Sep 15, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

EVOO: Baking with California Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Fran Gage, former owner of the acclaimed Fran Gage Pâtisserie Française in San Francisco, and Food Writer, writes about the California olive oil industry and shares EVOO recipes, along with her peers and chefs.

The California olive oil industry is growing exponentially and the oil is becoming more available in retail venues. Now is the time to explore its potential in the kitchen.

Extra-virgin olive oil is eminently suitable for many applications in the kitchen—drizzling on cooked food, as a medium for sautéing, even for deep-frying. Yes, food can be deep-fried in extra-virgin olive oil because it’s low free fatty acid content allows heating it to temperatures suitable for this style of cooking. Heat will reduce some of the oil’s fruitiness, but it still retains its characteristics, and does not change its structure.

Extra-virgin olive oil also has a place in the dessert and pastry realm. There are three styles of extra-virgin olive oil: delicate, medium, and robust. Depending on the recipe, one style may be more suited than another.

The style of an oil is influenced by the variety of olive, growing, harvest, and processing methods. All extra-virgin oils are fruity. Delicate oils have a low level of bitterness and pungency, either because of the olive variety or the age of the olives when harvested. If they are from more mature olives, they may have buttery, nutty, sweet, or tropical notes. Medium-style oils have a pleasant bitterness and pungency. Many are blends of delicate and robust oils. Robust oils have a marked bitterness and pungency, with green olive characteristics such as grass, artichoke, and tomato leaf. The bitterness is perceived in the mouth, while the pungency is felt in the throat, and is often cough-producing. Many people love these characteristics; others find them too aggressive. The high levels of polyphenols (antioxidant compounds) in robust oils are responsible for the bitterness and pungency. These compounds help preserve the oils so they will last longer than a delicate or medium oil. They also help preserve the foods cooked or baked with them. Even a delicate oil, with lower amounts of antioxidants, adds a longer shelf life to food than those containing other fats, particularly saturated ones. Oils that are a lower grade then extra-virgin, or refined oils, do not have these same protective characteristics.

The accompanying list of California extra-virgin olive oils suggests brands for each style of oil. All these oils have been certified as extra-virgin by the California Olive Oil Council, which means they have been deemed free of defects in a taste panel’s blind tasting and have met stringent chemical parameters. For more information about the Council, visit

Examples of California Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oils
Enzo Organic
Olio Santo
Lucero Ascolano
California Olive Ranch
Séka Hills Premium
Owen’s Creek Quartetto
Apollo Mistral Organic
Katz Chef’s Blend
Berkeley Olive Grove
Mission Classic
Pasolivo California Blend
Grumpy Goats


Although some olive oil aficionados eschew flavored olive oil, I think they have a place in the pastry kitchen, particularly the citrus oils. Strictly speaking, these are not extra-virgin oils because they contain something other than oil from olives, i.e. citrus. The best of these are made using the same techniques that produce extra-virgin olive oil, with one addition: whole citrus fruit, or just the peel, is crushed right along with the olives. Flavorings added after the oil is made (so-called infused oils) are often harsh with a chemical taste. (A taster at a competition once likened the taste of a lemon-infused oil to Lemon Pledge.)

I have experimented with using extra-virgin olive oil in many dessert recipes, including classic French pastries. The first time I substituted extra-virgin olive oil for butter in a pound cake I was skeptical. I need not have worried. The cake rose higher than the one I made with butter for comparison. I always used a delicate oil in my first experiments. Because many delicate oils have buttery notes, they are a good substitute for butter as they mimic its flavor. Other delicate oils with tropical or stone fruit flavors, such as oils from Ascolano or Sevillano olives, add their unique flavor to baked goods.

Eventually I branched out, making the same pound cake with a medium extra-virgin olive oil. The hint of bitterness and complexity added another dimension to the taste. I also like this same recipe made with blood orange olive oil.

The most exciting discovery was pairing good dark (64 to 70%) chocolate with robust extra-virgin olive oil. This is a case of matching two assertive flavors to come with a sum that is better than the individual parts. They complement rather than clash. The combination works equally well in a chocolate cake as it does in a chocolate ganache.

There are a few guidelines for substituting extra-virgin olive oil for other fats in baking and desserts: If a recipe calls for another oil, such as a seed oil, substitute extra-virgin olive oil. If a recipe calls for butter, substitute extra-virgin olive oil at seventy-five percent of the amount, e.g. six ounces of oil for eight ounces of butter. (See the accompanying chart.) If the butter in the recipe is melted, follow the instructions as written. If the butter in the recipe is not melted there are a few ways to proceed. The accompanying recipes offer methods to incorporate the olive oil.

Enjoy experimenting with different extra-virgin olive oils to add a new taste dimension to your desserts.  

