Armenian Nutmeg Cake Armenian Nutmeg Cake

Not a sterling silver marvel, but a modern grater which stores at least 10 nutmegs.

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  • 125 g flour
  • 110 g wholemeal flour
  • 400 g brown sugar, firmly packed *
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 115 g butter
  • 250 ml milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp nutmeg, grated
  • 50 g walnuts, chopped
  • * You could reduce the sugar to 300 g, but the base will not be as crisp.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed*
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 oz butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp nutmeg, grated
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • * You could reduce the sugar to 1½ cups, but the base will not be as crisp.

Armenian Nutmeg Cake

This delightful plain cake is very fast to mix, involves no creaming of butter and sugar, and with surprisingly little effort you end up with a crunchy base and a tender and nutty top layer. You can make it in a ring tin, as I did this time, or use a round or square tin. The nutmeg flavour is unusual and very enjoyable. The reason for the name of the cake escapes me - it seems to bear no relation to any Armenian cooking I know - unless the connection is the walnuts on the top. Nutmegs are the fruit of the Myristica fragrens, a tropical evergreen originally from a tiny group of islands in Indonesia called the Moluccas or 'Spice Islands'. (Mace is the red, net-like layer around the nutmeg.) The Dutch began trading in nutmegs in the early 17th century, although as Elizabeth David observed, 'This is no way prevented the English from becoming quite serious nutmeg addicts. . . For nutmegs, English silversmiths devised marvels of pocket graters, little boxes hinged and folded, with sharp grating surfaces and a compartment for the nut. No fastidious traveller need ever have been without a nutmeg to grate upon his food, his punch, his mulled wine, his hot ale or comforting posset.'* You may not possess such a marvel but it is definitely worth grating the nutmeg for this cake yourself - it takes only a minute to achieve a flavour immeasurably better than the ground spice. And as Jocelyn Strewe commented when she sent it to me, 'Why blame the Armenians for a very simple cake recipe?' * 'Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen', Penguin, 1970

Getting ready

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F / 180º C and line and 8 in / 20cm round or square tin with baking paper. Bring the egg and the milk to room temperature and dissolve the baking soda in the milk.

Mixing and Baking

  1. Put the flours, brown sugar and baking powder in a large bowl or food processor and combine them well. Rub in the butter until the mixture forms fine crumbs.
  2. Pour half of the crumbs into the prepared tin and press it down evenly to compact it. (You could weigh the mixture before you halve it if you want to be really accurate.)
  3. Now beat the egg lightly and mix in the milk, baking soda and the grated nutmeg.
  4. Add this to the remaining crumbs and mix well with a wooden spoon, then pour the mixture into the tin.
  5. Sprinkle over the chopped walnuts and bake the cake for about an hour.
  6. Cool on a wire rack before carefully removing it from the tin. Stored airtight this cake keeps for at least a week.