A syrup cake made with phyllo and infused with orange flavour
As far as desserts go, this is a weird one. Phyllo, which is a staple in Greek cooking both in savoury and sweet recipes, is usually used to hold things together. Think the spinach in spanakopita or the creamy custard in bougatsa, delicious fillings wrapped in phyllo. Phyllo used this way is lovely, convenient, and typical. Although intimidating at first, working with phyllo in these recipes is easy when you get the hang of it. Still, you always have to be careful not to dry it out or tear it. Truth be told, phyllo can be a little finicky.
In a portokalopita however the phyllo finds a new purpose and everything that you have worried about gets tossed out the window. Here, the phyllo is purposefully dried out and intentionally torn. Yes! It’s true! The phyllo is then mixed in with the other ingredients and essentially replaces the flour in the cake batter. How curious! Looking at a portokalopita you would never even know that phyllo had been used in this syrup-soaked cake.
Portokalopita belongs to a class of desserts known as siropiasta, which essentially refers to any dessert which is soaked in syrup. In this regard, portokalopita is similar to karydopita (walnut cake), baklava, and pantespani, another lovely orange-flavoured cake. It is a dense, sweet cake which goes beautifully with a bit of vanilla ice cream or thick Greek yogourt. It also tastes great all on its own!
The easiest and quickest way to dry out your phyllo is to bake it at a low temperature; this is much more efficient and you will get better results than leaving it open to air. Each sheet of phyllo should be scrunched up and placed on a baking sheet before being placed in the oven. You can read the complete directions in the recipe itself.
We like to use freshly squeezed orange juice in this recipe, but if prefer you can always use a good quality orange juice that you purchase.
Portokalopita is a dessert that keeps quite well; in fact, one of us enjoys it much better 2 – 3 days after it is baked. At the same time, the other one of us prefers this dessert the same day it is made, after it has cooled and soaked in the syrup for a few hours. We think you should have at least one piece every single day, to see how you enjoy it best. We call that research. 🙂
- 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) water
- 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
- 1/3 cup (80 mL) orange juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water optional
- 450 grams Phyllo sheets
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
- zest from two oranges
- 1 cup (250 mL) Greek yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (250 mL) vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) orange juice
- vegetable oil for greasing baking pan
- Start by preparing the syrup. Combine the water, sugar, orange juice, the cinnamon stick and the orange blossom water, if you are using it. Bring the ingredients to a boil; once it starts boiling, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
- While the syrup is being prepared, you must dry out the phyllo. We have found that the best, and easiest way to do this is to bake it. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Open up your phyllo sheets, and one by one, scrunch them up, starting from the short side. After scrunching a sheet, place it on a baking pan and continue until you have used the entire pack of phyllo. You will need 2 baking sheets to accommodate all of your phyllo. Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes have passed, flip each phyllo sheet over and bake for an additional 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let sit for at least another 20 minutes, to further dry out the phyllo. With your hands, start tearing the phyllo into small pieces, and set them aside.
- Note: We usually buy fresh phyllo sheets; however, if frozen is all you can find, go for it. Simply defrost your phyllo in the fridge overnight. Be sure to defrost the phyllo in the refrigerator as doing so on the counter will result in soggy phyllo sheets.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In the large mixing bowl of a stand mixer combine the eggs and the sugar and beat for 3 - 4 minutes, until it is a pale yellow colour. Alternatively you can use a hand mixer.
- Add the orange zest, Greek yoghurt, vanilla extract, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and mix until just combined.
- Next add the oil and the orange juice to the bowl, and mix to combine well with the rest of the ingredients.
- Using a rubber spatula begin to incorporate your dried out and torn phyllo into the cake batter, a little bit at a time. If you put all the pieces in at once, they will clump together.
- After you have incorporated all of your phyllo into the batter, pour the mixture into a greased baking pan (we use a glass 9 X 13 baking pan). Bake for 50-60 minutes in the middle rack of your oven until your portokalopita is a nice golden colour.
- Once your portokalopita is baked remove it from the oven and immediately pierce it in several places with a long clean skewer.
- Pour your cooled syrup onto the hot cake, one ladle at at time. Allow each ladle to be absorbed into the cake before adding the next one. Repeat until all of the syrup has been used.
- Let your cake cool for 2-3 hours before cutting, to allow the syrup to be fully absorbed.