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Baking Conversion Table
Olive Oil
3/4 TSP
2-1/4 TSP
1-1/2 TBSP
1/4 CUP
1/3 CUP
1/4 CUP
1/2 CUP
2/3 CUP
1/2 CUP
3/4 CUP
3/4 CUP


The Experts on EVOO:


Executive Chef Matteo Bergamini, SD26, New York

Olive Oil Cookies by Chef Matteo Bergamini. Click image above or link below for complete recipe.

In May 2010, Matteo was named Executive Chef at SD26. Matteo brings his unique approach to modern Italian cuisine to the kitchen at SD26. Raised around Lake Garda in Northern Italy, .Matteo attended the Caterina De Medici Hotel School in Gardone Riviera where he continued to improve his skills and increase his knowledge about traditional Italian products and cuisine. After graduation, Matteo went to Bourg en Bresse, France where he worked in the restaurant La Reyssouze under chef Alain Detain, learning French technique and cuisine. Matteo then returned to Italy to work at the restaurant Miramonti L’altro, returning to the US where he then worked at San Domenico in New York City before taking a position at Daniel.


Emily Luchetti, Big Night Restaurant Group, San Francisco, CA

Emily Luchetti has helped define what great pastry means in America. She was the Pastry Chef at Jeremiah Tower’s legendary Stars in San Francisco for eight years before moving on to lead several other pastry programs in the city. Emily currently oversees all things sweet for Big Night Restaurant Group in San Francisco (The Cavalier, Park Tavern and Marlowe).  

Almond Olive Oil Lemon Cake by Emily Luchetti. Click image above or link below for complete recipe.

Creating simple, elegant desserts that are full of flavor, Emily’s many honors include the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Golden Whisk Award (2001) and the James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Pastry Chef (2004). In 2012, she was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America. She is the author of five dessert cookbooks.

Emily's Notes: My new favorite olive oil is Séka Hills. It’s estate-grown, milled and processed by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Indians in the Capay Valley. The Arbequina olive oil has a floral and citrus flavor followed by a nice balance of bitterness at the end, which works well in sweet as well as savory recipes. Olive oil in baking is best in cakes, where it produces a moist, tender crumb with a nice crust. It can be used in recipes that call for melted butter or other oils.


Alice Medrich

Rice Flour and olive Oil Sponge Cake by Alice Medrich. Click image above or link below for complete recipe.

Cookbook author, pastry chef, and teacher, Alice Medrich is one of the country’s foremost experts on chocolate and chocolate desserts. Since 1976, when her renowned shop, Cocolat, opened, Alice’s innovative ideas and recipes and her insistence on quality ingredients have influenced a generation of confectioners, pastry chefs, and home cooks. Among her early accomplishments, Alice is credited with popularizing chocolate truffles in the US and introducing the larger “American” chocolate truffle, now a mainstream confection.

Alice lives in Berkeley, California where she consults for established and emerging bakery, chocolate, and confectionery companies, and teaches in cooking schools across the country. She writes Food52’s Rogue Baking Tips column and teaches online baking courses at

Alice's Notes: I love the quality and affordability of the California oils these days and I enjoy tasting and experimenting with a variety of them in all kinds of desserts, including chocolate truffles, sponge and pound cakes, and cookies.  I rarely choose a truly mild oil, because delicate flavors can be overshadowed by sugar and chocolate!  

Rice flour lets the flavors of the olive oil truly shine. This almond crusted sponge with a nuance of orange zest is perfect just as it is, or you can split and fill it with Vanilla Pastry Cream. Note: rice flour varies in weight per cup depending on how finely is it milled. For best results, use the weight called for: assumptions about volume may be incorrect!


Fran Gage, Food Writer

Truffles with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil by Fran Gage. Click image above or link below for complete recipe.

Fran Gage owned Fran Gage Pâtisserie Française in San Francisco for 10 years. The bakery consistently won critical acclaim locally and nationally for its pastry, bread, and chocolates. She closed the bakery following a fire in 1995 and now writes about food, including articles in San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur, Fine Cooking, Gastronomica, 7 x 7, Kitchen Gardener, and Williams-Sonoma Taste. In addition, she has written six cookbooks. Her latest book, The New American Olive Oil, Profiles of Producers and 75 Recipes, is the first book to focus on America’s artisanal olive oil producers. It includes recipes, tips for choosing and storing extra-virgin olive oils, understanding the basic types of olive oils, and even how to host an olive oil tasting. She tastes olive oil for three panels: UC Continuing Education, UC Davis Olive Center, and the California Olive Oil Council. She is also a judge at various olive oil competitions. Read more about her at

Fran's Notes: Notes: Although a delicate extra-virgin olive oil is a good substitute for butter in this recipe, I also like a robust extra-virgin olive oil. The distinctive flavors of the oil and chocolate complement each other. Use a high-quality, dark chocolate.



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