Monday, April 29, 2013

Greek Orange Cake with Honeyed Yoghurt
for my mum's birthday

If it wasn't for Tony quietly practicing a few Greek words with my dad in the back corner of my sister's back garden, you wouldn't know the family that gathered together yesterday for afternoon tea was Greek.

Both my parents are Greek but my family is not at all traditional. Growing up we didn't speak Greek, we didn't cook much Greek food and we didn't follow any Greek traditions. Adding to this, my mum, Fifi, is fair-haired and fair-skinned which, to the untrained eye, greatly dilutes our credibility as a 'real' Greek family.

In fact, as a child Fifi looked a lot like Shirley Temple. Her mum even dressed her to look like the child movie star, as you can see below in the Fifi vs Shirley Comparison Table.

I've told you a little about my mum's upbringing in a travelling family, and how connecting with traditional Greek culture wasn't something that came naturally to them. Her father, Nicholas, was a cotton merchant and the family moved from city to city with him for his work.

Coming to Australia in the mid-1950s gave my newly-wedded parents an opportunity to embrace the relaxed and easy-going ways of the Australian lifestyle. They anglicised their surname, gave my sisters and I 'true-blue' Aussie names and spoke only English in the home. The family car was an olive green Holden HR sedan with venetian blinds in the back and we lived in a neighbourhood where everyone, except my sisters and I, had blond hair.

We liked being Aussies. We didn't even really know we were Greek until we met some other kids that went to Greek school on a Saturday and wanted to know why we didn't have to go. Greek school sounded horrible. Any school on a Saturday would have been horrible. We were definitely glad to be Aussies.

This is me with my younger sister Kellie in our sporty matching t-shirt dresses, and our very fashionable mum, standing proudly outside our Australian home of the then very Anglo-saxon suburb of Mount Waverley.

Little did I know then that I would yearn for all things Greek as an adult. I'm now furious that I didn't learn to speak Greek as a child and it's frustrating not to have a built-in knowledge of Greek cooking techniques, but I don't blame my parents. I know they just wanted to fit in.

One of the reasons I started this blog is because of my yearning for a stronger connection with my origins. Without an upbringing enriched with Greek cooking, language and traditions, and with such a strong sense of being Australian, sometimes it's difficult to make that connection. I know deep inside that my heritage is Greek but I have a long way to go when it comes to learning about Greek culture and expanding on my knowledge about Greek food. Unfortunately, learning to speak Greek is something I'm going to have to leave to Tony. After several attempts over the years to learn Greek I've come to realise my adult brain definitely lacks the necessary neurons for learning languages.

It was my mum's birthday yesterday. Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated by Greeks as much as Name Days. But as you've probably worked out by now, we're not a traditional Greek family. Apart from Christmas, birthdays are the only times the whole family gets together. And when I say 'whole family', I don't mean thousands of cousins. It's just my dad and his wife Julia, my mum, my two sisters and their kids. That's right. That's it. We are sooo not Greek. In contrast though, we have an interesting, are-they-or-are-they-not-Greek dynamic when we get together. We're loud and emotional, we eat and we drink and there are arms waving all over the place, but there's no Greek food, no Greek speak and none of the kids go to Greek school.

But still my heart yearns.

When my sister asked me a few weeks ago to make mum a birthday cake, I saw it as an opportunity to do something Greek for my family (and God knows the blog could certainly do with another cake recipe. Halvas (Semolina Syrup Cake) is the only cake-like recipe I've posted here to date – not just because I have a measly repertoire of Greek cake recipes, but because I'm simply crap at baking cakes in general.) I had high hopes that the incentive of baking a cake for my own mother would give me the encouragement to make a success of this. Especially given I had a trusted recipe for Greek Orange Cake from the wife of a real-life Greek friend.

