What is your concept of a healthy cake? Is there such a thing?
I say, there is! This recipe is my version of a sugar-free, dairy-free, wholesome pastry, and once you taste it, it might make you want another piece… or two.
We all need a sweet treat once in a while (or maybe daily?). Sweet taste balances the ever-active Vata and Pitta doshas that really go for a ride when we are stressed out, traveling, moving quickly through life changes, and in general when we have a lot going on.
Craving sugar might be our mind’s misperception of needing sweetness and pleasure in life. So next time you think of going for your favorite sugar source, first try to find sweetness around you—have a sweet exchange with a person, offer and receive sweet words, open up to feel love and pleasure in your life—you might be needing those more than cookies.
I love creating healthier versions of favorite desserts, and this recipe is my latest attempt. Years ago, my friend Melanie from Greece introduced me to the karidopita, a syrupy walnut cake. In her vegan version, she used olive oil as the fat, dried apricot puree and raw sugar to sweeten the cake, and sugar and honey to sweeten the syrup. In my Ayurvedized version, I omit the sugar altogether and add the honey after cooking the flavored syrup. According to Ayurveda, heat turns honey toxic. So don’t cook with it.
This cake brings back so many memories of growing up in Bulgaria and loving the Greek and Turkish pastries soaked in sugar-sweet syrup, such as tolumba, kadaifi, baklava, and more. Ah, how good those were! I tasted them again the last time I visited my family in my hometown of Plovdiv, but the taste and texture were disappointing. The refined white flour and sugar, vegetable oils, and additives not only spoiled the taste, but also made the pastries very unhealthy.
If you’re a fan of syrupy desserts, try this wholesome option: Not too sweet, succulent, with an unexpected crunch of walnuts, this cake is satisfying and grounding. Its rustic look reminds one of home. One piece will quiet down your Vata and Pitta and keep your Kapha happy—perfect for the cool season. If your Pitta is too high, replace the honey with maple syrup.
Makes one 8-inch square cake (a glass Pyrex dish works well); 9 pieces
Prep: 20 minutes Bake: 30 minutes Cool: about 30 minutes
For the cake:
½ cup chopped dried apricots (½-inch pieces)
2 cups sifted einkorn flour (218 grams) or 1 ¾ cups sifted spelt flour (205 grams)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine lime zest
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup fresh orange juice, from 2 to 3 oranges (before squeezing the oranges, zest their peel first for the garnish – see Notes)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
For the syrup:
¾ cup water
peel of ½ orange, sliced thinly
1 cinnamon stick (2.75-inch long)
2 chopped dried apricots
¼ cup fresh orange juice (strained for pulp)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (strained for pulp)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup raw honey
For the garnish:
¼ cup toasted and shaved walnuts (see Notes)
thin orange peel waves (see Notes)
- Add the chopped apricots to a blender and pour ¾ cup boiling hot water over them. Let them sit for 15 minutes to hydrate them. Blend to a smooth puree.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the baking dish with olive oil.
- While the apricots are soaking, in a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, lime zest, and salt.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the apricot puree, olive oil, and orange juice.
- Add wet mix to the dry mix and stir a few times, until the sticky batter is well incorporated. Fold in the walnuts.
- Transfer the batter to the greased baking dish. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick or a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup and garnish.
- Let the cake cool off completely in its tray, then you may transfer it to a cutting board or a serving platter or leave it in the tray.
To make the syrup:
1. In a small saucepan, add the water, orange peel, cinnamon stick, and apricots, and bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
- Reserve the cooked apricots, strain the liquid, and let it cool down to warm temperature (not higher than 120’F). Blend the cooked apricots and the syrup to a smooth, slightly thick consistency.
- Whisk in the orange juice, lime juice, vanilla, and honey.
To assemble the cake:
- Cut the cake into square or diamond-shaped pieces, about 2 inches long.
- Gradually pour the syrup over the cake, making sure to moisten each of the crevices, edges, and corners. (See Notes if you’re not going to serve all cake pieces at once.)
- Garnish each plated piece with shaved walnuts and thin waves of orange peel.
- Serve immediately.
If you’re not going to serve all cake pieces at once: Pour only a part of the syrup and garnish only as many pieces you want to serve now. Refrigerate the rest of the syrup and garnish until your next serving.
To shave the toasted walnuts for garnish: Use halved walnuts and grate them on the small holes of a grater.
To make orange peel waves: Use a zester to peel off thin strips of orange peel, then soak the strips in an ice water bath and refrigerate until you’re ready to use. (It takes at least 30 minutes for the peels to slightly curl.)