Byzantine Spice Cake

March/April: Palm/Passion/Pussy Willow Sunday

Although we lived in the Chicago suburbs of Elgin, Illinois, for five years, we did not really explore the other Lenten traditions in the area’s Christian churches. Then when Islander’s brother went on his sabbatical year at the Catholic Theological Union, she took the opportunity to return to the city to visit him downtown and her Ukrainian friend Olga W. in Skokie.

She stayed in a guest room across from her brother’s in the CTU dormitory where other priests, brothers and sisters were residing on the same floor. Brother Chet F. from the Congregation of the Holy Cross invited a group of us to go with him to Annunciation of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Parish in Homer Glen for Palm Sunday. The beautifully painted church with traditional iconography was made even more festive with fresh palm fronds—plus pretty pussy willows.

Islander later asked Olga, who attended Russian Orthodox Church services in her youth, about the pussy willows. She explained that in some colder countries in Europe, palm leaves were not readily available but pussy willows were symbolic of spring so were used instead during Palm Sunday celebrations.

It was very interesting to learn about the pussy willow tradition at the Byzantine church. So for our blog post, we have featured a recipe for Byzantine spice cake that can be made for Palm/Passion/Pussy Willow Sunday.

Recipe

(Adapted from Genius Kitchen)

For the spice cake

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup + ½ cup yogurt (plain Greek yogurt)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground mace or allspice

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil and sugar. Beat in the eggs and ½ cup of yogurt.

Add the baking soda and orange juice to the mixture. In another bowl, sift together the flour and spices (ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace/allspice).

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in another ½ cup of yogurt. Mix until smooth.

Pour the batter into a 9×13-inch greased baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes, testing the cake for doneness. Remove from the oven. Poke holes in the cake with the tines of a fork. Let cool completely.

For the topping

  • ½ cup water
  • ¾ cup sugar, granulated white
  • ½ cup honey

Directions

In a saucepan over the stovetop, mix the water, sugar and honey. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, reducing heat as to not bubble over and splatter.

Mix until slightly thickened. Cover the saucepan for another five minutes. Pour hot topping over the cake. Spread the honey glaze over the top and let it soak. Cut into squares and serve.

Notes

  • This cake was really dense and dry and probably would make a good tea bread if baked in a loaf pan.
  • Plain Greek yogurt may be substituted for sour cream.
  • We halved the syrupy topping. It is sticky-sweet, which complements the very mildly spiced cake.
  • Search our blog for other Palm/Passion Sunday and Lenten recipes.