The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling. Variations abound for nazook, so you can fill them with what you like. The traditional vanilla-scented filling is the most common, but you can also add ground walnuts, almonds, pecans or mahleb, a powder made from the pits of dark cherries with a cherry-almond aroma.

The name of this month’s challenge had me intrigued. In hindi, nazook translates as something delicate and fragile and I think it does justice in describing this flaky pastry. Nazook takes a while to prepare since the dough needs to sit in the refrigerator for several hours to achieve that perfect melt-in-the-mouth buttery texture. For all the time that went into its making, the resulting golden almond-filled nazook was very well received by all those who got to sample the delicious morsels of baked goodness.

NAZOOK

Ingredients:

For the Pastry Dough

3 cups (720 ml) (420 gm/15 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted

2½ teaspoons (12½ ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) (1 packet) active dry yeast

1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) sour cream

1 cup (2 sticks) (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) softened butter (room temperature)

For the Filling

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (210 gm) (7½ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (340 gm/12 oz) sugar

3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) softened butter (room temperature)

2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

1-2 egg yolks for the wash or some yogurt, egg whites, or a whole egg

Method:

  • To make the pastry dough, place the sifted flour into a large bowl. Add the dry yeast and mix it in.
  • Add the sour cream and the butter.  Use your hands, or a mixer with a paddle attachment, to work it into a dough.

  • If using a standing mixer, switch to a dough hook. If making manually, continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl or your hands. If it remains sticky, add some flour, a little at a time.

  • Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight if you like.
  • To make the filling, mix the flour, sugar, and the softened butter in a medium bowl. Add the vanilla extract.

  • Mix the filling until it looks like clumpy, damp sand. It should not take long. Set aside.
  • To assemble the nazook, preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.

  • Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters. Form one of the quarters into a ball.
  • Dust your working surface with a little flour.  Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval.

  • The dough should be thin, but not transparent. Spread 1/4 of the filling mixture across the dough in an even layer.
  • Try to spread the filling as close as possible to the edges on the short sides.

  • Keep some of pastry dough uncovered (1 inch/2.5 cm) along the long edges. From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed.

  • Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin loaf. Pat down the loaf so that it flattens out a bit.
  • Apply egg yolk wash with a pastry brush. Use your crinkle cutter to cut the loaf into 10 equally-sized pieces.

  • Put onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Place in a preheated moderate oven for about 30 minutes.
  • They are done when the tops turn golden brown. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Makes 40 pieces.

The Armenian Nutmeg Cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake, which can be made with cinnamon or cardamom instead, and can also use different nuts on the top (or none at all). Like with nazook, there are substantial possibilities to change the spice and nut choices on top of the basic cake recipe. To me, it was more of an inverted crumb cake with a sharply flavoured cake-like top overlying a delicate biscuit crust.

ARMENIAN NUTMEG CAKE

Ingredients:

1 cup (240 ml) milk

1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking soda

2 cups (480 ml) (280 gm/10 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour

2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (⅓ oz) baking powder

2 cups (480 ml) (400 gm/14 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed

3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) butter, preferably unsalted, cubed

1/2 cup (120 ml) (55 gm/2 oz) walnut pieces

1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons (5 to 7 ½ ml) (5 to 8 gm) ground nutmeg

1 egg,  room temperature

Method:

  • Preheat your oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.  Mix the baking soda into the milk. Set it aside.
  • Sift together the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. One sift is fine. Add the brown sugar.
  • Mix flour and brown sugar together. Toss in the cubed butter and mash down with a fork into the dry ingredients.

  • You’ll want to achieve a more-or-less uniform, tan-colored crumbly mixture.
  • Take half of this resulting crumbly mixture into your springform (9”/23cm) pan.
  • Press a crust out of it using your fingers and knuckles. Crack an egg into a mixer or bowl.

  • Toss the nutmeg in with the egg.  Start slowly with a whisk attachment and then increase to medium speed.
  • Once it’s mixed well and frothy, pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until uniform.
  • Pour in the rest of the crumbly mixture. Mix that well, with either a paddle attachment, or a spatula.

  • Pour the batter over the base in the springform pan. Gently sprinkle the walnut pieces over the batter.
  • Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 30-40 minutes. It is done when the top is a golden brown.
  • Allow to cool in the pan, and then release. Makes one 9”/23cm cake which yields 12 servings.

Freezing and Storage Instructions

  • Nazook will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks, and the Armenian nutmeg cake will keep (covered) at room temperature for 2-3 days. Both taste even better still warm from the oven.
  • Allow to cool completely before attempting to freeze. Nazook will freeze best if put in a freezer bag with all the air squeezed out. Nutmeg Cake will also freeze fairly well if completely sealed. Both can be frozen for up to 3 months.
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