This walnut sponge cake takes me back to some of the fondest memories of my youth. My mother would make this cake on special occasions, birthdays, holidays and when we had visitors… though not as often as I would have liked her too.
It’s got many of the same ingredients you’ll find in Greek rich pastries, like baklava and melomakarona, made with cinnamon, cloves and walnuts but in a delicious sponge cake. Once I moved to New England I began making the cake myself, because my mother didn’t live near by for me to coax her into making.
I crave this cake, it’s so good. So good I have a “sweet crawl” ritual where I cruise to Astoria’s best Greek bakeries just to get my fix. Each of these Greek bakeries makes there own version of the walnut sponge cake, but I’m currently hooked on Martha’s Country Bakery adaptation, with very close runners up at Artopolis and Omonia Cafe. It’s worth a visit and I’m so sure you’ll find something to satisfy your sweet cravings too.
Recently I attended a family picnic in Brooklyn and I was introduced to a new version of this old classic. This particular recipe of the walnut sponge cake had the classic spicy, spongy and nutty texture, but there was something else, another layer of crunchiness that pushed your taste buds over the edge. To my surprise it was the bread crumbs, really. You’ve got to try this… at least once.
Karithopita: Greek Walnut Sponge Cake
Here’s what you’ll need: I used a 12″ x 2″ round pan, yields 24 pieces
8 medium eggs (both the yolks and egg whites are used in separate steps in directions)
2 cups chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups sugar
1 cup plain bread crumbs (I used Melba toast and ground it up in the food processor)
1/4 cup brandy
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon clove powder
3 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
1 cinnamon stick
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, place rack in center position.
In a bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the sugar, the egg yolks and both canola and olive oils on medium speed for five minutes. Add the bread crumbs brandy, cinnamon, clove and vanilla and mix on low speed for one minute.
In a separate bowl gently beat the egg whites with a hand whisk, add the flour, baking powder and walnuts and mix gently. Add the flour and egg white mixture to the sugar and egg yolk mixture and blend in the electric mixer blend for one minute.
Pour into a cake pan and bake for 50 minutes. The cake is done when golden brown in color, or insert a toothpick into the center of the cake, when the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 1 hour.
For the Syrup:
In a large saucepan combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the cinnamon stick and lemon juice, let simmer for 10 – 12 minutes, until syrup is heavy and thick. Remove from heat, set aside until ready to use.
Score the cake into diamond shapes, cutting with a sharp knife vertically, then horizontally, making sure the knife cuts all the way down through the very bottom of the cake.
Pour syrup with a ladle onto cake making sure to pour in between slices so cake absorbs the syrup. Allow to soak for several hours or overnight. This cake taste best the next day after the flavors have had a chance to soak in and compliment one another.
I never thought I could fall deeper into love with something I already adored, but it happened. This is my new favorite Greek dessert at the moment. I hope you decide try it too.
* Another inspiration for making this dessert was that the really kind folks at California Walnuts sent me a free bag of Walnuts in the mail. All the opinions here are my own. I think California Walnuts are super tasty and really fresh!