This traditional Greek walnut cake is one of the most popular desserts in the Mediterranean Greek cuisine. Eggs, butter, and sugar beaten to feathery lightness along with walnuts and aromatic spices. The result is a moist, fluffy cake bathed in sweet honey flavored syrup. Did I mention that it is ridiculously easy to make? Yeap, it is. You are going to find it out soon enough.
Okay, so tomorrow it’s Valentine’s Day. In our house, this is an ordinary day like any other day. No celebration of any kind whatsoever. No flowers, candies, teddy bears. Only food. Because this day is just the excuse to make a special night-in meal and/or treat and/or dessert. For me serving whole food definitely is an expression of love and affection. It’s like you take care of your people and like you are eager to satisfy their hunger with the best possible way. Because offering real food as an act of love and respect, both to yourself and to your family. And this is a reason to celebrate every single day. Any of you with me on this?
Walnut-based recipes have always been popular since the beginning of recorded history due to the fact that walnut trees are almost everywhere in Greece. The perfect first material provided by nature. Therefore, the combination of nuts and honey, along with olive oil as the main fat, was the base for the first walnut cakes. Along the way, this primitive kind of cakes evolved and resulted in many variations with additions like spices, butter, flour, milk etc.
This family recipe passed down from generation to generation and it is one of the most beloved for me. My grandmother offered this walnut cake the day I was engaged because according to the tradition walnuts and honey are offered to the new couple to wish prosperity and fertility. She found the best way to respect the tradition and satisfy everyone. Such an amazing woman!
Back to real life now! Roll up your sleeves and make this delicious dessert. It calls for butter, sugar, walnuts, breadcrumbs, and spices mixed together and when the cake is ready, soak this baby in syrup.
Easy to find, delicious to eat and super beneficial for your heart, brain, blood pressure and waistline. They contain high amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids. That’s why.
For this recipe, we need medium-chopped walnuts. It is important to taste them and feel their crunchiness. Toasting the walnuts first for a few minutes makes this cake even better.
The secret for the ultimate Greek walnut cake
Goat or sheep butter. Period. Highly recommended for desserts. It’s the only butter I use for my traditional desserts and I am 100% sure that it is the secret between a tasty dessert and a delicious one. If you haven’t tasted this kind of butter yet, I urge you to purchase some and make this recipe. It is so different from cow’s butter. Its flavor is much more intense, much creamier with some tanginess and earthy notes. I cannot find the words to describe it further. I guess, in the end, it all comes down to one word: (not grace) taste!
Sugar and honey. Yes or no?
Yeah, I know, it contains a whole cup of white sugar and honey-based syrup. How can possibly be this healthy?
Here is the thing. The Mediterranean way of eating is a sustainable way of life where no food is out of bounds or forbidden. It isn’t a strict diet where you’re either eating right or it’s wrong. It doesn’t ban entire food groups. Just use your common sense and make your own decisions (according to your needs, restrictions or other health-related issues), about how much you consume with guidelines based on the Mediterranean pyramid. So, sweets are ok? Totally. BUT you may enjoy up to 2 servings weekly. Meaning two pieces of this divine walnut cake. Not the whole cake. Or any other sweet you may crave just in reasonable portions weekly.
You may substitute sugar with honey or stevia or coconut sugar or any other sweetener of your choice but the texture might be dense and not a fluffy one. I use honey for the syrup because obviously is a healthier choice than white sugar and because it offers a splendid flavor to the syrup. Additionally, I don’t boil the syrup but I lightly heat it up. Heat destroys the beneficial qualities of honey and I want my raw honey to keep as many as possible.
It’s ready! Now what?
When it’s cooled, the traditional way calls to cut the cake into diamond-shaped slices. I have failed miserably most of the times so I just stopped torturing and violating this wonderful cake. Therefore, I present this walnut cake on Valentine’s sweetheart version (hearts, roses and all) and in a plain Valentine’s Day snobby way (no hearts and roses at all). Hey, I want to please everyone here. Show some respect for those you believe in Valentine and love to celebrate. Give them a break!
Keep your Greek walnut cake well covered and at room temperature for a couple of days and then in the fridge for up to one week.
Serve with Greek yogurt, ground pistachio nuts as the lighter options or have a blast served with ice cream, sour cream, chocolate chips or grated white chocolate, melted chocolate… You get my drift. Make your choice and enjoy.
Happiest Valentine’s Day!
- FOR THE DOUGH
- 1 cup (250g) goat or sheep butter
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 6 eggs
- 3 ¼ cups (400g) walnuts, chopped
- 1⅓ cup (120g) breadcrumbs*
- 1⅓ tablespoon (20g) baking powder
- ½ cup cognac (or orange juice)
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- FOR THE SYRUP
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup honey
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- Arrange the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, shaking once or twice, until golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.*(1)
- Preheat oven to 356°F (180°C).
- Chop walnuts or lightly ground in a blender or a food processor.
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks. In your stand mixer bowl (or hand mixer) beat the egg whites into a light meringue. Keep it in the same bowl or transfer it to another, if you want to continue with the same bowl. Store in the refrigerator.
- In a mixing bowl add the butter and the sugar and beat until fluffy for at least 10 minutes. Add the yolks one-by-one and beat until absorbed. Add the chopped walnuts and the breadcrumbs.
- Dissolve the baking powder in the cognac (or orange juice) and add to the mixture. Add all the spices. Beat for a few seconds just until all ingredients mixed together.
- Remove mixer’s bowl from stand and add gradually the meringue into the mixture. Use a silicone spatula or just a spoon to slowly and gently fold the mixture together. Move from the sides of the bowl to the center and repeat until all meringue incorporated. The final mixture has to be soft and fluffy.
- Brush a 9x7 inch (24x19 cm) cake pan *(2) with butter and pour in the mixture. Spread gently only the surface. Don’t mix or press the mixture. Bake at 356°F (180°C) on a middle rack in the oven, for approximately 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the syrup. In a pot, add the water, honey, anise pod, and orange zest. Just lightly heat the water until honey dissolves. No need to boil or simmer.*(3) Let it aside to cool.
- Check if the walnut pie is ready by poking the center of the dough with a knife. If it comes out dry, the cake is ready.
- Remove from oven and immediately proceed with syrup. Use a spoon or a ladle and pour slowly the cool syrup over the cake. Just touch the surface with a spoonful of syrup and let the syrup spill at a steady pace.*(4) Set it aside to soak up the syrup for 10-15 minutes.
- Serve on a platter or plates. See the recommendations above.
2. I used a 9x7 inch rectangular cake pan. Any shape and size close to 9 inches will work just fine.
3. Heat destroys the beneficial qualities of honey.
4. Don’t pour all the syrup at once because it won’t be absorbed evenly. It will result in a soggy cake.