Spiced Yogurt Cake

Recipe Corner: Dining In Diaspora’s Armenian Yogurt Spice Cake

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In her respected culinary blog and multimedia project, Dining In Diaspora, Detroit-based journalist and writer Liana Aghajanian explores the intersection of forced migration, identity and cuisine, tracing the Armenian experience in America through food and cooking. “I spend a lot of time looking through newspaper archives, both in person and online. It’s tedious and reading minuscule prints sometimes dating back over 100 years make my eyes go blurry, but newspapers are my first love. There’s nothing more exciting than coming across an Armenian-related food reference in an old paper. Sometimes they’re in the context of restaurants or food events, but sometimes they’re more jarring — articles by newspaper reporters or food columnists discussing the ‘oriental’ and ‘foreign’ fare of the Armenian people, discussing shish kebab, cracked wheat and eggplant dishes as if it is the most unusual kind of food they’re heard of,” says Liana.*

“In a Los Angeles Times clipping, a restaurant called ‘Dardanelles’ presented a ‘Cook’s Tour of Armenia’ in 1936, where ‘Chef Puzant’ cooked dolma and pilaf in the auditorium of the new Times building which had opened a year prior. And as I’ve previously written, George Mardikian’s Omar Khayyam restaurant in San Francisco revolutionized the concept of Middle Eastern food in America in pioneering ways,” adds Liana. “By the 1950s and 1960s, many Americans were curious about replicating the ‘exotic’ dishes brought to America by many Armenians in their own homes. Recipes began appearing in local and national newspapers. Some were directly from the home cooks themselves, and others were written by food editors, like this Armenian Yogurt Spice Cake recipe.”

Liana Aghajanian

“There’s no mention of the origins of this recipe in the 1983 Palm Beach Post piece by food editor, Rosa Tusa,” Liana says. “Given that this recipe uses toasted coconut on top, it’s more of a merger of American and Armenian tastes coming together. The fragrant spices (nutmeg and cinnamon) and the yogurt (unmistakably an Armenian introduction into America) make this recipe particularly more East than West. Despite so much archival evidence, the role of Armenian immigrants and refugees in the food lore of America remains hidden and obscured in the modern era. This recipe is a small (and delicious) sampling of what that history looks like.”

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup butter

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1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1 cup plain yogurt

Topping:

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon melted butter

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan (Liana uses a flat pan, but you can use anything cake batter can be poured into). Combine all dry ingredients and set aside. (One alternative to using separate spices is to buy pumpkin pie spice mix, since it also has cloves, which adds a really nice taste.)

In another bowl, cream 1/2 cup softened butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Alternate adding dry mixture and yogurt, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until smooth and pour batter into pan. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a pick inserted in the center comes out smooth.

Cool cake completely after turning cake out of the pan. To make the topping, combine brown sugar, melted butter, almonds, coconut, milk and vanilla. Spoon mixture on top of the cake and place under a hot broiler until lightly brown, checking every 5-10 seconds to prevent the cake from burning. For this recipe, go to: https://www.diningindiaspora.com/food/2017/12/20/armenian-yogurt-spice-cake

*Dining In Diaspora is a book and multimedia project documenting the Armenian experience in America through food, founded by journalist and writer Liana Aghajanian. The project traces the intersection of cuisine and agriculture with genocide, immigration, identity and more. Excerpts from the project have been featured in Eater, Taste, Roads & Kingdoms, CNN’s Parts Unknown, and Food52.  Also see Liana’s tribute to Choreg at: https://www.diningindiaspora.com/food/2018/3/30/choreg-for-armenian-american s-identity-is-braided-into-this-bread

References:
http://www.lianaaghajanian.com/
https://www.diningindiaspora.com/stories/2017/8/11/the-life-and-times-of-geo
rge-mardikian

https://www.diningindiaspora.com/food/2018/3/17/armenian-church-katah
https://www.oxy.edu/events/2019/11/dining-diaspora-tracing-legacy-armenian-f
ood-america

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