03 March


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.

Irish Soda Scones

March 17: Feast Day of St. Patrick

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (much like Cinco de Mayo) is often an excuse for some people to party and drink alcohol excessively. For us, we see it as a reason to try Irish-inspired recipes from Highlander’s heritage (he is Scots-Irish, according to genealogical records) and honor the patron saint of the Emerald Isle.

For the Feast Day of St. Patrick, we modified an Irish soda bread recipe and made Irish soda scones. The currants in this recipe lend a subtle sweetness to these scones (without the dried fruit, they would really taste like biscuits, which are close to mini Irish soda bread).

Have a terrific “top o’ the mornin’” or teatime treat with some Irish soda scones on St. Patrick’s Day!

Recipe

(Adapted from Tea Time Magazine)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup dried currants
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • ¾ cup+ buttermilk, whole

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, sugar and salt.

Add small pieces of cold butter and mix with a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the currants and caraway seeds.

Stir in the buttermilk until a sticky dough is formed. On a clean, floured surface, pat the dough to 1-inch thick circle. Cut out shapes with a 2-inch round cutter (or use a 3-tablespoon scoop to make drop-style scones). Place scones onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with a little buttermilk (optional). Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm with Irish butter, clotted cream and/or jam.

Notes

  • Since we like currants, we added ¼ cup more than stated in the original recipe. We also reduced the caraway seeds to ½ teaspoon because we are not too fond of the flavor.
  • Feel free to substitute the currants for raisins (black or golden).
  • Search our blog for more Irish-inspired recipes. Or see the St. Patrick’s Day recipe list under the Theme Menus option.

Fruit-Nut Toaster Cakes

March 13:National Breakfast Day

Whenever Islander and her friend Karen B. have a long day ahead of them doing baking and decorating projects, Karen would prepare a quick, healthy and convenient breakfast snack called toaster cakes. She would pre-make them, freeze and reheat so they could eat them before and while they spent the rest of the day decorating cakes or cookies to give to family and friends on special occasions.

Toaster cakes taste a little like cornbread because of the cornmeal in them. They can be reheated in a pop-up toaster (without the fruit and nuts on top), or they can be reheated in a toaster oven (with the fruit and nuts and top). Either way, toaster cakes are great to grab for breakfast on the go—or even for a more leisurely morning meal on National Breakfast Day.

Recipe

(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup flour
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit
  • ¼ cup chopped nuts

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, oats and brown sugar, baking powder and salt.

Melt and cool the butter. Beat the egg with vanilla. Stir in the milk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until smooth. Option 1: Sprinkle dried fruit and nuts on top after spreading the batter in six baking cups (tart-size liners or cupcake-size papers) or greased muffin tins.

Option 2: Stir the dried fruit and nuts into the batter and scoop into the baking cups. Place on a cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and eat warm. Reheat leftovers in a toaster (remove paper) or toaster oven (see Notes).

Notes

  • If reheating in a pop-up toaster, do stir in the dried fruits and nuts in the batter before baking or the pieces will fall into the toaster. Remove the paper before inserting the cakes into to toaster.
  • If reheating in a toaster oven (not pop-up toaster), do not stir in the dried fruits and nuts in the batter. Sprinkle them on top and bake as usual.
  • Toaster tongs are pictured in the final food photo above.

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