Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lenten Walnut Cake (Karydopita Nistisimi)

One of my favorite cookbooks is The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. I think it was published in the mid-90's when the medical community started making noise about the studies they'd found regarding the health of old timers in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and attributed it to the traditional fare there. I still agree that it generally is the healthiest way to eat and is one of, if not my favorite cuisine to both cook and eat. I'm still mining the book for new discoveries as well as from books by Paula Wolfort and Patricia Wells.

This recipe is a great find I had while looking for light and flavorful desserts. It seems to be a complicated deal when you look at the list of ingredients but once you've cooked it, it really is a fairly simple recipe. What struck me about the dish is that it is similar to baklava with the honey-based syrup that dresses it.

Olive oil for greasing the pan

½ cup sugar
½ cup honey
1 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup brandy
½ sifted all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped into 1½ cups
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated orange zest

½ cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons water

Preheat the over to 375°. Using a paper towel dipped in olive oil, grease a 9-inch round springform pan.
Make the syrup: Boil the sugar and honey with the water for 15-20 minutes until it is reduced to about ¾ cup. Off the hear, mix in the lemon juice. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.
Add the baking soda to the brandy. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour with the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves, tossing to mix well. Make a well in the center. Pour in the oil, orange juice, and brandy and gradually mix together, stirring with a wooden spoon. Mix in the nuts, bread crumbs, and orange zest and pur the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40-60 minutes or until the cake is firm in the center and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

When the cake is done and while it is still hot, pour the cold syrup over it and set aside in the cake pan to cool. Over very low heat, melt the jam with 2 tablespoons of water, stirring constantly. When the cake is cool, remove the springform and brush the apricot topping over the cake.

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