This recipe arose from a mistake. I was making a Middle Eastern sweet, candied pumpkin in syrup, one of my mom's absolute favorite desserts. She always buys it in jars and I thought it would be nice to make it for her myself, but despite the fact that I've seen the concoction made before, my attempt didn't come out perfectly. Hmph. The proper version of candied pumpkin is so coveted because the pumpkin edges stay very firm, almost crunchy, but the interior of the pumpkin cube is soft and syrupy, I realize it may be hard to imagine but it's really, really good. Apparently, it takes a deft hand to get just the right consistency, because my version was a bit too soft. It was still very tasty, but it didn't have the nice crunch that I wanted, the oomph that lets it stand on its own. Instead, the syrupy pumpkin was a great accompaniment to pancakes and poured over ice cream and I had the idea it would be good scattered over a simple cake batter, much like you'd make a cake with other fruits.
So I got out my standard cake recipe, and I fiddled and tweaked and practiced, and the result was this Egyptian-inspired version. I used kamut flour, a grain similar to wheat, in place of some of the regular flour. Kamut is traditional in Egypt, it is very nutritious, very easy to grow, and a much-higher yield crop than wheat (I don't know why it isn't more widely grown in America, but I suspect U.S. agriculture subsidies have a lot to do with it); the flour has a light yellow color and a slightly sweet buttery note. If you don't have kamut flour, and really, why on earth would you, whole wheat flour will work just as well. Hazelnuts also went into the mix, hazelnuts aren't widely used in the Middle East, but they are popular in Egypt where they go into the local spice mix dukkah. If you don't like the crunch of nuts interrupting your cake experience (a sentiment I totally understand), you can omit them, the cake will still be delicious. Which it is, did I mention this cake is delicious? It is. It's maybe-I-should-mess-up-candied-squash-just-so-I-can-make-this-again good. The cake has these nice toothsome chunks of sweet squash, which are soft but not at all mushy, the soft texture of cake with the scent of cinnamon and the occasional hint of nut. This cake is staying my repertoire, which means it's a good thing I've got all that pumpkin around.
Kamut, Candied Pumpkin, and Hazelnut Cake
Kamut is an historic grain grown since the time of the Pharaohs in Egypt, where it is still used. You can find kamut flour at health food stores and Whole Foods. The extra syrup from the candied squash can be drizzled over the cake and is great with pancakes.
for candied squash:
1 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash or pumpkin, in about 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon orange blossom water or lemon juice
for the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup kamut flour or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 scant teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup pumpkin poaching syrup (from above)
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tbl) vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup finely chopped hazelnuts, optional
candied pumpkin (from above)
1. For the candied squash: Place the sugar, water, and orange blossom water in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring so that the sugar dissolves. When it is clear and boiling nicely, add the cubed squash. Let boil for precisely 8 minutes, or until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife but still firm in appearance. Remove the squash with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside to cool. Let the syrup continue to boil over medium heat for about 8-10 more minutes, until it is slightly reduced and drops thickly from a spoon. Set aside syrup to cool separately.
2. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 inch cake pan or springform pan. In a large bowl, combine the flour, kamut flour, leavenings, spices, and sugar. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the cooled syrup, eggs, vegetable oil, and milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and combine them with several swift strokes. Fold in the chopped hazelnuts and 1/3 of the candied squash. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the remaining candied squash over the top of the batter. Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden. Cool on a rack. Serve with extra syrup on the side, if desired.
Other recipes with Kamut:
Kamut Pouncake from Alice Medrich
Kamut and Cheese Muffins in the LATimes