Nearly Naked Grapefruit Cake

Sometimes, mistakes turn out for the best.

Nearly Naked Grapefruit Cake | EmmaEats


For nearly every holiday or special occasion, my mother could be found in the kitchen baking up a storm. Arriving home from school, I’d be met with intoxicating scents – yeasted dough rising for poppy seed rolls, apricot or plum jams bubbling away atop buttery shortbread in the oven and on a select few occasions, there would be a multi-layered, ever-so-majestic torte being frosted on the counter.

My brother and I would line up, eyes wide, eagerly awaiting the beater clips, spatula and frosting bowl to come our way. Lucky us!

Those handmade, painstakingly crafted treats are at the foundation of so many fond memories and I find myself more and more trying to build similar associations for our family. We are starting to have them now — be it with Crown Roast of Pork at Christmas or pizza and wings on our family movie night. What foods do you have linked to your family’s celebrations?

Grapefruit was improvised into what was originally going to be this Lemon Olive Oil Layer Cake and it turned out to be better than imagined. Light and fluffy and with just enough frosting to not be too much, the grapefruit flavour is perfectly balanced in this “accidental” cake.

And, since Katie happens to prefer very little frosting, this new cake is right up her alley. Naked cakes have barely enough icing to constitute a crumb coat. The cake layers themselves have an opportunity to shine and this grapefruit olive oil combination does not disappoint. The end result is a rustic-looking and absolutely delicious cake, still having some of the sweetness and soft texture associated with a frosted cake.

I happen to have another one already baked, the layers awaiting frosting for this weekend which happens to be Mother’s Day. (Coincidence? I think not!) Sounds like the perfect treat for mom. And, there’s no doubt going to be two little people eagerly lined up for the spatulas and frosting bowl in our kitchen after school tomorrow.

Nearly Naked Grapefruit Cake with Whipped Buttercream Frosting

inspired by this Lemon Olive Oil Layer Cake
(serves 8-12)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons grapefruit zest (the zest of ~1 medium grapefruit)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • a pinch of ground kosher salt
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar + 1/3 cup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature and separated
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (the juice of ~1 medium grapefruit)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup salted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 3 tablespoons 35% cream
  • fresh fruits and icing sugar, to garnish (optional)

Lightly oil three 8″ round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Place one shelf in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Preheat the oven to 350F.

If you haven’t already, measure and prepare the rest of the cake ingredients.

Thoroughly whisk together the flour, cornstarch, grapefruit zest, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the olive oil and sugar until light. Continue mixing and add the grapefruit juice and vanilla. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until well combined.  Add the flour mixture, a few tablespoons at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, and mix until all the flour has been incorporated. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and then slowly pour in 1/3 cup of sugar. Continue whipping the egg whites until soft peaks form. Mix 1/3 of the egg whites into the olive oil batter. Once well combined, add another third, gently folding into the mixture. Finally, fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

Pour the batter divided evenly across the three prepared cake pans.  Gently smooth the batter to even it out in the pans. Place two of the cake pans on the top shelf of the oven and the third one on the bottom shelf and bake until lightly golden for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans around 13-15 minutes into the baking time. Start checking the cakes for readiness at 20 minutes by pricking the centre of the cake with a toothpick. If it comes out mostly clean, the cake layer is ready. A few crumbs on the toothpick are ok; anything more and add another 2 minutes of baking time.

Remove the pans from the oven and run a sharp knife around the outer edge of the cake layers. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then invert on to rack. Remove the parchment paper and invert the cake layer again. Let cool completely before assembling and icing the cake. If required, level the layers once they are cool.

To make the whipped buttercream frosting, in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Slowly add the icing sugar, about 1 cup at a time, and mix well between each addition. Use 3 cups of sugar for a softer frosting and 4 for a stiffer one. Add the grapefruit juice next and beat for a minute. Drizzle in the cream and continue to beat the frosting for 4-5 minutes.

To frost the cake, dab a spot of frosting on the cake plate and place the bottom layer of the cake on it. Spread a large dollop of frosting on to the layer and then top it with the second layer. Spread some more frosting on to that layer and top it with the third. Finally, put a generous amount of frosting on to the top of the cake and with an offset spatula, smooth it over the top of the cake.

Dollop the remaining buttercream around the outside of the cake.  Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting around the outside to your desired thickness. If you’re not serving it right away, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the frosting to set before wrapping the cake. Top with fresh fruit and icing sugar to garnish just before serving.

Tips and Suggestions:

  • Here’s a recipe where you should prepare and measure out all of your ingredients (specifically for the cake layers) before you start.  The longer the olive oil batter sits, the thicker it becomes and your cake will be more dense.
  • Take the time to whisk the flour and cornstarch together thoroughly. It will help incorporate more air into the flour. That will help with a lighter, fluffier cake.
  • Make the cake layers up to 1 week in advance. Just bake, cool completely and then wrap in plastic wrap or in a Ziploc bag. Store in the coldest part of your refrigerator until you are ready to ice the cake.
  • Make the buttercream in advance as well. After making the icing according to the directions above, refrigerate in a covered container and let it sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before you use it on the cake. Rewhip it for a couple of minutes before use.
  • This is quickly becoming my go-to buttercream recipe. It is soft, supple and so easy to spread. It is also infinitely customizable – I’ve made it as vanilla, grapefruit and chocolate so far and have had stunning results. If using unsalted butter, add a small pinch of salt when adding the sugar.


  1. Markus Mueller

    My wife is currently on a grapefruit kick..I never would of thought of making a cake though! She’ll love this!

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