Learn how to make phanouropita (or fanouropita), a meaningful lenten cake that is baked to honour the Feast Day of Saint Phanourios, the patron saint of lost things. We celebrate Saint Phanourios on August 27th in the Orthodox church by baking this cake which is made with simple ingredients, including raisins and nuts. It is moist, easy and the only phanouropita recipe you will need.
On August 27 the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast Day of Saint Phanourios (pronounced “fan-OO-ree-os”) (or Saint Fanourios), the Martyr and Miracle Worker. The saint’s name sounds similar to the Greek verb “phanerono,” which means “to reveal” or “to disclose”. In fact, people pray to Saint Phanourios to help them find lost objects, to reveal lost or hidden spiritual matters of the heart, to redirect them or reveal actions which should be taken, and to restore health. When a lost object is discovered, or when prayers reveal what is needed, a symbolic cake called a phanouropita is baked and brought to the church where it is blessed by the priest and then distributed among the parishioners.
Who is Saint Phanourios?
Little is known about Saint Phanourios beyond the fact that he lived during the Roman period and was persecuted because of his Christian beliefs. In fact, everything that we know about him – his life, his martyrdom, and even his name – was revealed by an icon discovered several centuries after he lived. His Feast day became the anniversary of the icon’s discovery, the 27th of August.
The discovery of Saint Phanourios’ icon
Tradition states that when the island of Rhodes fell to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, the new Muslim occupiers wished to rebuild the walls around the city. To do so, the stones from several ruined buildings near the fortress were transported and used to build and reinforce the wall. While this work was being done, a beautiful church that had been destroyed was discovered and it contained many icons. The majority were damaged so severely that they were unidentifiable but the icon of Saint Phanourios was perfectly intact. The icon depicts a young man dressed as a Roman soldier. In his right hand he holds a spear and in his left a cross and a lit candle. Around the perimeter of the icon are 12 events of martyrdom that the Saint suffered. The inscription reads “Saint Fanourios” meaning “Revealer” in Greek.
The Turkish soldiers who found the icon did not see any value in it and left it amid the ruins where it was later found by a group of Orthodox monks. The monks then brought it to their Bishop, Metropolitan Nilus of Rhodes, who read the inscription and, not recognizing the name, declared him to be a newly-discovered Saint. As a result of the unique manner in which this icon, and Saint Phanourios, were discovered, St. Phanourios is considered the patron saint of lost things.
Why bake a phanouropita
Baking a phanouropita (or fanouropita) is a Greek and Cypriot custom and is an acknowledgement of the intercendence of Saint Phanourious. It is not a Holy Tradition, yet it has been welcomed and adopted by the church formerly as a short blessing service offered at Vespers services and / or just before the Liturgy finishes on August 27, the Feast Day of Saint Phanourios.
The tradition of the phanouropita and Saint Phanourios’ mother.
Although there is very little known about the life of Saint Phanourios many believe that his mother was a sinful woman during her life. Therefore, when the phanouropita is offered to the church, many will express the phrase “May God grant rest to the soul of Saint Phanourios’ mother”. The church itself does not endorse this position as information about Saint Phanourios is lacking, and information about his mother is practically non-existant.
What is a phanouropita (or fanouropita)?
A Phanouropita (or fanouropita) is a small lenten (vegan) cake that can be baked any day of the week, except on Sunday. It traditionally consists of 7 or 9 ingredients representing the seven Holy Sacraments of the Church or the nine angelic choirs.
The baking of phanouropita is a centuries old tradition and therefore there will certainly be some variations between recipes, however most recipes are pretty similar. Regardless of the actual recipe, there is one unbreakable rule: Before you begin baking, take a moment to think of something you’d like Saint Phanourios to help you find—keep this in mind as you make the cake!
Traditionally a phanouropita is going to contain either 7 or 9 basic ingredients. My version has 9 ingredients (well, technically 10 if you include the powdered sugar that is optional at the end)
Flour – sifted all purpose flour is the basis of this cake. Sifting the flour keeps your cake light and airy.
