Karithopita (Greek Walnut Cake)

karithopitaEvery year the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church near our house holds their food festival. Mike enjoys their gyros and various other savory dishes, while I head straight for the dessert table to peruse the variety of syrup-soaked treats. My absolute favorite is galaktoboureko, a phyllo custard pie, followed closely by karithopita, a spiced walnut cake soaked in cinnamon and clove syrup.

The next time I make this – and there will absolutely be a next time, probably sooner than anyone thinks – I’m going to add ground cloves to the cake itself. I found this recipe at Olive & Mango, and have to admit that I had my doubts during baking; the batter looked really loose about five minutes before it was supposed to be done, but everything turned out well. I adjusted the syrup recipe from the original to make a smaller quantity, and even my reduced amount yielded way more than I needed. I believe traditional karithopita is cut into diamond shapes, but for my first try I went with regular squares. I highly recommend storing these treats in cupcake liners, because they become incredibly sticky from the syrup as they sit.


For the cake

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk, warmed but not hot
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped, divided

For the syrup

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tablespoon whole cloves


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking tin and place a parchment rectangle at the bottom. Note: I lined my entire tin, sides and all, with parchment and didn’t like how the edges of the cake turned out, as they weren’t as nicely browned as the rest.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Place baking powder and baking soda in a heatproof measuring cup or large mug; set aside. Heat the milk so it’s warm to the touch, not hot. Carefully pour the milk into the baking powder mixture, stirring with a fork – it will become very frothy, so make sure you use a large cup or mug. Slowly whisk into the cake batter, then stir in flour mixture, followed by 1 cup walnuts. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is evenly browned.

While cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine water, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, and cloves in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for a few minutes (I let mine simmer for about 5 minutes) to thicken. Set aside to cool.

Once cake is done, remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Using a skewer or sharp knife, prick the cake all over and ladle the syrup over the top, allowing it to soak in. Let stand for about 15 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining walnuts and drizzle over more syrup. Let stand for another 15 minutes before cutting. Cut into squares and place each square on a cupcake liner for easier handling/storage. Store at room temperature for 2-3 days; cake can be wrapped and stored in the fridge for about 1 week, or frozen for up to 3 months. Makes 24 squares.