Back in the 80s, Sainsbury’s published a series of paperback recipe books. Granny would invariably bring one back from a trip to the supermarket and over time she built up a large collection, which somehow included two copies of Rena Salaman’s ‘The Cooking of Greece and Turkey’. One of those copies became ours and the source of several family favourites: Greek bean stew, tzatziki, lamb koftas, and this wonderful walnut cake (καρυδόπιτα). Moist and nutty, it is best made the day before. (Try to avoid polishing off the cooking brandy with a cough mixture chaser the day after.) As a pudding at the end of a Greek meal I like to serve this with thick yoghurt, honey and fresh figs.
150g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
125g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
3-4 tbsp brandy
½ tsp ground cinnamon
300g walnuts, chopped coarsely
150g self-raising flour, sifted
a pinch of salt
For the syrup
250g caster sugar
2 tbsp brandy
2 cinnamon sticks
You will also need a baking tin at least 5cm deep and approximately 22 x 22 cm square.
Preheat the oven to 190C / 170 fan.
Cream the butter, add the sugar and cream them together; add the egg yolks, one by one, beating between additions. Add the brandy, ground cinnamon and chopped walnuts and mix well.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff and fold them in, with a metal spoon, alternating them with the sifted flour, until they have both been incorporated into the mixture. Spread it evenly in the greased baking tin. The mixture should be about 4cm thick, once spread. Bake for 35 minutes, until nicely risen and golden-topped. Remove from the oven but leave in the dish while you cut it in squares (approx 5 cm – my tin divides up neatly into 16 pieces).
While the cake is cooking, make the syrup: dissolve the sugar in the water, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until lightly thickened. Discard the cinnamon, and pour the hot syrup slowly over the hot cake. Let it stand for 10 minutes in order to absorb the syrup before serving it – or leave in the tin overnight until you’re ready to serve it: lift the pieces out and arrange on a platter. The cake will stay moist for 2-3 days if kept covered.