Tag Archives: syrup

Melachrino cake for St George’s day, 23 April

Melachrino cake

George was born to a Greek family in Asia Minor or the Middle East in the 3rd century and, according to legend, became a soldier in the army of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. When he refused to reject his Christian faith and make sacrifices to the Roman gods he was tortured and beheaded, possibly in Nicomedia, an ancient Greek city now buried under the modern city of Izmit in western Turkey.

Through the marvellous convolutions of history he is now the patron saint of England. His reputation rose via the Crusaders in the 11th and 12th century. He was seen – honest ­– aiding Crusaders at the Battle of Antioch in 1098 and was made a patron saint of soldiers. It wasn’t until the reign of King Edward III in the 14th century that he became England’s patron.

Somewhere along the way he fought and killed a dragon. Dragons are so cool, it became a very popular subject among Medieval and Renaissance artists. In many versions, his shield is adorned with a red cross on a white field. Today, this flag – adopted as the English flag, again via the Crusaders – is mostly rolled out by desperate English football fans before desperate international football fixtures. Or for St George’s day, 23 April. (Or 6 May in the Gregorian calendar used by Eastern Orthodox Christians.)

Widespread patronage
Unsurprisingly, he’s also the patron saint of Georgia, as well as of cities as diverse as Beirut and Milan. He’s also an important figure in Greece, where he also gives his patronage to soldiers. Which is a long way to arrive at this recipe. It’s another one from Ernst Schuegraf’s Cooking with the Saints. He notes that it’s “an old Greek recipe traditionally associated with St George, and given to me by an employee of the Greek Embassy in London.”

Some of the supposedly traditional recipes in Schuegraf’s book have no other presence online beyond people making his, but looking up this one, various versions appear. Some are made with grape molasses instead of all the sugar used here, and oil instead of butter, but all feature a broadly similar combination of ground or chopped nuts (usually walnuts), citrus, spices, and a splash of booze in the syrup.

I’ve had a note in my diary to make this the past few years as I love cake batters featuring nuts, and semolina, and drenched in citrusy syrup. Like my favourite nutty cakes torta Caprese and Sachertorte, it’s made by separating eggs, then using the whisked egg whites to lighten the batter. In this case, there’s also a load of chemical raising agent too. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit.

200g unsalted butter, softened
280g caster sugar
5 eggs, separated
1 egg
400g fine semolina
200g plain flour
8g baking powder
6g baking soda
8g cinnamon
2g ground cloves
250g walnuts, coarsely ground or chopped

Syrup
1 orange, zest and juice
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
500g granulated sugar
1kg water (ie, 1 litre)
30g brandy
1 cinnamon stick

1. Grease and line a 25cm cake tin, and preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Cream together the butter and caster sugar until soft and light.
3. Lightly beat the egg yolks, plus the 1 whole egg, then add gradually beat into the creamed mixture.
4. In a separate, clean bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.


5. Sieve together the semolina, flour, raising agents and spices and add to the mixture. Also beat in the nuts.
6. Beat in a little of the egg white to lighten the mixture slightly, as it’s quite stiff, then gently fold in the rest.
7. Put the mixture in the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes, until firm to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.
8. While it’s baking, make the syrup. Combine the sugar, water, zest and juice, and the cinnamon stick in saucepan and gradually heat up to the dissolve the sugar. I used a Sicilian blood orange, which was particularly pleasing.


9. When the sugar is dissolved, simmer the syrup, reducing the mixture by about a third.
10. When the cake it baked, remove from the oven and leave in the tin to cool slightly.
11. Take the cake out of the tin and transfer to a plate or platter with a rim, to contain the syrup.
12. Pour the syrup over the cake and let it soak in. Serve warm or at ambient temperature.

Enjoy, preferably on a sunny afternoon with a lot of friends – it’s a fairly substantial cake!

Melachrino cake

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Syrupy almond-semolina cake – revani or basbousa

Revani cake

Some time in the late-1990s, I cut this recipe out of a newspaper. The writer was definitely Andy Harris, the paper was possibly The Independent. I went through a phase of making it loads then, I don’t know, it just seemed to get forgotten. I’ve no idea why, as it’s great. Just my sort of thing – quite dense and textured thanks to its use of almonds and semolina and moist thanks to a flavoursome syrup poured over after baking.

The name Harris used was revani, and he wrote about it as a Greek cake. Actually it’s a common through much of the Eastern Mediterranean, Levant, Maghreb and Middle East and is also known by the alternative spelling ravani, and by other names such as basbousa, hareesa/harisa, namoura and kalbelouz. Some versions appear to feature coconut. I don’t fancy this as syrup is spiced up with cinnamon, cloves and orange and in tandem with the flavour of almonds, I think the coconut would be a bit much.

I’ve added a little orange blossom water to the original recipe. In part to boost that orangey-ness, but also as I find it’s the sort of ingredient that gets pushed to back of the cupboard and forgotten until it’s a decade over its best-before date. So I want to keep using it. Harris’s recipe featured brandy, but I don’t have any, I’m not sure what it would add, and I’m pretty certain that when this cake it made in Muslim nations it wouldn’t contain any booze.

Fitting in with my interest in feast day foods too, it may also eaten by Coptic Christians in Egypt and beyond for their Great Lent and Christmas celebrations. Though this info seems to be lurking on Wikipedia, unverified, and repeated elsewhere by lazy bloggers. Oh, oops. I’m struggling to confirm it, and don’t know any Copts.

Syrup
350g granulated sugar
700g water
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp orange blossom water (optional)

Cake
200g granulated sugar
225 g unsalted butter
6 medium eggs (about 300g beaten egg)
110 g plain flour
175 g semolina
1 tbsp baking powder
110 g blanched almonds [or ground almonds, see below]
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp almond essence
Extra blanched almonds to decorate

1. To make the syrup, dissolve the 350g sugar in the 700g water in saucepan over a low heat.
Revani cake syrup
2. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves and orange zest and juice and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Take the syrup off the heat and allow to cool. Stir in the orange blossom water, if using.

