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Recipes

Walnut-Orange Cake in Honey Syrup

What is your concept of a healthy cake? Is there such a thing? Divya says there is! This recipe from her cookbook Joy of Balance is Divya’s version of a sugar-free, dairy-free, wholesome pastry. Once you taste it, you might want another piece… or two.

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Photo ℅ Rachel Vanni in Joy of Balance

I love creating healthier versions of favorite desserts, and this recipe is one attempt at doing so. Years ago, my friend Melanie from Greece introduced me to karidopita, a syrupy walnut cake. In her vegan version, she uses olive oil as the fat, dried apricot puree and raw sugar to sweeten the cake, and sugar and honey to sweeten the syrup. In my “Ayurvedized” version from my new cookbook Joy of Balance, I omit the sugar altogether and add the honey after cooking the flavored syrup. According to Ayurveda, heat turns honey toxic. So don’t cook with it.

This cake brings back so many memories of growing up in Bulgaria and loving the Greek and Turkish pastries soaked in sugar-sweet syrup, such as tulumba, kadaifi, baklava, and more. Ah, how good those were! I tasted them again the last time I visited my family in my hometown of Plovdiv, but I was disappointed. The refined white flour and sugar, vegetable oils, and additives not only spoiled the taste but also made the pastries very unhealthy.

If you’re a fan of syrupy desserts, try this wholesome option. Succulent, not too sweet, and with an unexpected crunch of walnuts, this cake is satisfying and grounding. Its rustic look reminds one of home. One piece will quiet down your Vata and Pitta and keep your Kapha happy—perfect for the cool season. If your Pitta is too high, replace the honey with maple syrup.

Prep: 20 minutes | Bake: 30 minutes | Cool: 30 minutes
Makes One 8-inch square cake (9 pieces) | Gluten-free, Dairy-free

Ingredients

For the cake

½ cup chopped dried apricots (½-inch pieces)

2 cups sifted einkorn flour (218 grams) or 1 ¾ cups sifted spelt flour (205 grams)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon fine lime zest

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup fresh orange juice, from 2 to 3 oranges (before squeezing the oranges, zest their peel first for the garnish – see Notes)

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

 

For the syrup

¾ cup water

peel of ½ orange, sliced thinly

1 cinnamon stick (2.75-inch long)

2 chopped dried apricots

¼ cup fresh orange juice (strained for pulp)

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (strained for pulp)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup raw honey

 

For the garnish:

¼ cup toasted and shaved walnuts (see Notes)

thin orange peel waves (see Notes)

Instructions

For the cake:

1. Add the chopped apricots to a blender and pour ¾ cup boiling hot water over them. Let them sit for 15 minutes to hydrate them. Blend to a smooth puree.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the baking dish with olive oil.

3. While the apricots are soaking, in a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, lime zest, and salt.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the apricot puree, olive oil, and orange juice.

5. Add wet mix to the dry mix and stir a few times, until the sticky batter is well incorporated. Fold in the walnuts.

6. Transfer the batter to the greased baking dish. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick or a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup and garnish.

7. Let the cake cool off completely in its tray, then you may transfer it to a cutting board or a serving platter or leave it in the tray.

To make the syrup:

1. In a small saucepan, add the water, orange peel, cinnamon stick, and apricots, and bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

2. Reserve the cooked apricots, strain the liquid, and let it cool down to a warm temperature (not higher than 120’F). Blend the cooked apricots and the syrup to a smooth, slightly thick consistency.

3. Whisk in the orange juice, lime juice, vanilla, and honey.

To assemble the cake:

1. Cut the cake into square or diamond-shaped pieces, about 2 inches long.

2. Gradually pour the syrup over the cake, making sure to moisten each of the crevices, edges, and corners. (See Notes if you’re not going to serve all cake pieces at once.)

3. Garnish each plated piece with shaved walnuts and thin waves of orange peel.

4. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • If you’re not going to serve all the cake pieces at once, pour the syrup and add the garnishes to only the number of pieces you want to serve right now. Refrigerate the rest of the syrup and garnishes until your next serving. Store the remaining cake covered, at room temperature.
  • To shave the toasted walnuts for garnish, use halved walnuts, and grate them on the small holes of a grater.
  • To make orange peel curls, use a zester or a julienne peeler to peel off thin strips of orange peel, then soak the strips in a cold-water bath and freeze until you’re ready to use them. (It takes at least 45 minutes for the peels to curl.)
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