Sunday, December 6, 2015

Walnut Syrup Cake (Orehove rezine)

Just in time for the holidays, I have discovered a wonderful new addition to the Slovenian dessert menu: walnut syrup cake, or orehove rezine ("walnut slices").

I've had my eye on this recipe for some time. I found it in my favorite modern cookbook, The Food and Cooking of Slovenia, by Janez Bogataj. The source is impeccable, but I hesitated to make it, because the recipe struck me as unusual. And I'd never seen it anywhere else, so I wondered if this was really a traditional Slovenian dish.

The cake includes chopped walnuts, white and whole wheat flour--and uncooked polenta. (See Note below.) After baking, it is soaked in syrup. There is honey and cinnamon in the cake, plus honey in the syrup. I couldn't quite imagine how all these ingredients would come together. 

Finally, a few weeks ago, I took the plunge. I shouldn't have worried. This unusual sweet is amazing.

To call this a "walnut slice" doesn't do it justice. This is a rich, moist dessert that straddles the line between decadent and wholesome. It looks like a dense cake or torte but it tastes like a less cloying version of baklava. And it keeps beautifully. 

As it turns out, the recipe can be found in many places on the Internet, usually without attribution. One Slovenian blogger who grew up in Maribor, in the northeastern part of the country, confesses that she had never heard of this dish before, but perhaps that is because it is traditional to the northwest!

The directions below closely follow Janez Bogataj's recipe in the English language version of The Food and Cooking of Slovenia.


Note: In a recipe like this, "polenta" refers to the uncooked product--in other words, a medium grind of yellow cornmeal. For further discussion, see my previous cornbread post, or check out this link.

Walnut Syrup Cake (Orehove rezine)
                                                                  --from Janez Bogataj

1-1/2 cups (175 g) walnuts, toasted
10 tbsp (150 g) butter, softened
2/3 cup (150 g) light brown sugar
4 tbsp (60 ml) set honey
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (50 g) white flour
1/2 cup (50 g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (I used 2 tsp)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup, generous (65 g) polenta (or medium grind yellow cornmeal)
5 tbsp (75 ml) milk

(for syrup)
1/2 cup (90 g) golden caster sugar
4 tbsp (60 ml) set honey
1/2 cup (120 ml) water

Notes on ingredients: Set honey is referred to as spun, creamed, or whipped honey in the US. Regular honey can be used, although it is probably harder to blend. For golden caster sugar, I substituted raw cane sugar, which also has a slight caramel flavor.

First, prepare the walnuts: Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees F (180 C) until toasted. Let cool, then chop roughly and set aside.

For cake: Sift together the white and whole wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl beat butter, sugar, and honey until fluffy. Beat in eggs gradually, then add vanilla. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients and fold in. When partially combined, add the nuts, polenta and milk, and fold in.

Spoon batter into an 8-inch round cake pan (or spring form pan) that has been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F (180 C) for 45-50 minutes, until firm and light brown.

While cake is baking, prepare syrup: Combine sugar, honey, and water in a pan. Heat gently until sugar dissolves then simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

When cake is done, let cool slightly. (If desired, remove from pan and place carefully in a pretty serving dish with sides.) Pour warm syrup slowly over the top, so that it is absorbed evenly. Let cool. To serve, cut into thin slices.

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