My resolution for the last two years has been to use my cookbooks. And I’ve been doing an okay job. I have so many of them, and it’s so easy to turn to the internet to find the recipe I’m looking for. The internet is a great tool for researching recipes, because it gives the opportunity to compare similar recipes to adjust based on your personal taste and what you do or don’t have in the cupboard, as well as read reviews and tips from people who’ve made them. The same technological revolution that’s come about with reading books on a tablet also swept through the world of printed recipes. I don’t usually buy or hang on to cookbooks that I really won’t use – while I love Korean food, most of the recipes in the Korean cookbook I had contained a lot of ingredients that I knew I just wouldn’t use – lots of fish sauces and specialty vinegars and pastes that I just don’t keep on hand because they’d spoil before I used it up. I photocopied the few recipes I had cooked and liked, that were a little simpler, and gave the book to Goodwill.
…and the point of this whole story is that I’ve really made it a point to turn to my cookbooks for recipes, new and old. Last week I was in San Diego, and brought back a box completely full of my grandmother’s cookbooks. There are some pretty fantastic ones in there, with recipes that they often used to host dinner parties – back when friends dressed up to spend time with each other and make real cocktails on a Friday night! I brought back lots of interesting ones – an original cookbook from Brennan’s New Orleans, the restaurant that introduced one of my favorite things, Bananas Foster, to the world; a whole series of Time Life picture cookbooks and companion recipe books that all feature a different regional cuisine; and several Betty Crocker cookbooks, to name a few.
One that particularly interested me was The Complete Greek Cookbook, which contains a lot of simple recipes for Greek dishes that I just love and don’t get to eat often, like pastitso, spanikopita, and avgolemono. We had some friends over for dinner a couple nights ago, and I wanted to include dessert – something that my family has rarely gone without at any point in my life. I found this recipe for Byzantine Spice Cake – a simple, dense cake carried with warm spices and orange zest, then soaked, hot out of the oven, in honey syrup – simple syrup that is an additional one part honey before it’s reduced. Just look at this beautiful cake!
Byzantine Spice Cake from The Complete Greek Cookbook (1970)
- 1 c. butter
- 1 ½ c. sugar
- 3 eggs
- ½ c. plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
- 2 ½ c. flour
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. each cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, mace*
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- juice and zest from 1 orange (about ¼ c. juice and 1 tsp. zest)
- 1 c. each honey, water, sugar
*a note about mace – I don’t have any. I don’t know many people who have it on hand. Since it’s made from the outer “husk” of the nutmeg pod, it has a similar flavor profile, and you can use whatever you like to substitute – a dash more nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, even a dash of finely ground black pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat 3 minutes more. Add eggs, and half of the yogurt. Combine flower, baking powder and spices and add to butter mixture. Mix baking soda into orange juice in a small bowl and add. Bake in a greased and floured square pan (at least 9″ x 9″, or the cake will not bake properly – please learn from my mistake) for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when center of cake is tested.
While the cake is baking, prepare the honey syrup. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, water and honey. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. The honey will stick to the bottom if you’re not careful! Once the mixture has come to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a low boil (not a full boil, but more than a simmer… the perfect balance so it won’t boil over if you leave it unattended). Boil for 10-15 minutes, until syrup is viscous, about the consistency of honey. If the syrup is finished before the cake is done baking, be sure to reheat it to a boil just before the cake comes out of the oven.
Pull the cake out of the oven once it’s done baking, and, using a large spoon or a small ladle, evenly distribute the honey syrup over the cake. It will seem like a lot, but trust me, it won’t make your cake soggy if the syrup is thick enough! Serve the cake warm or room temperature.
I reserved probably 2-3 tablespoons of the syrup to drizzle over the cake to serve. Delicious!