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Can Olive-Oil Cake Save Coffee-Shop Cuisine?

A humble treat emerges among the scones and croissants.

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Abraço’s olive-oil cake.  

Even as New York coffee continues to improve, with the influx of meticulously sourced beans and skilled baristas, coffee-shop food lags behind. There are exceptions—Abraço in the East Village chief among them—but too many espresso bars rely on outsourced pastry from the same predictable purveyors. There is hope on the horizon, though, in the moist-crumbed, moderately sweet form of olive-oil cake, a traditional dessert of Mediterranean origin that’s becoming the star snack at some of the best new coffee bars. Abraço might have sparked the trend two years ago, when chef-partner Elizabeth Quijada introduced what she calls a “homey, unpretentious” olive-oil loaf cake—the perfect match, to her palate, for the house drip. “It complements coffee, changing its flavor for the better, and vice versa.” She wasn’t the only one to think so. “We had the cake at Abraço,” says Kate Jones, a jeweler who bakes part-time for her ex-boyfriend’s Crown Heights coffee bar Glass Shop. “It’s one of our favorite things.” In homage, she set to work on a new recipe, adding lime zest, orange juice, cloves, and nutmeg for a subtle spice-cake effect, and has recently started supplying the new La Colombe café on Lafayette Street, where it goes fast. A very different version was born in the Carroll Gardens basement of Frankies Spuntino, where chef Will Prunty created an olive-oil mini bundt to exploit the company’s prodigious stash of proprietary Sicilian olive oil. The remarkably light, airy cakes are now for sale at both branches of Cafe Pedlar, and at Stumptown Coffee Roasters at the Ace Hotel. Other variations have materialized in Williamsburg, where Saltie studs its loaf with anise seeds, and in Tribeca, where Locanda Verde pastry chef Karen DeMasco stocks her café pastry case with a compelling olive oil–coffee cake hybrid. It’s good to the last crumb.

Abraço: 86 E. 7th St., nr. First Ave.; no phone.
Glass Shop: 766 Classon Ave., nr. Sterling Pl., Crown Heights; no phone.
La Colombe: 270 Lafayette St., nr. Prince St.; 212-625-1717.
Cafe Pedlar: 210 Court St., at Warren St., Cobble Hill; 718-855-7129; 17 Clinton St., nr. Stanton St.; 212-253-2303.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters: 18 W. 29th St., nr. Broadway; no phone.
Saltie: 378 Metropolitan Ave., nr. Havemeyer St., Williamsburg; 718-387-4777.
Café at Locanda Verde: 377 Greenwich St., at N. Moore St.; 212-925-3797.


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