Revani cake ingredients

4. In a large bowl, or with a food mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and light.
5. Beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond essences, then gradually add the egg to the creamed mixture, incorporating well.
6. If using blanched almonds, chop them finely – either by hand or in a food processor. Alternatively use ground almonds – you won’t have quite such an interesting texture but it’s easier. I used a mix this time round – 40g ground almonds and 70g blanched almonds, chopped.
7. Sieve together the flour, semolina and baking powder. Add the chopped almonds/ground almonds.
7. Add the flour mix to the creamed mix and blend well.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C.
9. Grease a rectangular tin, about 32x20cm.

Revani cake batter

10. Spoon the batter into the tin, smooth it, and put in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until firm and browned.

Revani cake - score a diamond pattern

11. Remove from the oven and score a diamond pattern in the top with a sharp knife.

Revani - pour syrup over, straining out the spices

12. Pour the syrup onto the warm cake – through a sieve or strainer to catch the spices and zest.

Revani - decorate with blanched almonds
13. Decorate the diamonds with a blanched almonds.
14. Allow to cool and serve at room temperature for tea or as a dessert. The latter can be souped up by being served with honey-sweetened Greek yogurt or poached fruit.

Revani, basbousa

A note on photography
When I thought I’d broken Fran’s camera last week, actually I’d just broken the lens thread. Phew. So we got a new (well, second-hand) lens. It’s an 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3, so Fran could use it more for landscapes and stuff.

I’m not a photographer, and struggled enough to learn how to use the kit lens effectively, but now I’m struggling again. I can’t quite get in close enough, suspect I won’t be able to rely on the autofocus as much, and doubly suspect I probably could do with a faster 35mm or 50mm prime lens or something with a better macro. Gawd knows. It’s all changed so much since I got my photography O-level in 1986….

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Gooseberry and thyme cake

Slice of gooseberry thyme cake

We’ve not had a kitchen for just over a week now. We’re having building work done on our house, and although the original plan was to only remove the kitchen half-way through the three-month schedule, on the first day the builder turned to me and said it’d be better if they did it straight away. Immediately. Post-haste. Subito. Or at least the day after.

So I baked my final cake and final two loaves of bread, then set about removing the units. It was a hideous kitchen, and far from practical, but not having a kitchen at all is, to say the least, even less practical. Only so much baking I can do with a kettle and a microwave. Indeed, I never really use microwaves for anything other than softening butter for making cakes, so I don’t know what else you can do with them. Apparently you can “bake” in a microwave, but I can’t really imagine how. Not in a metal cake tin – unless I actively want to add exploded microwave to the chaos.

Just before the demolition started, I was moving some shrubs from the area where we were building. One of these was a much-neglected gooseberry bush, which, despite being basically in the shade, had managed to produce a fair crop, just shy of a kilo. So that final cake had to involve gooseberries.

Now, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the “spiny grape”, as it’s called in Italian (uva spina). I used to eat them when I was a kid in the 1970s and early 1980s, but I have a feeling they’re slightly out of fashion these days. Despite how popular “retro” and “vintage” may be, I don’t hear people talking excitedly about gooseberry fools, an old-fashioned British summer recipe.

I can suffer a fool, gladly, but rather than just defaulting to using the gooseberries to make one, I wanted to try a cake. I found some good recipes from both Nigel Slater and Diana Henry, two cookery writers who are proponents of great British produce. Henry had one featuring thyme, which intrigued me. Even though I don’t have lemon thyme as her recipe suggests, my own herbs have been doing very well in this year’s shockingly pleasant south of England summer, so I used some good old Thymus vulgaris, common thyme. (Though I think my variety is the French, narrow-leaf, not the English.)

Herbs

Henry’s original recipe can be found here on the Torygraph site. I’ve tweaked it a bit.

The fruit:
350g gooseberries
60g caster sugar

For the cake:
125g butter
120g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp thyme leaves, chopped (ideally lemon thyme)
1 lemon
100g plain flour, sifted with
1t baking powder
75g ground almonds

For the syrup:
50g granulated sugar
2 large lemons, juiced [I used 1 lemon, 1 orange], about 100g juice
2 small sprigs of thyme

Top & tail

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Grease and base-line a 20cm spring-form cake tin.
3. Top and tail the gooseberries then toss with 60g of caster sugar and leave them to macerate slightly.
4. Beat the butter and 120g caster sugar until pale and fluffy.

Creaming
5. Add the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If it curdles at all, add a little flour.
6. Finely grate the zest of the lemon. I also used some orange zest. Just cos. Finely chop the zests together with the thyme to free up all those lovely essential oils.

Zest and thyme chopped together
7. Add the zest and herbs to the batter and combine.
8. Sieve in the flour and baking powder, then fold to combine, along with the ground almonds.
9. Spoon, pour and scrape the mixture into the tin.
10. Spread the gooseberries over the top of the mixture.

Add fruit
11. Bake for 45 minutes and test with a skewer.

Baked
12. While the cake is still warm, make the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the lemon juice, with the thyme.
13. Pierce the cake with a skewer then pour over the syrup, removing the sprigs of thyme.
14. Leave to cool then serve. You can just with icing sugar, and serve with crème fraîche, cream or ice cream.

Henry also has another one here, with flaked almonds. I think that could be nicer as the crunch of the almonds would contrast with the eyebally squish of the cooked fruit. Next year perhaps. Or perhaps Slater’s recipe, which involves a kind of crumble. Or perhaps I’ll just revisit the fool.

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