Waiter There's Something In My....

...Easter Basket!
I eagerly await the Waiter There's Something...events each month. So far we have had Stew and Pie, both of which were great successes. It was amazing to see how creative everyone was.
Whilst Pies and Stews are fairly easy to reinterpret, Easter Basket is a little different. Hosted this month by Johanna at The Passionate Cook, it has proved to be another food event to literally AND metaphorically get our teeth into.
I got to thinking. Paul and I are not religious so, theoretically, we can use Easter celebratory food from any religious denomination that we choose. Typical British Easter foods (from the Christian denomination) include the Simnel Cake (a light fruit cake adorned with the eleven marzipan balls to signify Christs loyal disciples) and Hot Cross Buns (the 'cross' on these spiced dough buns once representative of the crucifixion, now just a supermarket staple at this time of the year). Of course, we also have the Roast Lamb which once represented the sacrificial lamb but is now just a tasty excuse to cook a delicious Sunday meal.
I can't particularly recall my own family serving specific Easter foods, so to me personally it merely means stacks of chocolate Easter eggs but, as I get older, it also heralds the onset of Spring and plants bursting into life. The clocks are put forward and we no longer have to drive home from work in the dark, eager to get home and draw the curtains, blocking out the winter from view. We can start thinking about eating outdoors and preparing salads, foods that help us to lose our post-winter blubber.
Because I feel that if one thing should bridge the barrier between different religions, it should be food, I have decided to cook a Passover Cake for this particular event. There is a two-fold reason for this:
a) I didn't want to make a Simnel Cake or Hot Cross Buns because I'll be baking them next weekend for the Easter Bank Holiday family get-together.
b) I have been blissfully lost in Claudia Roden's wonderful Book of Jewish Cookery and wanted to cook something inspired by her deeply evocative reminiscences. Her delicious selection of Passover Cakes seemed a great place to start.
Passover, of course, does not have the same connotations as Easter despite being celebrated during April. As Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Passover commemorates the fleeing of the Jews from Egyption slavery following Moses' great plagues and how God protected them during this time, over 3000 years ago.
Passover must be particularly pertinent for the emancipation of the Jews following the holocaust of the Second World War.
The enduring thread that ties Easter-time observances together though is that of the circle of life, death and rebirth, one that follows us all, regardless of our own personal beliefs.

Unlike Christianity, Jewish Cooking involves several dietary requirements that must be fulfilled; in short, what is Kosher and what isn't. In spite of these regulations though, a brief glance through Claudia Roden's magnus opus will leave you in no doubt that this is not a boring diet. I suspect that this is in many ways due to the eclectic origins of the food, from the Middle East, Spain and Eastern Europe which lends an exotic flavour to what could potentially have been an unfulfilling diet.
During Passover, these requirements are slightly stricter: amongst other food products, no leavening is allowed (which indicates flour made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, or any food which is considered to ferment, including alcohol). This means that Passover cakes must be made using alternative ingredients. Fortunately, ground almonds and egg whites produce marvellously moist, and long-lasting cakes without a hint of leavening. Additional flavours are added by way of orange or flower waters, various types of nuts, apples, chocolate etc. The cakes are often drenched with syrups to make them very rich and decadent, and then cut into small pieces which could satisfy even the sweetest tooth.
The cake I eventually decided to make was a Walnut and Syrup Cake, a recipe influenced by Spain, with its distinctive flavours of orange and walnuts. The orange particularly holds strong symbolism for the Spanish Jewish because it was they who originally cultivated it in Spain back in the Roman Times. They were considered experts in the growing of citrus plants, and during the 18th Century, Jaffa Oranges were first grown in Israel by migrated Jews. They are considered by many to be the sweetest oranges in the world.
The cake is incredibly easy to make but benefits from resting overnight in its heady rosewater syrup bath, ensuring that the cake is well steeped. The syrup also helps to preserve the cake slightly longer than a normal cake.
The flavour is not as sweet as you might expect, despite being liberally doused in at least half a pint of sugar syrup, but instead is dense and rich with the wonderful texture of the chopped walnuts mingling with the delicate flavour ground almonds and the bold orange zest holding the flavours together.
If, like us, you don't observe Passover, you could serve this cake, cut into small diamonds, almost as a petit fours after a rich meal, when a heavy dessert is just too much. It would also be a lovely light way to finish a summery meal.
WALNUT AND SYRUP CAKE, from Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food
Serves up to 10 people
5 Eggs, lightly beaten
100g Ground Almonds
150g Chopped Walnuts
200g Sugar
Zest and Juice of one large Orange, Jaffas are best
500g Sugar
500ml Water
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rosewater

Make the syrup in advance as this needs to be completely cold for it to be properly absorbed.
In a large saucepan, add the sugar, lemon juice and water and boil for 10-15 minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is thickened.
Remove from the heat and stir in the rosewater.
Decant into a heatproof jug, leave to cool and then refrigerate until you need it. This can be made well in advance.
Making the cake:
Preheat the oven to 170c.
Line the bottom of a 9" Cake tin with baking paper and brush the sides and bottom with oil.
To make the cake, mix all the ingredients together until well combined and pour into the prepared tin. See what I mean about easy?
Place in the oven and bake for about an hour or until golden brown.
When baked, remove from the oven and invert immediately onto a deep plate, carefully removing the baking paper.
Cut into diamonds and pour over the syrup. I found that there was a huge amount of syrup made and I didn't use all of it, but just your common sense. If your cake seems a bit dryer, then use more syrup.
After half an hour, turn over the cake pieces so ensure a full and thorough bathing of the syup. You will see that the walnuts rose to what was the top of the cake and will look beautifully bronzed and glossy from the syrup.
I left mine to soak overnight and then placed the syrup drenched pieces on a cake stand for people to whisk away as they pleased.


