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    FAITH, FOOD

    Baklava Cake

    A Sweet Treat For Blessed Times

    Nobody likes to read the story before the recipe anymore. That’s what the internet says.

    All those words I guess, are getting in the way. Writers should just get to the point. Readers are here for the food. If we want to talk about our Grandma’s hands we should start a diary instead… preferably one with a lock and key.

    So you’ll have to forgive me – or rather indulge me – as I launch into a bit of a story about how this recipe came to be. It’s not about my Grandma’s hands but about the hands I hope to have when I become a Grandmother. The kind of hands that will be associated with this cake. The kind of hands that are remembered for making it. Because this is the kind of cake that sticks with you.  It wants to be shared. It wants to be experienced

    The lunar month which heralds the birth of the Prophet has always called to me. It’s not that I don’t feel connected to the others – the blessed rhythms of Ramadan, the immense spirituality of  Dhu al-Hijjah, the majesty and the mercy of Muharram. But Rabi al-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar,  brings with it an ease and joy all it’s own. Free from any rituals, major explanations or expectations, you can do as you like to celebrate (or not celebrate) our beloved messenger’s arrival.

    I never met a mawlid I didn’t like and over the years, have obsessively asked friends for what happens in their corner of the world during this time. I soak in tales of cleverly shaped nut filled sugar candies in Cairo that appear only for Mawlid an-Nabawi. Of fluffy cupcakes with fondant nalain decorations in Toronto. Of naats and ghazals sung in Lahore between sips of hot chai and bites of honey drenched cakes. Of saffron-flecked jewel like xalwo waiting to be enjoyed with hot coffee in Mogadishu. Of spontaneous, energetic harmonies in Fez giving way to the sharing of horn shaped pastries stuffed with fragrant orange-blossom infused almond paste, pistachios and cinnamon. Of gatherings in living rooms, basements and parks the world over emanating light, love and always, without fail, a mention of baklava.

    This year, when Rabi al-Awwal rolled around in the midst of a pandemic – no gatherings or travel allowed – I decided we’d make something special. Something that would transport us to places known and unknown. Something that reminded us of all people who love the one we love. 

    And so, after much experimentation and just a little sentiment, I present to you Baklava Cake. A soft and crunchy mix of damp, buttery cake and toasted almonds, bursting with the flavours of our global soul – the kinds that make you close your eyes and inhale deeply: Cinnamon, cardamom, orange blossom, lemon, honey. An heirloom worthy, future mawlid mainstay, direct from my Grandma-hands-in-training to yours.  A sweet treat for blessed times, which in reality means any time at all.

    Baklava Cake

    Aiysha Malik
    Now, this looks like a plain cake at first, albeit glistening with honey, but one bite will reveal the perfect blend of crunch and flavour hidden away in the centre layer that gets baked altogether - no layer assembly required. The next time I make this, I will decorate it differently depending on the season. I’m thinking sprinkles of icing sugar and nuts, flowers or - my favourite option - vark (edible silver or gold leaf). Adorn it however you wish but I would caution to stay away from flavoured frostings as there’s already a lot of flavour and sweetness in the cake. Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson.

    Ingredients
      

    Filling

    • 100 grams almonds, roasted & chopped (Feel free to substitute with either walnuts or pistachios, almonds are what I had on hand)
    • 75 grams demerara sugar
    • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 - 2 tsp orange blossom water (Depending upon how much you like it and how strong yours is - I’d start with 1 and then build up)
    • pinch salt (preferably sea salt)
    • 45 grams butter, melted

    Batter

    • 210 grams plain flour or white whole wheat flour
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 75 grams caster sugar (I used golden caster sugar)
    • tsp cardamom powder
    • pinch salt (preferably sea salt)
    • 1 large egg
    • 45 grams butter, melted
    • 250 ml buttermilk or 175ml greek yoghurt whisked with 75ml milk

    Glaze

    • 125 ml good quality runny honey
    • Juice of half a lemon

    Instructions
     

    • Preheat Oven to 180°C / 350°F
    • Grease a 20cm / 8in springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper
    • In a small bowl, mix all the filling ingredients together. Remember to add the orange blossom water in a little at a time until it seems right to you. I like mine a bit stronger as it fades a bit after baking into the cake.
    • In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, melted butter and buttermilk (or yoghurt and milk combo)
    • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, caster sugar, cardamom powder and salt.
    • Make a well in the dry ingredients in the large bowl and carefully pour the wet mixture.
      Mix together gently and leave it a bit lumpy.
    • Spoon half the batter into your cake tin and lightly spread it out.
      Spoon the nut mixture evenly on top of the batter.
    • Spoon the remaining batter on top and gently spread it to cover most of the nuts.
      Sometimes my batter will completely cover the nut mixture and sometimes it won’t, depending upon how accurately I’ve separated it in half. Either way is fine and sometimes the nuts peeking through give a nice effect.
    • Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until your kitchen starts smelling amazing and  the cake is golden on top and springs back slightly when you touch the top.
    • While the cake is baking, warm the honey in a small saucepan, making sure it doesn’t boil. When quite warm and liquid, take it off the heat and whisk in half the lemon juice. Taste it to see if it needs more - the lemon should just come through to complement the honey, not overpower it. Keep this mixture warm.
    • Once the cake is done baking, remove from oven and, with a wooden skewer or toothpick, poke holes all over the top.
    • Slowly spoon the honey mixture evenly over the top of the cake, waiting for one spoonful to absorb before adding another.
    • Let the cake sit for 30 mins.
      After this time, run a knife along the edge of the cake tin and release the sides of the springform. I usually don’t bother removing this cake from bottom of the tin as I’m worried I may break it, but if you are confident slide the cake off the bottom and onto your presentation plate. Decorate it and serve on it’s own or, as they do with baklava in Istanbul, some soft whipped cream.

    Also: Best Apple Cake

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