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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Thursday, August 25, 2005

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 butter
110g Light brown sugar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175 ml milk
1 egg, beaten
100g walnuts, chopped

ground cinnamon

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.


  • Hi Niki

    Just fell across your blog, looking for good Melbourne and Sydney food blogs to remind us of home. It's fantastic. Well done! I've had similar experiences with jam and marmalade making. What's going to happen when all the old dearies pass on?
    Anyway, check out our blog: http://stickyrice.typepad.com

    We are two Aussies living in Hanoi, VN - totally in love with the food scene here. Would love to link you, if you reckon it's ok?

    Keep updating. Thanks

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/25/2005 11:07:00 pm  

  • Hi there,
    Well done mate, great food, good pictures, i really enjoyed reading your blog. Keep updating

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/25/2005 11:15:00 pm  

  • Thanks Sticky - and you are so right. There are so many things that won't exist when they go. I know I'll never be able to reproduce my nonna's gnocchi or chicken broth. I've tried, but it just lacks that certain something....
    Everything I've heard about Hanoi and food has been positive. It sounds brilliant. I'll set up a link for you too, when I next log in to do a post.

    By Blogger Niki, at 8/25/2005 11:15:00 pm  

  • Unusual! I love the idea - and nutmeg is not a spice that gets to show off very often, so I'm glad it had a chance to shine. I love my nutmeg grater. I have a little mechanical one that I got on sale at a kitchen store last year: $5 for the grater and a whole big container of whole nutmeg. What a deal!

    By Blogger Nic, at 8/26/2005 01:29:00 am  

  • What a gorgeous and complex looking cake!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/26/2005 02:47:00 am  

  • It's comforting to know it doesn't have to be all about chocolate to produce a equally gorgeous and mouthwatering cake. I too love the idea of a cake and biscuit combination since I first tried many years ago an apple pie where the pie crust was thick and cake like yet shortbread like at the same time. Only wish I could find that recipe again.

    By Blogger Amanda, at 8/26/2005 07:15:00 am  

  • A very similar recipe can be found here:



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/26/2005 12:50:00 pm  

  • mmmm delicious! im hungry just looking at these images. perhaps due to no breakfast as yet.

    hey, we also need some melbournian representation here... you up for it?

    p.s. your grapefruit jam looks so good too!

    By Blogger deborah, at 8/27/2005 09:04:00 am  

  • The cake looks absolutely scrumptious. So glad I stumbled on your site.

    By Blogger Ruth Daniels, at 8/27/2005 11:45:00 am  

  • This cake looks delicious. I love nutmeg so I certainly intend to try it.

    By Blogger Ana, at 8/27/2005 12:34:00 pm  

  • Nic - $5?? That is such a great deal. I really love using fresh nutmeg now. It's so fragrant.

    Gemma -complex in flavour (some friends asked what combination of nuts & seeds were in it), but very simple in execution!

    Lushlife - I haven't been a fan of apple pie, due to a few too many lacklustre versions, but the one you describe sounds like the type I've been hanging out for. If you find the recipe, please let me know!

    Lynn - Thank you. It explains some ideas behind the background of it too. :-)

    Saffron - Thanks. I'll come over and check it out.

    Ruth - pleased to welcome you! I'd love it if you became a regular reader!

    Ana - Oh yeah; if you love nutmeg, this the cake just for you. I really loved this one.

    By Blogger Niki, at 8/27/2005 10:21:00 pm  

  • Hi Niki, I've made this cake a couple of times since I found it here and I must say I really love this recipe.
    I think the mold should be smaller than 20x30 cm, in order to have a cake a little bit higher...
    My compliments for you blog, it's really really nice! Great photos also...

    By Blogger Marcela, at 9/19/2005 05:58:00 am  

  • Marcella - you're completely right. It would never work in a 20x30cm tin! I went back to check the Billington's website, and confirmed that it is the information they had. I don't know what they were thinking! Anyway, I've changed the size to a 20cm round tin. I actually used an even smaller pan - about 1/2 the standard cake tin size for mine.

    By Blogger Niki, at 9/19/2005 03:38:00 pm  

  • Actually I don't know what I was thinking about the first time I made it... I used a 20x40cm tin! Can you imagine the result: a extremely thin cake :D Anyway the taste was wonderful.
    As you say, a 20 cm round mold will do ok...

    By Blogger Marcela, at 9/21/2005 10:06:00 am  

  • Niki
    i am an Armenian and going to try your Armenian nutmeg cake recepie for my Armenian guests this weekend,Armenians are very rich in sweets and they love their coffee with a pice of sweet. Thank you for the great cake recepies.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/02/2006 12:53:00 pm  

  • I'm definitely going to try this - I have tried a different recipe for this cake and it came out flat. From your wonderful photos your recipe clearly works!

    By Blogger The Caked Crusader, at 4/25/2008 05:47:00 pm  

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