Greek walnut cake or karydopita is a classic Greek dessert. It is made by baking a spiced cake which is full of crushed walnuts (in Greek, walnuts are karydia). The cake, hot from the oven, has a cooled sugar syrup poured over it. The syrup gets soaked into the cake and the result is a fragrant and delicious dessert that everyone loves.
There are many Greek desserts that are baked and then have syrup poured over them. These are called siropiasta (syrup soaked) and they are very popular all over Greece. You may have already tried some of the other syrup soaked desserts posted here, like portokalopita, samali, or saragli (baklava cigars).
This recipes works! Amazing!
I almost faked it here. We were tempted to change this recipe, in order to reflect what we know to be the correct way to bake. I am a pretty avid baker, and have spent years perusing pastry books, taking classes, and working towards making the perfect croquembouche and pastry dough. I am also a scientist, and acknowledge that baking…is a science. And then, I bake with my parents. Although you very graciously accepted their milopita recipe, posted exactly as it was baked (meaning…illogically), I wondered, would you accept another hodgepodge dessert? I was worried. So I considered telling you that my parents sifted the flour, baking powder and ground spices together, that they mixed the wet ingredients together using a stand mixer before the wet and dry components were combined, you know… to reflect what actual baking books tell you to do. But, I chose not to. Mia Kouppa is all about keeping it real folks! Besides, their almost nonsensical way of baking works beautifully – their desserts, including this karydopita, are always delectable, and perfectly composed.
When Helen and I went over one early Saturday morning to bake this cake with our parents, we found our father sitting at the kitchen table, with his morning coffee, shelling walnuts. He had taken a hammer to them, just enough to crack the shells, and was using a butter knife to carefully pry the walnut kernels out. We apologized that we had not brought over some pre-shelled nuts, to save him the trouble, and he laughed, saying, “This is trouble?” And so, we quietly sat with him, watching him work, and every once in a while he would smile and offer us a nut to eat. Suddenly, we were young girls again, sitting with our Baba around the kitchen table, quietly watching him shell walnuts and almonds and hazelnuts, anxiously wondering which of these treats would be offered to us next.
There are two components to this Greek walnut cake – the cake itself, and the syrup. Both are really simple to make.
For the syrup
Sugar – Granulated white sugar is the sweetener used to make the syrup.
Water – Enough water is used to make a syrup that is thick enough to be poured over the cake.
Lemon – Both fresh lemon juice and a lemon slice are added to the syrup to give the karydopita a light citrus flavour.
Cinnamon – I use a cinnamon stick instead of ground cinnamon. This gives the flavour, without changing the colour of the syrup.
For the cake
Flour – All purpose or regular flour is used here.
Walnuts – The star ingredients, walnuts are of course key! I crush my walnuts carefully in a food processor – you want fine pieces, but you don’t want it too fine. Some texture is needed.
Eggs – Whenever eggs are called for in a recipe, I use large eggs.
Baking powder – This is the leavening agent which will help your Greek walnut cake rise to perfection.
Milk – Using milk as the liquid adds moisture and flavour to the cake.
Sugar – Granulate white sugar sweetens the cake perfectly.
Vegetable oil – Mildly flavoured, vegetable oil helps with the moisture of the cake.
Cinnamon – Adding ground cinnamon to the cake batter adds such a nice flavour and fragrance. Cinnamon is one of my favourite spices!
Cloves – You can add some ground cloves, which is traditional, or not. I don’t actually like cloves, so I leave them out.
How to make
How to make the syrup
Prepare your syrup by combining all of the ingredients (water, sugar, lemon juice, lemon slice, cinnamon stick) in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and when the sugar has dissolved, reduce heat to medium. Allow to cook for approximately 5 minutes and then remove syrup from heat. Allow to cool.
How to make the cake
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl combine all of the cake ingredients. The order is not particularly important. Stir until very well combined with a rubber spatula or large plastic or wooden spoon. Mix very well until the entire batter is uniform.
Grease your baking pan ( we used a 10 inch round cake pan) with vegetable oil, being sure to cover the bottom and sides.
Pour in your batter. Spread it around so that it is evenly distributed. Bake in center of oven for approximately 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
When your cake is done, remove it from the oven and gently poke holes in it, using a skewer or a sharp knife. Pour the cooled syrup all over the cake, about 1/2 cup (125 ml) at a time. The syrup will be absorbed by the cake.
