It is birthday cake time in our house again, this time it was Mr K choice as to which cake he preferred. Even though I knew what the answer was going to be, I still asked the question and it was, as expected, semolina cake. Since I married Mr K, I have been on the search for the perfect semolina cake, or one that matches up to Mr K’s childhood memories of his lovely Theia Katina’s syrupy semolina cake. However, this time Mr K’s request for a semolina cake came with a twist, “a pistachio semolina cake would be nice”, he said.
A few days ago, Mr K had been looking at some of our photos from a trip we made to the Greek Island of Ageina. Perhaps this had inspired the request for a pistachio cake, as Aegina is famous for growing some of the worlds best pistachios. While on our trip there, I think we nearly ate our own body weight in pistachios, of various forms. My favourite form were the fresh pistachios, cooked and soaked in the local wild thyme honey – best served over thick Greek yoghurt, or a semolina cake!
Aegina is about a 40-minute ferry ride from Piraeus, the port city six miles southwest of central Athens. Aegina’s small harbour is lined with many pistachio stalls, as well as tavernas and a fish market. It is a common weekend mini break destination for Athenians. When he was living in Athens, Mr K would often make the weekend pilgrimage to Aegina to escape to the seaside village feeling, which the island offers. Nothing much had changed since Mr K’s time living in Athens and on the days we visited Aegina, the seafront tavernas were filled with Athenians, escaping the afternoon heat with frothy, ice cold frappes or Greek beers.
Aegina has been producing pistachios since the mid 1800s. The island is dotted with small family run pistacho orchards, filled with the ‘koliarati’ variety of pistachio, notable for is pale green and rosy tinged flower buds, bursting against the deep green foliage of the trees. Pistachios were not the only delight Aegina offered. The winding alleys of Aegina were also filled with grape vines, heavy with fruit and giant fig trees abundant with fruit.
If you visit Aegina, about 12 kilometres east of Aegina Town, not to be missed is the intricate and immaculately preserved fifth-century BC Temple of Aphaia (identified with Athena). Marathona or Aeginitsa on the west coast also provide gorgeous spots for swimming and Kleidi and Keri near the southern village of Perdika, are a lovely spot for seaside lunching.
Pistachio & almond semolina cake, with cinnamon syrup
1 cup organic caster (superfine) sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
Juice of 2 lemons
3/4 cup of pistachios, finely ground
1 cup organic caster (superfine) sugar
1/2 cup self raising flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 and 1/2 cups of fine semolina
1/2 ground almond meal
1 and 1/4 cups of whole milk
125g melted unsalted butter
Organic, unsprayed dried rose petals to decorate
For the syrup:
Combine sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan and stir to combine. Add the cinnamon stick and slowly simmer until sugar dissolves (about 5 mins) Remove from heat, allow to cool and stir in the lemon juice. Chill in fridge.
For the cake:
Step 1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and lightly grease and flour a rectangular cake tin. ( I use a Falcon enamelware baking tray 24 x 13 cm).
Step 2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then stir in the ground pistachioes, almond meal, semolina and pistachio mixture.
Step 3. Combine the milk and melted butter in a bowl and gradually add to the flour mixture, stirring until smooth. Pour into the prepared dish, smoothing the surface. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until cooked through. ( to test, use a clean skewer and insert into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean – it’s cooked)
Step 4. Remove from the oven and pour over the cooled syrup. Stand until the syrup has been absorbed, then cut and sprinkle over the rose petals.