It’s so true that food evokes memories. It has the power to transport you to a time and place that had significant meaning in your life, whether good or bad. When I was a young child, my parents had (and still have) very close friends who are first-generation Greeks. When their parents came here from Greece, they lived in Astoria, Queens, which in the New York-metropolitan area, was a hub for many Greek immigrants who came to the United States to raise their families. We spent a lot of time with them and their children, especially during the summer months, and we had the pleasure of indulging in many traditional Greek delicacies. While I don’t see them very often now that I’m an adult, I have fond memories of the time we spent with them, particularly, the food. Fortunately, there are a couple of excellent Greek restaurants in the area, so I can get my fix of homemade stuffed grape leaves when I need it! And each spring, at the beginning of June, many local Greek churches host their annual festivals, which are intended to raise money for the churches. These festivals give the local community an opportunity to get a taste of Greek culture, including music, dance, food and drink.
While things like stuffed grape leaves and roasted Greek potatoes are safe for celiacs to eat, I sure do miss the desserts. However, over the years, I’ve realized that being gluten free doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of enjoying the foods that I love. It just means that I have to constantly experiment with new ingredients and tweak recipes until I find the sweet spot. I wasn’t able to partake in the festivities of our local Greek festival this year, so I decided to try my hand at a gluten free version of one of my favorites, honey cakes topped with walnuts, known as melomakarona. Sweet and gooey, these dense little cakes drenched in a homemade honey syrup are a guilty pleasure. I based my recipe on the one from Tessa Kiros’ book, below, titled “Food From Many Greek Kitchens.”
Gluten Free Greek Honey Cakes
- 6 Tbsp. sugar
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used a Greek olive oil called Athenos)
- 3 Tbsp. Brandy (most domestic, unflavored brandies are safe for celiacs)
- Juice of 1/2 an orange
- 1 tsp. orange zest
- 1 tsp. baking powder (I used my favorite from Italy, Paneangeli, which you can order from Amazon)
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves (I ground my own with a mortar and pestle, but you can also use the store bought)
- 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 cups King Arthur Measure for Measure gluten free flour)
- 1/2 cup honey (I used clover)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 strip of orange zest
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts (to sprinkle on top of the cakes)
- Cupcake liners, optional
- Step 1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
- Step 2 In a large bowl, stir the 6 Tbsp. of sugar with the olive oil. Add the brandy, orange juice and zest. Stir well.
- Step 3 In a separate bowl, combine the all of the dry ingredients, including the spices.
- Step 4 Add the dry ingredients gradually to the olive oil mixture and stir until well combined. You will end up with a sticky dough. Use your hands to knead the dough to ensure it’s smooth.
- Step 5 Using a tablespoon measure, take portions of the dough and roll into a ball, then shape into an oval, almost like a football. You should end up with about 20 balls. Set on the parchment lined baking sheet and bake until firm and the bases are golden, about 30 minutes.
- Step 6 In the meantime, make the syrup by combining the honey, sugar, orange strip and cinnamon stick with 3/4 cup water in a small pot. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then simmer for 5-6 minutes until the syrup thickens.
- Step 7 When the cakes are done baking, allow them to cool slightly, then one by one, place them in a single layer on a clean baking sheet or plate with a rim.
- Step 8 Pour the syrup over each cake, allowing the cake to absorb the syrup.
- Step 9 Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Step 10 Using a mini spatula, place each cake in a cupcake liner. (I find it easier to serve this way because the honey makes the cakes very sticky.)
- Step 11 Spoon the syrup from the bottom of the baking sheet or plate on top of each cake, then sprinkle with the walnuts, and any remaining syrup. Cover and allow to cool completely. You want to work relatively fast when doing this, as the syrup soaks into the cakes better when they are still nice and warm.
- Step 12 Store at room temperature in a plastic container.