Without going into detail, a few events came up in the days leading up to the family gathering for my mum's birthday. I had no time to test the recipe and no time to go back to the supermarket when I realised I didn't have any sugar or self-raising flour. I improvised with stevia, plain flour and baking powder and obviously didn't sift them together thoroughly enough, hence the massive bubble on one side of the cake, and dense flatness on the other.

As I brought the lop-sided cake out to the table my mum expressed some polite excitement that I'd made her a cake and she was very gracious to try some without complaining. I think I was the only other person to have a piece and while it tasted okay (the subtle sweetness of the stevia actually complemented the orange flavour quite well) the texture was a bit too rubber-mattress for me.

But yesterday's celebrations weren't about me baking a cake. It was my mum's birthday and we also took the opportunity to take some much needed family photos.

Sometimes months go by when we don't see each other, but the joy of getting together is always precious and we all embrace it with every bit of Aussie-Greekness we can muster.

Below I'm sharing with you the original recipe that came from my Greek friend. One day I'll try it again with the correct ingredients, and would love to hear of any other success (or failure!) stories with Greek orange cake.

Orange Cake with Honeyed Yoghurt

Serves 8–10


  • 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 cup fine semolina
  • 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
  • 150g cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar for dusting
For the syrup
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
For the honeyed yoghurt


  1. Grease a 24cm round spring-form pan. Line with baking paper.
  2. Process flour, almond meal, semolina, sugar and butter until mixture becomes like the texture of breadcrumbs or course sand.
  3. Add orange rind, orange juice, eggs and milk and process until a thick batter is formed.
  4. Pour mixture into cake tin, smooth surface with a spatula until it is flattened, and sprinkle with almond flakes.
  5. Bake at 180 degrees celsius for one hour and test with a skewer to see if it's cooked. If the skewer comes out clean it is ready. If not, you might need to bake for another 20 minutes. Mine was in there for an hour and a half, but that might have been because I was waiting for the other side to rise.
  6. To make the syrup, heat water, sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. When cake is ready, remove from oven and use a skewer to make lots of holes for the syrup to be absolved. Leaving the cake in the pan, slowly pour the syrup over the cake and allow to stand for ten minutes.
  8. Dust the cake with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with a generous dollop of honeyed yoghurt. You can either mix the honey and yoghurt together thoroughly and serve, or drizzle the honey over the yoghurt.


  1. what an interesting post, lisa! i loved all the pictures! i think i would feel the same way as you, yearning for my roots. especially since you have such amazing ones from greece! even though the cake had an air bubble, it still looked lovely, and what's more important is that you made it with love ;)

    1. Thanks Caitlin. It's funny how these things become more sentimental to you the older you get. Perhaps if I had a traditional Greek upbringing I may not have as much desire to get in touch with my roots now.

  2. Since I know you through your blog, you seem quite knowledgeable about all things Greek to me! :) But I think what you described is a very common phenomenon in immigrant families. The first generation seeks to fit in, while the second generation wants to get in touch with their cultural roots! I think your cake looks great, air bubble and all--too bad it didn't taste as good as it looks!

    1. You're so right Kiersten, about the first generation having a different agenda to the second! And interestingly, my dad now has a new-found interest in his cultural roots. It's fascinating to see him "becoming Greek" again!

  3. I went to Greek school and it was horrible. In fact, I deliberately misbehaved so much to get out of it, and it worked ;) It helped that my parents did not like the teachers much and some of the teachers were very fond of old school discipline like hitting across the head with a metal ruler, pulling ears, etc. Yep, fun times...

