Orange and Almond Spongecake

It can be easy to get a little down as the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder, but one thing I love about the arrival of Winter is the surplus of citrus you start to find at the store. The bright orange hues and juicy sweetness are almost a peace offering for the chilly months ahead. With holidays approaching, I thought I would share this wonderful cake recipe by the one and only Julia Child. Bon appetit!

Originally posted January 18th, 2012 on

Joe and I recently hosted brunch for a few friends, and we decided fresh squeezed orange juice and a winter fruit salad should be on the menu. We all ate oranges and grapefruits and kumquats and tangelos (great name!) until we were turning orange ourselves, and had vitamin C coming out of our ears, and we were still left with this. A very threatening amount of citrus goodness left on our counter threatening to spoil and attract fruit flies at a moment’s notice. I can hear the tangelos now. Haha! There is no way they will be able to eat us all! We are going to get ROTTEN, and there is nothing they can do!

Not in my kitchen! No navel left behind! Don’t get me wrong, I love eating a plain orange, but variety is the spice of life, so I called in reinforcements from my cookery book collection, and who should respond but the lovely Ms. Julia Child and Ms. Simone Beck! Lucky me!

Mastering the Art of French Cooking needs no introduction around these parts, and we recently enjoyed Ms. Beck’s heavenly gougères, aka Puffy Little Misters, so let’s just hop right to it, shall we?

I decided I had been eating far too healthy recently, so something slightly decadent was in order. Nothing too fussy, however, but fancy enough so I could give myself a pat on the back for a job well done. A Gàteau à L’Orange et aux Amandes (Orange and Almond Spongecake) recipe should fit the bill perfectly. Onward!

I gathered the troops and got to work. Ground almonds added a nice bit of texture and flavor along with the standard flour, and whipped egg whites stood in for a leavening agent in place of baking powder or baking soda.

Grated orange rind as well as fresh squeezed juice added lovely color and zing, and a touch of almond extract tied it all together. The cake came out looking puffed and proud, and a light dusting of powdered sugar would have been a fine ending to this story, but I knew something was missing. I almost moved on with my day until I heard a something whispering and snickering on the counter. Tee hee! We will only be good for a couple more days! Yoo hoo! Oh, fruit flies! Come and get me! I looked all around, and then I identified the source of this interruption. Kumquats.

Have you ever eaten a kumquat plain? They may look like harmless little fruit baubles, but let me tell you, these fellas pack a real lip-pursing punch. I stared at their sour smirks, afraid they might get away with it, until a sudden calm came over me. I knew what needed to be done. I will candy them. And candy them I did!

I made a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water, and once the sugar had dissolved I added the thinly sliced kumquats and lightly simmered them for about an hour. I then removed the slices and let them cool on a sheet of parchment.

Honestly, I would eat a lot more fruit if it was simmered in a sugar bath first. Seriously, though, these taste like the best fruit snack ever. A little chewy with a great sweet/sour balance. I knew they would make a perfect adornment for the cake.


I’m saving the rest of the candied kumquats and infused simple syrup for an undetermined culinary adventure later this week. I will keep you posted. Operation Citrus was a success!

Orange and Almond Spongecake
Recipe adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
There are not many ways to improve on this recipe, so I kept any changes to a minimum. I used AP flour since I didn’t have any cake flour in my pantry, and the results were fine, although cake flour would have produced a more tender crumb. I also added a 1/2 teaspoon of salt with the flour to balance the sweetness. Joe and I enjoyed a slice of cake after dinner, and it was equally as lovely the next day paired with a cup of tea.

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup ground almonds
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
candied kumquats and kumquat syrup
powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, set aside. Beat the 2/3 cup sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl until mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add the grated orange rind, juice, and almond extract. Beat until mixture is light and foamy. Beat in the almonds, salt, and flour until just combined.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks have formed. Sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar over the top, and continue beating until stiff peaks are formed.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the cooled, melted butter into the flour mixture until combined. Gradually fold in the egg whites, being careful not to overmix. Place batter into prepared pan and smooth out to the edges. Bake until cake is puffed, lightly browned, and a toothpick comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then turn out onto a wire rack. Reverse cake so that it cools puffed-side up.

