Blog Checking Lines: 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.
For this month’s challenge, Jason from Daily Candor, who is of Armenian descent, challenged us to try at least one of two Armenian treats, Nazook (or nazouk, or nazuk) and Nutmeg cake. I chose to make both and I started with the Nutmeg cake, which was adapted from The Commonsense Cookery Book by the NSW Cookery Teachers’ Scholarship Fund. The Nutmeg cake is a coffee cake that is flavored with freshly ground nutmeg and it couldn’t be easier to make. The dry ingredients and some butter are pulsed in a food processor to create crumbs. Half of these crumbs are pressed into a springform pan. The other half are mixed in the food processor with the wet ingredients, fresh nutmeg, and leavening. The batter is poured over the crust and sprinkled with nuts and then baked until done. The amount of fresh nutmeg called for in this recipe is a little scary sounding, but the full amount turned out to be the perfect flavoring for this cake which is rich and sweet. It definitely needs some coffee to cut the sugar a bit and I might reduce the amount next time I make it.
Armenian Nutmeg Cake
- 1 cup (240 ml) milk (Jason uses whole, but nonfat or lowfat should be fine)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups (480 ml) (280 gm/10 oz) all-purpose(plain) flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 cups (480 ml) (400 gm/14 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed
- 3/4 cup (11⁄2 sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) butter, preferably unsalted, cubed
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) (55 gm/2 oz) walnut pieces, may need a little more
- 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons (5 to 7 1⁄2 ml) (5 to 8 gm) freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 egg
- Preheat your oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4 .
- Mix the baking soda (not baking powder) into the milk. Set aside.
- Put the flour, baking powder, and the brown sugar into your food processor. Pulse until uniformly mixed.
- Toss in the cubed butter. Pulse until uniformly mixed into tan-colored crumbs.
- Pour HALF of the crumbs into your 9″ spring-form pan. Press out a crust using fingers and knuckles.
- Crack the egg into the food processor with the rest of the crumbs still in it.
- Grate 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Toss that into the food processor, too. 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 spring-form pan.
- Gently sprinkle the walnut pieces over the batter.
- Bake in a preheated moderate oven for 30-40 minutes. It’s ready when the top is golden brown, and when it passes the toothpick test (comes out clean).
- Cool the cake in the pan, and then dig in. Yum yum!
Notes: I had to bake this much longer than specified, about 15 minutes more, until the center of my cake was no longer jiggly. I also had a little bit of a problem with sticking, so I might grease the pan next time. Also, I thought this recipe could benefit from just a pinch of salt. If you don’t care for nutmeg, cinnamon or cardamon may also be used as flavoring.
After scarfing down the coffee cake, we gave ourselves a few days to recover and then I tried making the Nazook which is a recipe from Jason’s Aunt Aida. Nazook is a pastry made from a lovely sour cream dough that is rolled out and spread with a flavored sugar and butter filling and then rolled up and sliced with a crinkle cutter. The result is a flaky and sweet pastry that reminds me of Rugelach but with a more dry filling. The traditional filling is a mixture of vanilla, sugar and butter and some versions may include ground nuts or a powder made from cherry pits. I made one traditional batch of Nazook with the vanilla sugar filling and then I strayed a bit with a filling flavored with concentrated cherry juice and ground almonds and one with cocoa nibs. These were very sweet and rich and I found that I preferred the cherry/almond and cocoa fillings as they cut the sweetness a bit. I sent a few of these to work with my husband to try out on his Armenian colleague and got good reviews. In fact, he said that he liked them better than any Nazook he’d had before!
- 3 cups (720 ml) (420 gm/15 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
- 21⁄2 teaspoons (121⁄2 ml) (7 gm) (1⁄4 oz) (1 packet) active dry yeast
- 1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) sour cream
- 1 cup (2 sticks) (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) softened butter (room temperature)
- 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (210 gm) (71⁄2 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
- 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (340 gm/12 oz) sugar
- 3/4 cup (11⁄2 sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) softened unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
- 1-2 egg yolks (for the wash; alternatively, some yogurt, egg whites, or a whole egg)
Make the Pastry Dough
- Place the sifted flour into a large bowl.
- Add the dry yeast, and mix it in.
- Add the sour cream, and the softened butter.
- Use your hands, or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, to work it into a dough.
- If using a standing mixer, switch to a dough hook. If making manually, continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl or your hands. If it remains very sticky, add some flour, a little at a time.
- Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight if you like.
Make the filling
- Mix the flour, sugar, and the softened butter in a medium bowl.
- Add the vanilla extract.
- Mix the filling until it looks like clumpy, damp sand. It should not take long. Set aside.
Make the nazook
- Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.
- Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters.
- Form one of the quarters into a ball. Dust your working surface with a little flour.
- Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval. The dough should be thin, but not transparent.
- Spread 1/4 of the filling mixture across the rolled-out dough in an even layer. Try to spread the filling as close as possible to the edges on the short sides, but keep some of the pastry dough uncovered (1 inch/2.5 cm) along the long edges.
- From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed. Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin loaf.
- Pat down the loaf with your palm and fingers so that it flattens out a bit (just a bit).
- Apply your egg yolk wash with a pastry brush.
- Use your crinkle cutter (or knife) to cut the loaf into 10 equally-sized pieces. Put onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Place in a preheated moderate oven for about 30 minutes, until the tops are a rich, golden brown.
- Allow to cool and enjoy!