Daring Bakers April Challenge\ Nazook and Nutmeg Cake

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.

To get a better feel for this challenge I did some studying on Armenia. The country is a landlocked by Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the east, Georgia to the north, and Iran to the south. Although it once was a republic of the Soviet Union, Armenian culture and language are not slavic in origin. In fact their food culture leans more toward Persian and even Eastern Mediterranean in it’s style. Eggplant, lamb, yoghurt, bread,mayonnaise, fruits ,and nuts, all make frequent appearances in the cuisine.

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I did use an ingredient native to that area. I included a spice named Mahlab. Of course, I purchased it from Penzeys Spice. It is ground from the pit of a cherry that grows of a specific tree in the middle east. Mahlab is said to have hints of cherry, vanilla, and almond. Like any nut, mahlab can go rancid fairly quickly, especially ground. It is known for it’s use in Greek Easter Bread and desserts native to Turkey. As you can see I bought it whole and ground it myself!

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I was so excited for this challenge because Jason featured his Aunt’s recipe for nazook. Many of you know my love for family recipes all too well. I was more then happy to bake her recipe completely as written with all of it’s richness in heritage. I did add Mahlab to filling . The second half of the challenge was Armenian nutmeg cake. Here, I choose to exercise my creative liberties and sub out some of the nutmeg. I very much enjoyed myself with these!

NAZOOK

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Preparation time: Nazook: Dough and filling preparation: 30 minutes. Dough chilling: 3-5 hours (or longer). Pastry prep: 30 minutes. Baking: 30 minutes.

1 large bowl
1 medium bowl
2 cookie sheets (if doing full recipe; 1 if doing half)
pastry brush
rolling pin, or empty win bottle
crinkle cutter
measuring spoons/cups

Yields 40 pieces

Ingredients
Pastry dough
3 cups (720 ml) (420 gm/15 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
2½ teaspoons (12½ ml) (7 gm) (¼ 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)

Filling
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (210 gm) (7½ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (340 gm/12 oz) sugar
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) softened butter (room temperature)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
1 teaspoons mahlab *optional

Wash
1-2 egg yolks (for the wash; alternatively, some yogurt, egg whites, or a whole egg)
Directions:

Make the Pastry Dough
1. Place the sifted flour into a large bowl.
2. Add the dry yeast, and mix it in.
3. Add the sour cream, and the softened butter.
4. Use your hands, or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, to work it into a dough.
5. 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.
6. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight if you like.

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Make the filling
7. Mix the flour, sugar, and the softened butter in a medium bowl.
8. Add the vanilla extract and mahlab.
9. Mix the filling until it looks like clumpy, damp sand. It should not take long. Set aside.
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Make the nazook
10. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.
11. Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters.
12. Form one of the quarters into a ball. Dust your working surface with a little flour.
13. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval. The dough should be thin, but not
transparent.

14. 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 pastry dough uncovered (1 inch/2.5 cm) along the long edges.
15. 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.

16. Pat down the loaf with your palm and fingers so that it flattens out a bit (just a bit).
17. Apply your egg yolk wash with a pastry brush.

18. Use your crinkle cutter (or knife) to cut the loaf into 10 equally-sized pieces. Put onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

19. Place in a preheated moderate oven for about 30 minutes, until the tops are a rich, golden brown.

20. Allow to cool and enjoy!

I am a cake girl, so I am always leery of rolling dough. This dough exceeded all expectations. When chilled I could roll it until almost transparent and it wouldn’t break. Likewise it gave while “rerolling” it around the filling. It baked to flakey, buttery, perfection. The filling provides a soft punch of sweet at the end, but I would by no means call this a “sweet dessert”. I also got mixed reviews from my coworkers official taste testers. I think the light sweetness wasn’t something they were expecting. Those who liked them, loved them, and raved. I liked them for breakfast or a snack with my coffee ( or tea if you so desire).

