True to the black-and-white thinking that pervades much of the nutrition space — where foods are divided into “good” and “bad” — people often think of luscious desserts as “bad” and something to avoid if you want to be healthy. By the same token, many think that nutritious (“good”) foods couldn’t possibly make delicious treats.
I hope this recipe will convince even the most died-in-the-wool dichotomous thinker that an aromatic, sweet, succulent cake treat can be both delicious and nutritious. (Thus highlighting that good-and-bad thinking has no place in nutrition.)
Karidopita (also spelled karithopita or karydopita) is a Greek walnut cake traditionally served at Christmastime. Like so many dishes from the Mediterranean, it contains healthy fats from nuts, as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds from orange zest and spices. The traditional Greek recipe usually contains a high proportion of white flour and just before serving the cake is usually drenched in a sugary syrup.
Because many of my clients have insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar, I have re-engineered the traditional recipe so it retains the delicate aromas of orange, cinnamon and cloves, its succulent moistness (from reduced orange juice rather than sugar syrup) and all its nutritious ingredients – walnuts, eggs and almonds – without all the ingredients that can spike your blood sugar.
To top if all off, I use olive oil here, rather than butter. Not that I’m opposed to butter — there’s a place in my kitchen and my heart for this yummy traditional fat. But where possible, why not replace it with extra virgin olive oil, with its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cancer-protective, lipid-regulating, bone-protective properties?
This cake is a cinch to make — great news at this busy time of year! — and keeps well for several days in the fridge. Because it’s moist and doesn’t contain gluten, this cake is quite fragile, so either refrigerate it in the baking tin (covered with aluminum foil), or if you plan to store it in a box, separate the layers with a sheet of baking parchment.
Greek walnut & olive oil cake (karidopita)
- 1¼ cup walnut halves raw
- 4 eggs yolks and whites separated into two large mixing bowls
- ½ cup sugar or a non-glycemic sweetener like Besti
- ½ cup olive oil extra virgin
- ¾ cup ground almonds
- finely grated zest of 1/2 orange untreated, organic
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- a generous pinch ground cloves
- a generous pinch salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- smidgen butter to grease the baking tin
- ½ cup freshly pressed orange juice
- 1 tbsp honey
- Preheat oven to 325ᵒF/150ᵒC. Lightly butter an 8 x 8-inch (brownie) tin and line it with parchment paper.
- Tip 1 cup of the walnuts onto a baking sheet and roast for 6 minutes (set timer). Remove from the oven and tip onto a plate to cool. Reserve the remaining ¼ cup walnuts.
- Once fully cooled, tip the toasted walnuts into a food processor and pulse into a coarse powder (like breadcrumbs). (Don't over-process or you'll get nut butter.) Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar/sweetener with an electric whisk until pale yellow and foamy (about 2 minutes). Mix in olive oil, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, salt, ground almonds and the ground walnuts.
- Wash and dry the beaters. Whisk the egg whites until firm. Spoon ⅓ of the beaten egg white into the egg-walnut mixture and stir lightly to loosen up the batter. Then fold in the remaining whites in two batches, using a spatula or a large serving spoon and taking care not to crush the air out of the whites.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30-40 minutes. To test for doneness, a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake will come out dry. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the tin. The center of the cake will sink as the hot air escapes.
- While the cake is cooling, place the orange juice in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cook at a steady simmer, uncovered, to reduce by half; this takes about 8-10 minutes. Once it has thickened, add 1 tbsp honey, stir to dissolve, remove from heat and set aside.
- Pierce the cake's surface roughly 15-20 times with a wooden skewer or toothpick. Spoon the orange-honey syrup over the holes to allow it to soak through the cake. Let sit for at least ½ hour so the syrup can evenly soak through the cake.
- Once it has completely cooled, cut the cake into 16 squares (or whatever shapes you like -- squares, rectangles or the traditional Greek-style lozenges). Serve, accompanied, if desired, by a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream or lightly sweetened Greek yogurt.