Karithopita (“karithi” is walnut) was always one of my favourite Greek cakes. I’d tried making it a few times over the years using different recipes. Some recipes called for flour and others said breadcrumbs. Some said whole eggs, some said separated eggs. The walnuts are pretty much a given at least. Like just about every Greek thing you could make, if you had ten karithopita-makers and their karithopita in the room, you’d most likely have ten different versions and lots of debate. Maybe even a bit of Smackdown! action.
The recipe I used today is one I found in my mum’s old recipe collection. It’s so old that not only is it typed by typewriter, it has no author or method listed nor size of baking tin or oven temp or how long to bake for. Just the ingredients. Hardcore old school or WHAT. Or just plain annoying? Anyway, Mum says that many years ago, she was told that a good karithopita should always be made with breadcrumbs, not flour.
So this ancient recipe I found calls for 8 eggs. 8 eggs! Far out. I opted for egg replacer for 3 large eggs worth and about 5Tbs of home made walnut butter. With absolutely no freaking idea about anything. I’ve used nut butter in some recipes before as a sort of egg replacer and it’s worked beautifully.
Then I had the additional challenge of how the heck to mix it all together. Did the original recipe intend for the eggs to be separated, beaten, whatever? Who knows. So I just mixed up the dry ingredients first then in a small bowl I carefully mixed the egg replacer mixture (made according to packet instructions), the brandy and the walnut butter. Because I made the walnut butter myself beforehand, I made sure it was easy to work with as the store bought nut butters I’ve tried are really thick and hard to incorporate evenly.
Okay, so this is a cake that has two major components: the actual cakey bit and the syrup. I was always taught that when you have a syrup that is to be poured over the cake, one thing must be hot and the other cool, so the cake is cool and the syrup hot or vice versa. I don’t know the exact scientific hocus pocus reasons for this but when my grandmother wagged her finger in your face, you didn’t ask questions about thermal conductivity and all that nonsense.
For this recipe I used freshly made breadcrumbs because that’s all I had. I would have preferred using stale bread but will try that next time. I know I could have toasted the bread a bit first but I was impatient.
Okay so then I made the walnut butter, which was about two scant cups of walnuts thrown in the food processor and whizzed until they were buttery. I did add a good teaspoon of olive oil to make it a little smoother.
I’m happy with the way my first vegan karithopita turned out. Not bad for a first attempt but I’d make some changes next time. Like reducing the sugar by much more. I’ll put in my recipe notes at the end.
UPDATE, TAKE NOTE, BEWARE, ETC: This turned out really thick and dense. My mum said “the flavours are really good and are exactly right but it’s a little on the gluggy side and needs to be lighter, but not fluffy-light”. So that’s my next challenge.
Still, I have tasted some versions which were like this and really thick, which is why you only eat a very small piece 🙂
The Veganopoulous Vegan Karithopita v1.0- the really dense version
(1 cup equals 250ml)
For the cake:
* 3 cups of crushed walnuts
* 2 cups of breadcrumbs
*1 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* Egg replacer to make about three large eggs worth
* 5 generous Tablespoons of soft walnut butter (soft enough to mix up)
* 1 Tablespoon brandy (optional)
For the syrup:
* 3 cups water
* 2 cups sugar
* 2 cinnamon sticks
To make the cake:
* Preheat your oven to about 180C (moderate oven temp). Prepare your cake tin/dish (see notes).
* In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, crushed walnuts, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar:
* In a small bowl, make up your egg replacer mix for three large eggs. To it, add the walnut butter and brandy. Whisk it up so it’s all evenly mixed (this is why the walnut butter needs to be soft enough to blend well).
* Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir, then use your hands to thoroughly mix everything. I squished the mix between my fingers. The mixture shouldn’t be a typical cake batter. You should be able to roll soft balls of it, and it is okay to have it be slightly sticky to the touch, without being a wet batter. Sorry, forgot to take a photo.
* Put the cake mixture in to your prepared tin/dish (see recipe notes) and flatten it gently so it’s all level.
* Put it in the oven until really nice and browned on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Mine was in the oven for about 45 minutes. When it’s done, cut it in to diamond or rectangle (or square) shapes while it’s still in the dish/tin (don’t remove it!). Let it cool while you make the syrup. Remember, leave the cake right there!
For the syrup:
* You can make this in advance. Put the syrup ingredients in to a medium saucepan. Mix well, bring to the boil, then simmer about ten minutes. Stir now and then. Remove from heat:
* With one thing hot and the other cold, get a ladle and pour half the syrup gently over the cake. The cake should be cut and still be in the dish/tin you baked it in! If you feel the cake needs more syrup, go for it but today for this cake I found I only needed half the amount in this recipe. I guess it’s one of those “it just depends” things 🙂
Let the cake sit and be completely cool (about an hour at least) to soak up the syrup. You can keep it in the cake tin/dish or move it to a nicer looking serving plate. Eat! It tastes even better the next day and the day after that.
* This is sweeeet. Well, for me anyway. And I really don’t like sweet desserts like this anymore. Greek sweets are usually served alongside a Turkish coffee (so you appreciate the sweetness more). Next time I make this I’m using a different (and far less sweet!) syrup.
* Use a cake tin or pie dish that allows the uncooked batter to be about 3cm or 1 1/2 inch high. The cake doesn’t rise much. I used a square cake tin with base measuring 20cm (8″) and lined it with baking paper.
* I used a combination of finely crushed walnuts and finely chopped walnuts because I wanted to bite in to little pieces of walnut. Next time I might try finely crushed all the way. I used my food processor to chop.
* There are quite a few variations on the syrup used in such cakes. Some people make a thicker syrup with a little brandy, water and sugar. Others add orange or lemon rind (with no pith). Others use a few whole cloves in the syrup. It all comes down to what you like 🙂
* Next time I will try using stale breadcrumbs. And I’m thinking of trying barley flour.