Updated as of 2.22.19… see Cook’s notes and recipe!
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.”
- The first time I made this recipe, I used King Arthur Measure for Measure flour. The second time, I used Cup4Cup Multipurpose Flour. Both worked well. Just be sure that your flour blend of choice contains xanthan gum.
- Once the dough comes together, knead it gently into a ball with your hands. The dough will be oily and might seem a bit crumbly. This is typical as the dough doesn’t contain butter or eggs. Place it in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This resting period gives the gluten free flour an opportunity to absorb the oil.
- When forming the oval-shaped dough balls on the baking sheet, be gentle as the dough will be oily and a bit crumbly. Form the shape and using your pinky finger, make a slight well in the center. This will help the cookie to absorb the honey syrup better.
- The syrup will thicken as it cools.
- To serve, you can certainly eat them with your hands! Or, serve with a spoon so you can get every last bit of the honey syrup which is at the bottom of the cupcake liner. Trust me, you’ll want to!
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 an oily 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 21 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 Discard the orange peel and cinnamon stick.
- Step 9 Pour all of the syrup over the cakes, allowing the cakes to absorb the syrup.
- Step 10 Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Step 11 Using a spoon, place each cake in a cupcake liner. (I find it easier to serve this way because the honey makes the cakes very sticky.)
- Step 12 Spoon the remaining syrup and walnuts from the bottom of the baking sheet or plate on top of each cake. 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 13 Store at room temperature in a plastic container.