Nutty Magdalenas (Spanish Sponge Cakes)

Nutty Magdalenas (Spanish Sponge Cakes)

This post must one of the few I’ve done 4 days after baking the cupcakes. Most of the time, after I cook or bake something that I plan to blog about, and I get around to writing my post and editing the photographs its about 2 weeks at least!

It was about 4 days back in the morning that I was wondering what to make for tea. When you have a growing and almost always hungry teenager in the house, you cook more than 3 times a day – breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as elevenses (for want of a better word) and tea-time snacks. Still pondering the choice of an evening snack, I sat down at my desktop with a steaming hot cup of morning tea.

I opened my mail box to see a post from David Lebovitz there, with just the thing for my evening tea. In the days before I became savvy, I used to subscribe to some blogs by e-mail. Then I discovered aggregators but stopped having the time to go through all the posts. I eventually unsubscribed from e-mail versions of most of those blogs, but still hang on to a few.

So to get back to David’s post, it was one for Nutty Magdalenas. My first thought was this was about some tribe of batty women, because you never know with David’s quirky sense of humour but Magdalenas turned out to be some cupcakes. I dislike cupcakes topped with cloyingly sweet frosting, but Magdalenas are never frosted, and David’s version is topped with chopped nuts which make them even better.

Nutty Magdalenas (Spanish Sponge Cakes)

Magdalenas are small, lemon-scented Spanish sponge cakes, somewhere between a cupcake and a muffin. They are somewhat like the French madeleines. Magdalenas are supposed to have been the invention of the impoverished Magdalen nuns of Aragón in the northern part of Spain. The nuns, who were famed for their baking skills, made and sold them to raise money.

Magdalenas are traditionally made with oil and not butter and this lends a moistness which is characteristic of these little cakes. There is much debate as to whether Magdalenas are cakes or muffins.

To my mind, even though part of the method involves mixing dry and wet ingredients like for muffin batter, the first step involves creaming/ whipping eggs and sugar which is more a method involved in making cakes.

Cupcakes are generally used to refer to small cakes which are top heavy with frosting but to me, they’re just cakes in paper cups!

Nutty Magdalenas (Spanish Sponge Cakes)

Cupcakes or muffins, these little cakes have me converted, and I’m someone who doesn’t really like cakes! The fact that they disappeared pretty quickly after baking should tell you something. No, I did not eat them all!

In Spain, Magdalenas are typically eaten for breakfast with café con leche (milky coffee) or hot chocolate or at “merienda” or tea time as a snack.

Nutty Magdalenas (Spanish Sponge Cakes)

If you’re making them, then the oil to use would be a mildly flavoured olive oil. I didn’t do so for two reasons, the first being that we still haven’t acquired a taste for olive oil beyond what would go into a salad dressing. The second being that olive oil is imported here and can be pretty expensive, so I used my regular cooking oil.

David**’s recipe also uses a mix of flour and powdered nuts/ nut-meal unlike other all flour Magdalena recipe. I happened to have exactly 2/3 cup of hazelnuts (the last of my stash) the recipe called for, but the author of the original recipe suggests one could use any kind of nut you have on hand – hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, or a combination of them.

I also cut down the sugar to 3/4 cup but you might want to use 1 cup if you prefer your cakes a little sweeter.

Nutty Magdalenas (Spanish Sponge Cakes)

One thing that bothered me in the original recipe was that it called for 1 tbsp of baking powder. Since we don’t get aluminium free baking powder here which David suggested I could use, I cut it down to 1 1/2 tsp and also the eggs by one.

I also used some cake flour to lighten the cakes. And since a Magdalena isn’t quite one without lemon (lime in my case), I added some lemon zest as well.

An interesting tip I found online was to place the eggs in mildly hot water for a couple of minutes to warm them slightly (helps to increase volume), before breaking them. Please note I said, hot water and boiling water or you will end up with soft boiled eggs!

Nutty Magdalenas.

(Adapted from David Lebovtiz’s recipe, original from My Barcelona Kitchen by Sophie Ruggles)

Nutty Magdalenas (Spanish Sponge Cakes)This post must one of the few I’ve done 4 days after baking the cupcakes. Most of the time, after I cook or bake something that I plan to blog about, and I get around to writing my post and editing the photographs its about 2 weeks at least! It was about 4 days back in the morning that I was wonderi...


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    Eggs, at room temperature
    3/4 cup
    Oil (use a mild olive oil if you prefer)
    1/2 cup
    Toasted and skinned hazelnuts (or almonds)
    2/3 cup
    2 tbsps
    Lemon zest
    1 1/2 tsps
    Cake flour
    1 cup
    All purpose flour
    1/2 cup
    Baking powder
    1 1/2 tsps
    A salt
    About mixed chopped nuts (untoasted), of your choice, for sprinkling
    1/4 cup


    1. *If you can’t find cake flour, put 2 tbsp corn starch in your measuring cup (1 cup measure) and top it up with all-purpose flour.
    2. First powder the toasted hazelnuts (or almonds) as fine as you can. A texture similar to fine semolina (rava/ rawa) is good. In a bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt to mix.
    3. Then put the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with a hand held electric beater and whip on high speed until the eggs double in volume. This should take between 3 and 5 minutes. With the beaters still running, steadily drizzle the oil into the bowl, scraping the sides of the bowl, once in between.
    4. Once this is done you don’t need the beaters. Add the milk, the lemon zest and flour mixture. Fold this in gently by hand, until it is all incorporated. Line muffin cups/ tray with liners and fill with the batter until 3/4 full.
    5. Bake them at 190C (375F) for 15 to 25 minutes till golden and the centres of the cupcakes feel set when you press them. Let them cool and serve with coffee or hot chocolate. Store them in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 2 days, or a little longer in the fridge. They can also be frozen for up to 2 months

    This recipe makes between 12 and 16 little cakes depending on the size of your cupcake/ muffin liners.

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