sugar.

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