Allow your cake to cool and serve it directly from your baking pan.
Baking tips and helpful hints
Walnuts in the shell, or not
Although my parents tend to shell their own nuts, you definitely don’t have to. However, here are a few things to consider. Nuts still in their shell tend to taste fresher, are usually cheaper, and force you to take some time to stop, sit, and engage in a pretty relaxing task. If you happen to have children or other family with you to help (or to watch you work), you may even end up creating some lovely memories. I don’t think you can purchase a bag of shelled walnuts which will do that.
How to crush your walnuts
Regardless of the type of walnuts you start off with, you will need to end up with crushed walnuts. Our parents use a food processor for this task, being careful to end up with small pieces. You do not want to over-process or over-crush the nuts however; you shouldn’t end up with nut meal. There needs to be some nutty texture to your karydopita.
Cooled syrup, hot cake or hot syrup, cooled cake
As with galaktoboureko and baklava, when you are going to pour syrup over a baked dessert, a good rule of thumb is to have one of the two hot (or at least, warm), and the other, at room temperature. For this reason, the recipe below suggests that you make the syrup first. It is a quick step, and by the time the cake is assembled and cooked, the syrup will be completely cool. I don’t like this cake overly syrupy, however if you do, feel free to increase the quantities for the syrup.
Frequently asked questions
What is a karydopita?
Karydopita is a traditional and classic Greek dessert made with walnuts. It is a syrup soaked dessert which means that after the cake is baked, a sugar syrup flavoured with lemon and cinnamon is poured over it. This cake is absolutely amazing served with a Greek coffee or a cup of Greek mountain tea.
How much syrup should be poured over the cake?
Some people have commented that they don’t find this karydopita recipe to have enough syrup. It’s actually true that there is less syrup here than in many recipes for this cake. This is how I like it however, and this is how my parents have always made it. If you prefer your karydopita to have more syrup, no problem. Increase the amount of syrup you make by keeping the proportion of ingredients the same.
Can I use something other than walnuts in this recipe?
In Greek, walnuts are called karydia, hence the name of this dessert. Using another nut would make this a cake different than a karydopita. Having said that though, you can definitely switch things up. A cake similar to this one can be made using crushed pecans, or even hazelnuts.
I have listed the inclusion of ground cloves in the recipe as “optional”. This is really only because I hate cloves, and believe that they ruin any recipe they are included in. If you hate cloves too, feel free to leave them out; the cake is
even more delicious without them.
There are so many amazing Greek desserts, like karydopita. If you like this recipe, I suggest you check out these as well!
Milopita, apple cake A classic Greek apple cake, loaded with apples!
Revani with coconut Made with semolina flour and coocnut, and soaked in a syrup.
Pantespani A light syrup soaked cake that is a favourite. Flavoured with orange.
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Karydopita, Greek walnut cake
- 10 inch baking pan
For the syrup:
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 slice lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
For the cake:
- 2 1/2 cups coarsely crushed walnuts
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves optional
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 2 cups granulated white sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Prepare your syrup by combining all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and when the sugar has dissolved, reduce heat to medium. Allow to cook for approximately 5 minutes and then remove syrup from heat. Allow to cool. Note: we don’t like this cake overly syrupy, however, if you do, please feel free to increase the quantities for the syrup above.2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 slice lemon, 1 cinnamon stick
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl combine all of the cake ingredients. The order is not particularly important. Stir until very well combined with a rubber spatula or large plastic or wooden spoon. Mix very well until the entire batter is uniform.2 1/2 cups coarsely crushed walnuts, 6 large eggs, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 1/4 cups milk, 2 cups granulated white sugar, 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Grease your baking pan ( we used a 10 inch round cake pan) with vegetable oil, being sure to cover the bottom and sides.
- Pour in your batter. Spread it around so that it is evenly distributed. Bake in center of oven for approximately 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- When your cake is done, remove it from the oven and gently poke holes in it, using a skewer or a sharp knife. Pour the cooled syrup all over the cake, about 1/2 cup (125 ml) at a time. The syrup will be absorbed by the cake.
- Allow your cake to cool and serve it directly from your baking pan.