Armenian nutmeg & walnut cake
...And it's back to baking. This recipe answers that time-old question of biscuits or cake? Say, in your fantasy world, you have two blond, lisping children (Brady Bunch style), one asking for biscuit and the other wanting cake, and you're just the type of person to indulge them both. Well, I have found your recipe. Do both! And combine them in the one item! Everyone's happy.... If only world peace were this easy.
Yes, this cake combines that urge for a cake, with a biscuit base. To be more specific, it tops a crisp shortbread biscuit base made with brown sugar with a soft, tender cake flavoured with fresh nutmeg and full of walnuts. And it's so easy it can all be done in a food processor. I know I've gone on about 'this cake is the best I've made!' in a few posts recently, but I really do think this one would have to be right up there. In the top 5 this year, at least. So simple, and yet so effective.
What is unusual about this cake, other than the biscuit/cake combo is that it really showcases the spice nutmeg. Nutmeg rarely gets a chance to star on its own, so to taste it so fragrantly in this is an eye-opener. For me it created a real 'wow! So, *that's* what it's like!' moment. Unsullied by any other combination of spices, its unusual fragrance keeps me going back for a bit more.
Until recently I only used ground nutmeg in a canister, but when I tried grating the stuff from a whole nut? seed? it was a revelation. Really, because this cake is a real feature for nutmeg, it's worth your while to grate your own. It's not hard to find; I found 3 of them it in a plastic packet next to the ground stuff in the spice section of the supermarket for about $1.
Last week a friend gave me some photocopied sheets from a recipe book from her old school; she wanted to give me the shortbread and chocolate brownie recipe she used, but on the same page was a recipe for this Armenian nutmeg cake, which took my eye, because it sounded so interesting, and because it used walnuts. I have a 1 kilo bag of them in the freezer, so I had all ingredients at hand for an impromptu weeknight cooking event. Sadly, the recipe in that book lacked most of the details in the method, like what to do with the butter and....ummm....the nutmeg. So, I did a bit of internet research and combined a few recipes. The best one I found used 'proper' baking measurements (by weight) and came from my favourite sugar manufacturers in the UK, Billingtons (who make the spectacular unrefined icing sugar I use).
The base of this is wonderful; I think the brown sugar makes it such a winner. In fact, I would be interested in making my own shortbread biscuits using the ingredients from this base. And the cake is so moreish, especially topped with more walnuts, ground nutmeg and a little cinnamon. I've never tasted a cake combination quite like it before.
I'm not entirely certain of the origins behind the history of this cake. Armenia is north of Turkey and Iran, and previously part of the USSR. Nut cakes are fairly common around the area, I believe, but they are usually denser, heavier creations, whereas this is quite light and delicate. It just doesn't seem rustic enough. I know that probably comes across as terribly unenlightened of me, and I'm happy to receive information about Armenia and this cake to further my knowledge. Further knowledge is always appreciated, and is a requirement of my job nowdays!
But Armenian or a Western approximation of an Armenian recipe, this cake is a definite winner.
Read on for the recipe:
Hopefully this picture clearly shows the shortbread base, and the walnut studded cake!
Armenian Nutmeg & Walnut Cake
Adapted from a recipe on the Billington's Sugar Website
110g self raising flour
110g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
110g Light brown sugar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175 ml milk
1 egg, beaten
100g walnuts, chopped
This whole cake can be made in a food processor, if you have one
-Preheat the oven to Gas 5/190°C/375°F.
-Sift the flours and ½ teaspoon of the ground nutmeg into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
-Stir in the sugar. Press half the mixture into a greased 20cm cake tin.
-Combine the bicarbonate of soda with the milk and stir into the remaining dry ingredients with the egg, another 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and 3/4 of the walnuts, mixing well.
-Pour into the tin and sprinkle over the rest of the nutmeg and walnuts, and some ground cinnamon.
-Cook for about 35 minutes until golden.
-Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to become cold.