Baking powder – since I use regular flour, you do need to add a leavening agent so that the cake rises
Salt – don’t omit the salt when you are baking. It does wonders to enhance the flavour of your baked goods.
Cinnamon – a traditional spice in this cake
Sugar – white granulated sugar is the sweetener in this cake. It offers a mild taste
Olive oil – I love baking with olive oil, and in this cake you can really taste the fruity, rich flavour
Orange juice – keeping this cake lenten, the liquid that is added is orange juice. The OJ helps deepen the colour and flavour of this cake.
Raisins – I love to use golden raisins; they sort of mix in with the batter and are barely visible but you do taste their sweetness!
Walnuts – chopped walnuts are so amazing in my phanouropita. They offer a great texture and flavour.
Powdered sugar (optional) – sometimes I like to dust the top of my phanouropita with powdered sugar.
You can definitely make some substitutions to my phanouropita recipe. Here are a few changes you can make.
If you prefer to use a lighter flavoured oil, or if you are fasting from olive oil, the substitute it with an equal amount of either vegetable or canola oil.
Omit the raisins and walnuts
If you prefer to keep the recipe even simpler, omit the raisins and walnuts. This will maintain your recipe at 7 ingredients, which is important because traditionally a phanouropita has either 7 or 9 ingredients.
I love using golden raisins in my phanouropita but if you prefer to use dark raisins you can do so. The look and taste of your cake will be different, but still delicious.
Instead of walnuts you can opt to use another nut. Chopped pecans, hazelnuts or even slivered almonds would work well here.
How to make
Baking a phanouropita is really quite simple with my fail proof recipe. Simple follow the easy steps, and enjoy!
- Measure out your flour, and then sift it.
- Chop up your walnuts.
- Preheat your oven.
- Prepare your 10 inch baking pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and greasing the sides.
In a medium size bowl combine the sifted flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Whisk until well combined and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the sugar, olive oil and orange juice. Use the paddle attachment of your mixer until well combined.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients with the mixer speed set to very low.
Once combined, add in the walnuts and raisins. Mix until just well combined.
Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan and bake in the middle rack of your oven for 45 – 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
If desired, dust with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
Frequently asked questions
Why did my cake not rise in the middle?
There are some common reasons for your cake sinking in the middle.
- Check your baking powder and make sure it has not expired.
- Ensure that you did not use too much baking powder.
- Your oven may be too hot. Even if you set your oven to the right temperature, if you are often faced with cakes sinking in the middle it is worth investing in an external oven thermometer to check the actual temperature in your oven.
How can I tell if my cake is done?
The best way that I have for checking when my cake is done is to stick a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean (or with a few crumbs attached to it) the cake is ready. If it comes out with batter on it, the cake needs more time in the oven.
If you are looking to learn about more traditional and symbolic recipes, you should check these out!
Christopsomo (Greek Christmas bread) is a bread that we make at Christmas time.
Vasilopita (New Year’s Day cake). This cake has a coin hidden in it. The person who receives the piece with the coin will have good luck the following year.
Tsoureki (Greek Easter bread) An amazingly fragrant braided bread that uses masticha and mahlep. There is nothing like it!
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- 10 inch baking pan
- 2½ cups all purpose flour, sifted
- 2½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup olive oil you can substitute vegetable oil
- 1 1/4 cup orange juice
- ½ cup golden raisins you can substitute a different variety of raisin
- ½ cup chopped walnuts you can substitute almonds or pecans
- powdered sugar, optional for decorating
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare your 10 inch baking pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and greasing the sides with cooking spray or olive oil.
- In a medium size bowl combine the sifted flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Whisk until well combined and set aside.2½ cups all purpose flour, sifted, 2½ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon
- In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the sugar, olive oil and orange juice. Use the paddle attachment of your mixer until well combined.1 cup sugar, ¾ cup olive oil, 1 1/4 cup orange juice
- Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients with the mixer speed set to very low.
- Once combined, add in the walnuts and raisins. Mix until just well combined.½ cup golden raisins, ½ cup chopped walnuts
- Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan and bake in the middle rack of your oven for 45 - 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
- If desired, dust with a light dusting of powdered sugar.powdered sugar, optional for decorating