If you have candied the kumquats, now is a good time to brush about 1/4 cup of the syrup of the top of the cake. Lightly dust with powdered sugar, and decorate with kumquats. Well done!

Homemade Ricotta

As I mentioned before, I am trying to move some of my favorite posts I did on my old website to the new and improved Holly Mueller Home. Last night I celebrated my completion of the Portland Marathon (ugh/whee!) with a fantastic meal at Laurelhurst Market. We (Joe, his parents, and myself...not using the Royal We...yet) started off our meal with bread and house made ricotta. It was delicious and definitely worth traveling 26.2 miles for! It made me remember this post I did a while back, so I thought I would dust it off and share it again. Enjoy! 

 Originally posted Feb. 7th, 2012 on


Oh cheese. How I love thee. Cheese is in my top two favorite food groups along with Sunny Bears from Whole Foods Market. I may not have a firm grasp on the term “Food Group,” but I think you get the basic idea.

While I was living in Seattle a few years back I had the amazing opportunity to work in Pike Place Market at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. It was such a great gig; I worked in the cafe and at the cheese counter, and except for the fact I needed to buy larger pants at the end of the year, I call it a total success. Beecher’s cheese is made on-site by strong, burly cheese guys, but I had the chance to hairnet-up and have a go at making some myself once. Holy baloney (provoloney?) was it hard! We are talking about thousands of gallons of milk moving through this place a day, and there is some serious lifting, stirring, and flipping going on. I was sore for days afterwards and found a curd in my shoe. It was a total blast, but I was much better at selling (and eating) it than making it.

After that fateful day in the cheese room, I decided I would like to continue making cheese recreationally, but on a much smaller scale. Cue today’s post of homemade ricotta. So simple, so tasty, so versatile, so much fun to brag about. Why yes, I did make this lovely ricotta myself; it was really no trouble at all! The best part is that it truly is no trouble at all, but you can pretend it was if you want.



The ricotta recipe I use is by the lovely Ina Garten of Food Network Fame. I just think she’s tops; she has the most fabulous friends, throws the best parties, and her husband Jeffrey is just the cutest. Hands-on time for this recipe is no more than 10 minutes, and the whole thing only takes about half an hour, most of which you can spend drinking a glass of wine congratulating yourself on how fancy you are.



When all is said and done you are left with some of the creamiest ricotta you can imagine. None of that sad grainy stuff from the supermarket; we’re talking Grade A silky ricotta of which dreams are made of. You are also left with endless options for how to use it. For your consideration: a perfect pasta companion, a spread for bruschetta, best dumplings ever,  dolloped on pizza, or sweetened with honey and served with fruit for dessert. My go-to use for it so far has been Ricotta plus Spoon equals a Happy Holly, but I think I better branch out before I need to buy larger pants. Again.



Homemade Ricotta
Recipe by Ina Garten
This ricotta is a perfect blank canvas for fresh herbs or lemon zest. Some mini dark chocolate chips would be fun if you’re going a dessert route. Also, I would recommend using the best milk you can find; the results will be far tastier.

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Place a fine mesh sieve in a large bowl or in the sink. Dampen two layers of cheese cloth and line the sieve.
Place milk, cream and salt in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once it comes to a rolling boil, remove from heat and immediately stir in the vinegar. Let it sit for one minute, so the curds can separate from the whey. Pour mixture into sieve, and let drain for 20-25 minutes. If your sieve is in a bowl, empty it once or twice to aid the draining.

I prefer a thicker ricotta, so I let it drain for the full 25 minutes, but feel free to call it at 15 or 20 if you like your’s more loosey goosey. (No geese were harmed in the making of this ricotta.) Keep ricotta in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. Makes about 2 cups.