Karydopita is a traditional Greek Walnut Cake with syrup and spices. It's soft, moist, and loaded with ground walnuts.
It's one of the best coffee cakes since its warming earthy flavors (and its strong sweetness) make it the perfect match for both a strong coffee or tea.
But other than being the perfect coffee cake Karydopita or Karithopita (it's how it's pronounced Ka-ri-tho-pi-ta) is a dessert very popular around the holidays in Greece. Many people make this cozy Greek spice cake around Christmas or New Year's.
With a flavor very similar to Melomakarona (traditional Greek Christmas walnut cookies) and a texture similar to a moist Christmas pudding, it's indeed one of the best desserts to serve during that time of the year.
This walnut cake recipe is unique in a way that it's made with breadcrumbs instead of flour (hence why its texture is so similar to a pudding). I will explain this thoroughly in a bit, after telling you all of the ingredients.
Karydopita is made with breadcrumbs, lots of ground walnuts, butter, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, orange zest, cognac (brandy), and baking powder.
The Breadcrumbs: make the texture of the cake very airy, crumbly, and soft. Plus they add a deeper flavor than plain flour. Breadcrumbs in Greece are a bit different because they are made of toast rusks (melba toast). They're finer, less grainy, and powdered like whole wheat flour. You can make your own by pulsing toast rusks in a food processor or blender until powdered.
You can even make your own toast rusks at home. And let them airdry well before turning them into ground breadcrumbs.
The Ground Walnuts: The walnuts are ground in a food processor. Ground half the walnuts a bit more coarse than the others so they will retain a bite within the cake.
The Cognac (brandy): Is an essential ingredient of this cake as we add it both in the cake mixture and the syrup. It's what gives the distinctive flavor to this traditional walnut cake.
All of the following ingredient substitutions will alter the flavor of the Karidopita making it taste different from the original. They all yield great results though.
You can swap walnuts with pecans as they are from the same tree family. Pecans will give an even stronger nutty flavor.
As for cognac, a few alternatives are dark rum, coffee, or almond liqueur.
Cooking Tip: Too sweet a cake for you? Add 2-3 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder to the cake batter and mix together with the dry ingredients.
In case you don't want to use alcohol you can use either espresso, filter coffee, or fresh orange juice. All of these can be added both in the cake batter and the syrup. Just like cognac is added to the original Karidopita recipe.
How To Make Karithopita Cake
Karithopita cake is made by beating with an electric mixer butter with sugar and orange zest until very creamy then mixing the egg yolks and cognac and keep beating until you get a very airy mixture.
Then beat egg whites separately with sugar until soft peaks form. And finally mix the dry ingredients (breadcrumbs, ground walnuts, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves) into the egg yolk mixture in bits at a time. Alternately with the meringue.
Folding in both mixtures (dry ingredients + meringue) with a pastry spatula in order to preserve the air in the cake batter.
To make the syrup for Karydopita add sugar, water, a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, cognac, and cinnamon stick to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for 6-7 minutes on medium-high (counting time from the moment it starts to boil). The syrup will thicken slightly.
Adding the syrup
To add the syrup the cake needs to be at room temperature and the syrup hot. So let the cake cool down before you begin making the syrup.
Ladle the hot syrup before its temperature drops over the cake. Wait a few seconds before adding the next spoonful of syrup so it won't sink straight to the bottom of the cake.
Toppings And Coatings
You can sprinkle this Greek walnut spice cake with some ground walnuts on top and keep it simple (like I did) or you can make things more interesting and add any of the following toppings:
- Coat it with Chocolate Ganache. Use dark chocolate like 70% cocoa for the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the syrup.
- Top it with this Espresso Buttercream Frosting.
- Try the cocoa glaze I use on this Sokolatina recipe
- Serve with a scoop of Vanilla or Kaimaki Ice Cream.
Pan Size And Portions
When we make desserts in Greece we have the tendency to cook for a crowd. Especially when we're talking oven-baked desserts that are soaked with syrup. Take for example Baklava, or Ekmek (you have to try this one).
So if you're looking for a dessert to serve to a crowd Karydopita recipe is a really good option. This recipe uses a 13 x 9-inch pan (33 x 23 cm) pan and yields 18 small square pieces. You can cut the pieces slightly bigger if you like. Keep in mind though that it's a pretty sweet and filling cake because of the amount of walnuts it contains.
If you want to cut the recipe in half use a square 8 x 8-inch (20 x 20 cm) pan.
This Greek walnut cake can be kept at room temperature for up to a week or up to 10 days in the fridge. The syrup preserves the cake and prevents it from spoiling.
It is better to keep it in the fridge though for one reason mainly, Karydopita tastes so much better when it's cold!
Greek Walnut Cake (Karydopita)
For The Greek Walnut Cake:
- 120 grams (4.2 ounce) butter at room temperature
- 1 orange zested
- 260 grams (1 cup + 6 tablespoons) sugar
- 8 medium-sized eggs separated into yolks and whites
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 400 grams (14.1 ounce) walnuts
- 170 grams (6 ounce) powdered melba toast or breadcrumbs
- 20 grams (4 teaspoons) baking powder
- 5 tablespoons cognac/brandy
For The Syrup:
- 550 ml (2⅓ cups) water
- 500 grams (2½ cups) sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons cognac
- 1 cinnamon stick
For The Cake:
- Chop walnuts in a food processor in two batches. Pulse the first batch to finely ground and the second to coarsely ground. And then mix them together.
- Mix together all the dry ingredients: walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, melba toast (or breadcrumbs), and baking powder. Set aside.
- Cream the butter together with half the sugar and orange zest for 6-7 minutes until very creamy using your electric mixer with the whisk attachment on. Stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Add the egg yolks 2 at a time and keep beating until fully incorporated into the mixture.
- Pour in the cognac and mix until uniform.
- Beat the egg whites in a bowl and once they start to thicken gradually add in the remaining sugar. Keep beating until soft peaks form. NOTE: Make sure both the bowl and electric mixer whisk are clean and dry.
- Combine everything together. Incorporate the dry ingredients mixture into the butter mixture in batches alternately with the meringue. Do this by folding the batter with a silicone spatula to preserve the air within the mixture.
- Grease an 11 x 15-inch (26 x 36 cm) pan with butter and sprinkle some powdered melba toast or breadcrumbs at the bottom. Shake to spread evenly.
- Transfer the cake batter to the pan and spread evenly.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to see if it comes out clean.
- Allow to cool down to room temperature.
For The Syrup:
- -please see the syrup tips below this recipe
- Add all of the ingredients for the syrup to a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Then drop the heat to medium-high.
- Cook for 6-7 minutes or until syrup thickens slightly. Don't stir the syrup while it cooks.
- Ladle the hot syrup over the cool cake. Waiting for a few seconds between each ladle.
- Let the Karydopita cool down to room temperature then sprinkle extra ground walnuts on top if you like or see the text above for coating suggestions.
- Cut into 18 square pieces or fewer bigger ones if you prefer.
- Refrigerate (preferably) for 5-6 hours prior to serving or serve the cake at room temperature.
- Keep in the fridge for up to 10 days or at room temperature for up to 7 days.
- Poke the cake with a skewer or cut it into portions before adding the syrup to help absorb it better.
- Leave the cake for 2-3 hours to set and absorb the syrup.
- If the syrup has thickened a lot and the cake isn't able to absorb it, place the pan in the oven and heat your oven to 120°C / 250°F. Let the cake warm up and slowly absorb the syrup. Another solution to this is to carefully drain the syrup from the corner of the pan and reheat it again by adding a tiny amount of water. Then drizzle slowly over the cake again.