Baking History

A Taste For The Past

Almond-Orange Cake (Focaccia alla Portoghese)

Posted by bakinghistory on April 9, 2008

A light and delicate sponge cake made with almonds and orange zest

The original name of this cake is Focaccia alla Portoghese which means Portuguese-Style Cake in Italian. In fact, the word focaccia in Italian does indicate both a savory flat bread and a sweet leavened cake. Artusi does not tell us anything more about the origins of this recipe besides its name, however the combination of almonds and oranges is an unmistakable characteristic of the cuisine of Sephardi Jews. This recipe might then have been inspired by those brought to Italy by Portuguese Jewish merchants or by the refugees that settled in many Italian cities at different times in history, such as following the expulsion of Jews from Portugal in 1497.

Incidentally, Artusi mentions a number of ingredients and dishes in his cook book that were introduced by the Jews and became part of mainstream Italian cuisine, for instance eggplants, pumpkins, and Pan di Spagna (sponge cake).

This cake has a wonderfully moist and spongy texture and is nicely flavored by the orange zest and the almonds without being too sweet. It keeps fresh for many days and it is actually better when made one day ahead. It is excellent served with tea or coffee, cut into tiny squares (or other fancy shapes) .

It is important to grind the almonds until they are reduced to a very fine powder, and even the granulated sugar should be ground briefly in the food processor or coffee grinder, especially if you use—as I do—organic sugar that tends to be relatively coarsely grained. The ground almonds need to be sifted and the larger pieces that remain in the sifter should be ground again until of the necessary fine consistency. These steps require an extra amount of time and might be tedious but are necessary to ensure a successful result and make a significant difference. Of course you can prepare the ground almonds ahead of time.

It is also essential to bake the cake at a very low temperature.

Artusi suggests to cover the cake with a crisp icing made with egg whites and sugar syrup. Personally I find that a light sprinkle of powdered sugar is more suited to the delicate texture of this cake.

From the original recipe by Pellegrino Artusi

In: “La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene”, 1891—Italy


1 cup (150 g) whole Almonds, blanched, raw

3/4 cup (150 g) Granulated Sugar

1/3 cup (50 g) Potato Flour (starch)

3 Eggs

1-1/2 (organic) Oranges (juice and zest)

Powdered sugar to sprinkle on top of the cake

Preheat the oven to 300° F (150° C). Line a 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pan with aluminum foil and grease with vegetable oil (I used almond oil, grapeseed oil is also good for this).

Grind the almonds with 1/3 of the sugar in the food processor or coffee grinder until very finely powdered. Sift the almond mixture with the potato flour and grind again any large pieces of almonds that might have remained in the sifter. Set aside.

Grate the zest of 1/2 orange. Squeeze the oranges and strain the juice; set aside.

Grind the remaining sugar with the orange zest until fine and powdery.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the balloon whip attachment beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy; set aside.

Beat the yolks at very high speed until light and pale yellow (using the balloon whip attachment). Gradually add the ground sugar and beat until well incorporated.

Switch to the flat beater attachment and add the ground almond mixture to the yolks and beat at high speed until light and well incorporated, taking care to scrape the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula.

Add the orange juice and mix well.

Finally gently fold in the whipped egg whites, by hand, making sure they are well distributed and without deflating them. Pour the mixture in the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven (place the rack in the middle position) for about 45 minutes. A cake tester in the center must come out clean and dry when the cake is ready.

Place the pan on a rack and let cool for 10 minutes. The cake will slightly deflate and shrink from the sides of the pan. Unmold it and let it cool on the rack. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top once the cake is completely cool.

Note: I had inadvertently forgot to write when to add the orange juice to the batter. I have just corrected the text.

13 Responses to “Almond-Orange Cake (Focaccia alla Portoghese)”

  1. Susan said

    You’re back! I hope you’re fully recovered. The cake looks marvelous — so simple yet so elegant.

  2. That looks lovely – light and sunny! I don’t know if I’ve come across almonds and orange zest together very often in recipes, but it sounds like a perfect combination.

  3. Simona said

    Welcome back! This recipe is so timely: a friend of mine jut gave me a whole bunch of oranges from her garden. Those little squares look light and tasty.

  4. bakinghistory said

    @ Susan: Yes, fully recovered, thanks! It is a nice cake, truly worth trying 🙂

    @ T.W.: Hi! It is really a delicious combination; it also works well with lemons instead of oranges

    @ Simona: Ciao! Fresh oranges from the garden would truly make this cake turn out excellent 🙂

  5. Louise said

    So glad to “see” you’re feeling better. The cake looks lovely. My coffee is drooling for a one of those heavenly pieces.

  6. alexis said

    wow that sounds absolutely delicious. thank you for giving me insight about a wonderful baked good. I love your blog!

  7. bakinghistory said

    @ Louise: Good morning! Thanks! 🙂

  8. bakinghistory said

    @ Alexis: Thank you! I have just visited your blog and I think it is just wonderful! I love tea and I enjoyed reading the posts you published so far. I added you to my blogroll 🙂

  9. sciopina said

    Fantastico questo pan di spagna!Non avevo mai riflettuto all’etimologia del nome…certo i sefarditi spagnoli!!!
    che bello poter imparare sempre nuove cose
    A presto

  10. bakinghistory said

    @ Sciopina: Ciao! grazie. Ti ho letto sempre e ho apprezzato molto le foto di Londra e la tua splendida pastiera 🙂

  11. Simona said

    I made it again! It is really good. Thanks again for the recipe. I must confess that I used less sugar, but changed nothing else.
    Also, I am passing to you the meme that asks you to write six random things about yourself in a blog post, then to pass it to six people. I wrote about this today on my blog. It’s kind of fun.

  12. bakinghistory said

    @ Simona: Thank you! I am glad you like this cake, and I agree that less sugar would be good. Thank you also for the meme. I’ll work on it 🙂

  13. […] with coarse salt and sugar, about a tablespoon each. Cardamom would be a welcome addition, likewise orange […]

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