Toma’s olive oil cake recipe

Toma's olive oil cake.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Reader Joan Moon of Burbank loves the olive oil cake from Toma restaurant, which opened in 2013 in a location on the waterfront in Santa Barbara that has existed for more than 80 years. Moon writes that she orders the cake, a creation of the restaurant’s chef, Nat Ely, every time she’s in town. (Olive oil has been added to cakes for years, as it makes for a very tender, fruity crumb.) At once light and airy, Ely’s cake has hints of orange and lemon, and is complemented by the crunch of Marcona almonds and a delicate sugar crust.

“I’ve been baking a version of this cake for 25 years,” said Ely, who has cooked at Seattle’s Sand Point Country Club and Place Pigale at Pike Place Market, Emilio’s in Santa Barbara and Los Olivos Cafe (which was featured in the movie “Sideways”). He’s varied the flavorings over the years, at times adding rosemary, or Meyer lemon and Marcona almonds. When he came to Toma, Ely says, “we wanted a citrus dessert, something light, so I reinvented the cake again. Those surprising chunks of almonds, the bright lemon zest, the crackle of sugar — it’s perfect.”

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About 1 hour. Makes 10 cakes.


1 orange, zest and segments

Segments from 1 ruby grapefruit


Zest of 1 lime

¼ cup sugar

Orange juice, if desired

In a bowl, gently stir together the orange and grapefruit segments with the orange and lime zest, along with the sugar. If desired, add a little orange juice to thin for more liquid.



1 cup toasted Marcona almonds

1 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting the muffin tins, divided

1 ½ cups (6.4 ounces) flour


1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Zest of 1 orange

Zest of 1 lemon


3 eggs

¼ cup milk or buttermilk

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Prepared citrus relish


Whipped cream, for serving

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse to a medium or fine grind.

2. Prepare the muffin tins: Spray each muffin tin with vegetable spray and dust with a coating of sugar. Sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of ground almonds on the bottom of each tin. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ground almonds along with the flour, baking powder and salt.


4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the orange and lemon zest with the sugar and eggs until light, fluffy and doubled in volume, 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly beat in the milk and olive oil until incorporated.

5. Gently fold in the flour mixture just until combined. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin tins, filling each 2/3 to 3/4 full.

6. Bake in the center of the oven until the top is set and the crown is very lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool the racks on a tray.

7. While the cakes are still warm, pop them out of the trays and serve, garnished with the citrus relish and whipped cream.


Each cake: Calories 435; Protein 7 grams; Carbohydrates 48 grams; Fiber 3 gram; Fat 25 grams; Saturated fat 3 grams; Cholesterol 56 mg; Sugar 30 grams; Sodium 215 mg

Note: Adapted from a recipe by chef Nat Ely of Toma restaurant in Santa Barbara.