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Wow! This does sound incredibly sweet, but I like the idea of serving it as petit fours. The usual Passover fare (tasteless macaroons) cannot compare to this!

Stella said...

I've a compliment for the chef!
I've no doubt how this cake must be tasty & packed with flavour, with the exciting bits of walnuts inside!

Linda said...

yum yum. anything with syrup and apples AND cake, sounds delicious to me. looks lovely as well.

Linda said...

did i say apples!? clearly i'm still asleep - i meant walnuts :)

Anonymous said...

That looks great, but I hope to see your Simnel Cake.

Kelly-Jane said...

I do like a syrup soaked cake :)

Your use of fresh walnuts as a decoration is inspired too.

Looking forward to seeing your other cakes as well.


Ros said...

I'm STILL thinking about what the hell to do for this event. Yours is a good choice. I love the idea of putting rosewater in the syrup.

thepassionatecook said...

what an incredibly interesting post! i was standing in front of the kosher section at my supermarket (waitrose) yesterday, wondering about all the various ingredients. picked up potato flour (now i know why potato over any other!) and bittersweet chocolate chips (not easy to get in the uk). thanks for this marvellous contribution to WTSIM!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Walnuts and citrus? You shouldn't have, Freya! ;)

Schweitz said...

You are on a roll with these desserts. Both the cake and the cocoa nib cookies you made for SHF look divine (I made a raw cocoa nib and caramel panna cotta).

I think the cake and the cookies just made my to do list.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the history that you injected into this post. I've always been enticed by foods and recipes that have weathered the test of time. Good post.

Anonymous said...

Ooohh...the cake has so much history in it. Could I reach for one from your easter basket ? :D

Meeta K. Wolff said...

syrupy nuts apples all in one cake. Phew! I think I'll skip lunch and dinner and take a huge piece of this instead. LOL!

Elle said...

Great addition to the theme and I love syrup soaked cakes. The orange and walnut combination sounds delicious. Is the rosewater optional or an essential part?

Anonymous said...

Freya - really loved this post... will definitely be trying out that cake, and looking for that book. I think I am going to try a Simnel cake next week too - so will be fun to compare!

Kathryn said...

That looks delicious! and something different too. Yum.

Lucy said...

Rosewater. Heady stuff indeed - I adore it.

Am working on a vegetarian passover meal for my Jewish step-children at the moment. They are Ashkenazi, but happy to try being Sephardic for my sake (am not Jewish, but am more inclined to the flavours of the Sepharic community).

This cake methinks will be our dessert for the second seder night. Ta very much.

Joyce said...

The picture makes my teeth ache, but not enough to stop me from wanting a piece RIGHT NOW!

Nice job with the prelude - explaining the kosher requirements.

Callipygia said...

Love anything with rosewater- and it is interesting to note that cross culturally we all share ways to celebrate the birth of a new season/cycle. Happy Spring to you-

Lis said...

Wow.. soaked in citrus + rosewater - now that's a cake I'd love to try! Just gorgeous, Freya!


Anonymous said...

That cakes looks really interesting and sounds delicious! :) And the whole post on easter and passover and the food involved is fascinating!

Toni said...

Great post! The rosewater makes it sound like a Middle Eastern Jewish kind of a cake. Pass me a piece!

Anonymous said...

Waou!!! Your cooking it's so great, i love . And i love your banniere, your dog it's so sweet.
Nice to meet you, and your blog it's very great

Sig said...

The cake looks amazing, nuts and orange and sugar yummmmmmmmmm....
BTW, love the idea of picking the best dishes from the religion of choice for Easter:).

Anonymous said...


You are such an intellectual! The walnut and syrup cake looks great, and the post was super interesting.

Gemma said...

That looks amazing, I absolutely adore these kinds of cake (I recommend visiting the mosque in Paris for little cakes of this type and sweet mint tea sitting in a tiled courtyard).

Helene said...

Beautiful! I love the flavors of this cake. I make a variation of it on the weekends, but I love the rose water addition.

Shaun said...

Freya, love - I, too, adore Passover cakes, and Roden's "The Book of Jewish Food" is one of my favorite resources, as is her "New Book of Middle Eastern Food". The rose water syrup sounds like a heavenly combination with the walnuts. I am thinking of making a dessert for Passover next week. As for our traditions on Easter, I only love hot cross buns and lamb cooked any way. I have never had Simnel Cake...I love this post!

Melting Wok said...

my godd, I've missed out so much this 2 weeks :( Man you both are so lucky, man, I'm in luv w/tt walnut, almondy syrup cake, thx for sharing, guys :))
p/s: freya & paul, thx for linking me, have added you as well. Could you kindly remove the blogspot.com, and just link to www.meltingwok.com, thx :))

Anonymous said...

This is such a great post Freya and that cake looks and sounds amazing! Different, but intriguing!