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ARMENIAN NUTMEG CAKE

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1 large bowl
1 large cup
measuring spoons/cups
springform pan (9”/23cm)
standing mixer with whisk and paddle attachments (optional)
food processor (optional)

Makes one 9”/23cm cake which yields 12 servings

Ingredients

1 cup (240 ml) milk (I use whole, but nonfat or lowfat should be fine; non-dairy might work just fine, as well)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking soda
2 cups (480 ml) (280 gm/10 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour (I suspect pastry flour or another low-gluten flour might even work better to achieve a light, fluffy crumb)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (⅓ oz) baking powder
2 cups (480 ml) (400 gm/14 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) butter, preferably unsalted, cubed
1/2 cup almond pieces, may need a little more (I toasted them)
1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg (try to grate it fresh yourself; the aroma is enchanting)
1 teaspoon ground mahlab
1 1\4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg

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Directions – the Traditional Way (The Fast, Easy Way further down)
1. Preheat your oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.
2. Mix the baking soda (not baking powder; that’s for the next step) into the milk. Set it aside.
3. Sift together the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. One sift is fine
4. Add the brown sugar. Go ahead and mix the flour and brown sugar together. Or not.
5. Toss in the cubed butter.

6. Mash the butter with a fork into the dry ingredients (you can also use your fingers if you want). You’ll want to achieve a more-or-less uniform, tan-colored crumbly mixture.

7. Take HALF of this resulting crumbly mixture into your springform (9”/23cm) pan. Press a crust out of it using your fingers and knuckles. It will be easy.

8. Crack an egg into a mixer or bowl.
9. Toss the nutmeg, cinnamon and mahlab in with the egg.
10. Start mixing slowly with a whisk attachment and then increase to medium speed, or mix with a hand whisk if you’re doing it manually. Once it’s mixed well and frothy (about 1 minute using a standing mixer, or about 2-3 minutes of vigorous beating with a whisk), pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until uniform.
11. Pour in the rest of the crumbly mixture. Mix that well, with either a paddle attachment, or a spatula. Or continue to use the whisk; it won’t make much of a difference, since the resulting batter is very liquidy.

12. Pour the batter over the base in the springform pan.

13. Gently sprinkle the almond pieces over the batter.

14. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 30-40 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the top is a golden brown, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
15. Allow to cool in the pan, and then release. Enjoy!

An Even Easier Way…if you have a Food Processor

1. Preheat your oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4 .
2. Mix the baking soda (not baking powder) into the milk. Set aside.
3. Put the flour, baking powder, and the brown sugar into your food processor. Pulse until uniformly mixed.
4. Toss in the cubed butter. Pulse until uniformly mixed into tan-colored crumbs.
5. Pour HALF of the crumbs into your springform (9”/23cm) pan. Press out a crust using your fingers and knuckles.
6. Crack the egg into the food processor with the rest of the crumbs still in it.
7. Grate 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.Combine with mahlab and cinnamon. Toss those into the food processor, too. Pulse until well-incorporated.
8. Pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until a slightly lumpy tan batter is formed.
9. Pour the batter over the crust in the springform pan.
10. Gently sprinkle the walnut pieces over the batter.
11. 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).
12. Cool the cake in the pan, and then dig in. Yum yum!

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I have a very ethnically diverse group of taste testers. I couldn’t keep up on the rave reviews on this one. They loved it. I, born and raised American, really liked it’s taste but found it over all peculiar. It smelled very much like a gingerbread. Again the sweet hit at the end, not up front, and a last second zing from the cinnamon lingered. The more I analyzed my taste buds, the more I found myself liking it. The only way I can describe it is distinctly not American (but still AMAZING). I love exploring new food cultures and would like to thank Jason for helping me expand my horizons. These two recipes will without a doubt stay in my repertoire. I look forward to diving a little deeper into the Armenian food culture!
Freezing/Storage Instructions/Tips: Nazook will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks, and the Armenian nutmeg cake will keep (covered) at room temperature for 2-3 days. Both taste even better still warm from the oven.

Allow to cool completely before attempting to freeze. Nazook will freeze best if put in a freezer bag with all the air squeezed out. Armenian Nutmeg Cake will also freeze fairly well if completely sealed. Both can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Dream. Bake. Believe!
Love, Steffie

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anula
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 08:53:16

    o wow! Kudos on makin both! 🙂
    Pozdrawiam, Anula.

    Reply

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