The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.
I did this challenge mid-month when I simply couldn't go another day without cake. I take no small amount of pride in my continuing quest for a less-sweet life, and now when I look back on the amount of sugary desserts I've eaten daily for so long, I cringe. I'm not saying that I don't still love to bake, and that I don't still love cake (or all sweet things) with a preternatural, bear-hugging grasp, but somehow my mind has changed and I don't crave sweets on an hourly basis like I used to.
But... this little gem of a cake! I actually made a petite half recipe and baked it in a little vintage 8-inch springform tin - and I made the entire thing in the food processor. I know what you already may be thinking, "doesn't a food processor beat up the gluten in the flours, making a tough crumb?" That's actually what I thought too but it's not the case, and it makes a cake in a single bowl in such a short amount of time that I can see this lovely little cake in my oven just after you phone to say you are stopping over in a half hour.
Nutmeg is one of my most favorite spices. Whenever I think of it, all shy tucked up into a rough-skinned nut, growing in trees cloaked in a web of more delicately flavored mace, I think of baking logic I picked up somewhere along the way. Improper logic if I am honest, since it called for judicious use of nutmeg due to it's overwhelming nature. Overwhelming? I can hardly be overwhelmed by such an alluring spice. I almost always add additional nutmeg to spice cakes and cookies, a faint additional grating over rice pudding or even oatmeal.
A little additional reading, and I wonder if judicious use of nutmeg was recommended due to a history of purported psychoactive effects, some of which seem very valid according to this article I read from just a year and a half ago. While I'm not likely to grind up 3 whole nutmegs and down it with a glass of wine to experiment, I will happily make this cake again with a whole teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg, and I'll do it for some while with this beautiful jar that E brought me from France, even though it caused a slight stir in security since it looked like a liquids container on the X-ray machine.
This cake makes its own bottom butter crumb crust, which is endearing because it gives a little textural difference to the cake. I also cut the sugar in half for my purposes, and both my picky boys (the one who rarely eats dessert, and the one who could live only on dessert) loved it. This little cake didn't last long because we had three happy eaters; next time I will make a double amount and increase the baking time ever so slightly. Serve it with some vanilla ice cream for an impossibly elegant dessert, or by itself, a plain, happy wedge with the morning coffee.
Armenian Nutmeg Cake
(adapted from DB host Jason of DailyCandor)
1 8-inch cake, 8 small but satisfying servings
- 1/2 c. whole milk
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/2 c. ap flour
- 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1/2 c. brown sugar
- 6 T. (3 oz.) cold butter, cubed
- 1/4 c. walnuts (or more)
- 1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix the baking soda (not baking powder) into the milk, and set aside. Put the flour, baking powder, and the brown sugar into your food processor, and pulse until uniformly mixed. Add the cubed butter, and pulse until uniformly mixed into tan-colored crumbs.
Pour HALF of the crumbs into your springform (I used an 8-inch for this half recipe, a 9-inch is recommended for a full sized recipe) pan. Press out a crust using your fingers.
Crack the egg into the food processor with the rest of the crumbs still in it. Grate the nutmeg into the crumbs, and pulse until well-incorporated.
Pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until a slightly lumpy tan batter is formed. Pour the batter over the crust in the springform pan. Gently sprinkle the walnut pieces over the batter. Unafraid of hallucinations, I grated a few whispers of additional nutmeg across the top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or so, until the top is golden brown, and when a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the pan for at least 10-15 minutes before unmolding. You may need to run a thin knife around the edge to help it. (I removed the sides of the springform when the cake was still warm, and then waited until it was cooled completely to remove the bottom.)
Note: You can find the original recipe here. It calls for 1 egg for the whole cake, and only white, all-purpose flour. I found the texture with whole wheat and a whole egg in a half cake recipe to be perfect, but you may want to make the original version if you prefer lighter cakes - although I wouldn't say this one was dense per se.
It might be impossible to describe the scent of this cake when it was in the oven, calling my family members from other rooms to ask what it was and could they eat some. This response could be another reason why this cake is a new favorite, sure to become a standard for years to come!
Many thanks to Jason for this reason to bake up a well-deserved cake, and be sure to check out the Daring Kitchen websites for the original recipe, the gorgeous looking recipe for nazook (which I will likely make someday when I'm not obsessing about desserts consumption...), and the blogroll of Daring Bakers and their takes on the challenge this month.