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, succulent cake treat can be both delicious and nutritious. (Thus highlighting that good-and-bad thinking has no place in nutrition). Dishes like this one can get you through the holiday season (and the rest of the year) without damaging your health.
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, however, also contains a lot of refined wheat flour and butter, and just before serving the cake is usually drenched in a sugary syrup–not something I can in good conscience recommend (especially to anyone with metabolic imbalances like elevated blood glucose).
Therefore I have re-engineered this cake so that it retains the delicate aromas of orange, cinnamon and cloves, its succulent moistness (from orange juice rather than sugar syrup) and all its nutritious ingredients – walnuts, eggs and almonds – without all the the empty carbs from sugar and refined flour. And to top it all off, I have replaced butter with olive oil. (Not that I’m opposed to butter — there’s a place in my kitchen for this yummy, traditional fat. But whenever it’s possible, why not replace it with extra virgin olive oil with its anti-inflamamtory, antioxidant, cancer-protective, lipid-regulating, bone-protective proerties?)
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 aluminim 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)
- 7 oz walnuts raw
- 6 eggs separated into two large mixing bowls (see note below)
- ¾ cup sugar or a keto sweetener like allulose, monk fruit sweetener or erythritol; suigar works, too (see note)
- ½ cup olive oil extra virgin
- ¾ cup ground almonds
- finely grated zest of 1/2 orange untreated, organic
- 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon depends how much you like cinnamon
- a pinch ground cloves
- a pinch salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- smidgen butter to grease the baking tin
- 1 tbsp honey preferably local; the most fragrant you can find
- Preheat oven to 325ᵒF/150ᵒC. Butter a 9-by-13 inch rectangular cake tin and line it with parchment paper.
- Tip the walnuts onto a baking sheet and roast for 6 minutes (set timer). Remove from the oven and tip onto a plate to cool.
- Once cooled, tip into a food processor and pulse into a coarse powder (like coarse breadcrumbs) in an electric food processor. (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 5 minutes). Add olive oil, almonds, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves and the ground walnuts. Don't over-mix or the mixture will get dense and sticky, making it harder to cold in the egg whites.
- Whisk the egg whites until firm. Spoon ⅓ of the beaten egg white into the walnut mixture and whisk to loosen up the batter. Then fold in the remaining whites, using a spatula or a large serving spoon, 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 baking, place the orange juice in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cook at a steady simmer, uncovered, to reduce it by half; this takes about 10 minutes. Once it has thickened, add 1 tbsp honey, stir to dissolve, remove from heat and set aside.
- Once the cake has cooled for 10 minutes, pierce its surface with a wooden skewer or toothpick roughly 15-20 times. Spoon the orange syrup over the holes to allow it to soak through the cake. Let sit for at least 1/2 hour so the syrup can evenly soak the cake.
- Once it has completely cooled, cut the cake into 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.
- If you have (pre)diabetes or some other manifestation of insulin resistance, non-glycemic (keto) sweeteners can help you keep your sugar intake down. These include allulose, monk fruit sweetener or erythritol. If you don't like the taste of these (some have a slightly bitter aftertaste), you could use a combination of sugar and keto sweetener. I sometimes use a 35:65 mix of sugar to keto sweetener.
- Low-carb/keto variation: If you use a keto sweetener, one slice of cake provides 3 g net carbohydrate and 140 calories.