    Ever since I started getting in to watching those kinds of 'Who Do You Think You Are' family ancestry shows, I've been really keen to find out more about my ancestors but as my grandparents are all deceased, there's not much chance anymore! I did grow up speaking Greek, doing all those Greek things, the large family gatherings with loud Greek music and loud relatives... but I will be honest and say that as I grew up I realised that I prefer quiet gatherings and what I grew up with was simply too much for me. I did feel, and still feel to some extent, pressured to 'act' in a Greek way around relatives, if that makes sense, and it's just not who I am. This is why I find your stories so interesting Lisa, because in high school my Greek (and Italian and Maltese) friends called me "imitation wog" or "skippy"! My parents grew up here and spoke English without an accent. I'll never forget the time in high school when I told my European friends that my parents had gone to the cinema. They were horrified that my parents did such a 'skip' thing! I'm still seen as some kind of snob by my very Greek relatives in their 30s who decorate their house with Greek things, go to their bouzouki lessons, send their children to Greek school etc. And you know, that's fine. I have Greek things in my home too. But I object to being criticised by these people, they see me as a kind of traitor for not sticking to Greek roots more. My children won't go to Greek school, we don't do the church thing (much to the horror of some relatives) but there are traditions I will definitely keep.

    So I've realised that for me, it's now about family itself. Not Greek family or Aussie family (my husband is Aussie) or what we did growing up-- that we were together and happy is the main thing :) The traditions I'll carry on are more about family than being Greek. Being vegan I'm obviously not in to eggs, but my kids love the red eggs at Easter and the cracking competition, the koulourakia, all that kind of stuff. They'll have those happy memories of being with their grandparents and family :)

    1. Oh what a lovely story Veganopoulous! But not so lovely Greek School experience!! They're the sorts of horror stories kids would tell us that made us VERY grateful we didn't have to go!!

      My grandparents have all passed away as well but since my dad bought out the family house in Limnos he has been digging up a lot of photos and documents that have been stashed under floorboards and in the backs of cupboards that tell a very rich and detailed story of our family history. When Tony and I go back to Limnos later this year we are going to see what else we can uncover.

      I guess I'm lucky in a way, that we don't have any stickler relatives that don't approve of our unconventional, "imitation wog" ways (I love that phrase!) - funnily enough, it's the Aussies that are most surprised (and sometimes even horrified) when I tell them I don't speak Greek or don't follow Greek traditions. I guess it's such a stereotypical thing that Greek people are usually just so.... Greek.

  4. Belated birthday wishes to your mom! That last picture is just lovely!

    Your post got me thinking about my own little family- we're Indians living in Singapore for almost a decade now. We're not very traditional and I often wonder how this will impact my daughter's life. I could almost picture her writing this years from now (well, except for the fashionable mom part!).

    Lucky for us, your readers, we get to feast on your rediscovery of your roots!

    1. Thank you Shvetha! You know what? I honestly don't think I would have such a keen interest in my family history and Greek culture if I was brought up in a traditional way. It's so fascinating to discover these things as an adult :)

  5. The cake is a very sweet gesture, even if it didn't turn out as you hoped. And I think it's great when bloggers write honest posts about their imperfect dishes.

    And thank you for sharing these gorgeous family photos!

    1. Thanks Cindy :) The cake did look okay, especially once I covered it in good old life-saving icing sugar!

      Hmm, if I wrote about every failure I've had in the kitchen this blog would be quite hilarious - oh I can just imagine the photos...

  6. What a great blog. I am vegetarian but not Greek. Love Greek food though and it's nice to see that it isn't all about the "lamb"!! Told my Greek friends about this blog and they can't believe there is a Greek vegetarian out there!! Well done and I look forward to your posts. Kerry

    1. Welcome Kerry! I'm so glad you found my blog :) Thanks for spreading the word to your Greek friends! Yes, there's so much more to Greek food than meat and I'm so happy to hear that more and more people are interested in the vegetarian side of Greek cuisine!

  7. Oh my goodness those photos are ADORABLE!!!! Love hearing these types of family stories, thanks so much for sharing xx

    1. Thanks Christie! I loved writing this post - it brought back a lot of memories, especially of our old house and the neighbourhood we grew up in.

  8. Lisa, those photos are just wonderful. Beautiful, all of them. I often wonder what my kids will make of their ever-diminishing Australian-ness when they grow up. My eldest rarely speaks English any more and my youngest has only been back for one visit because of the prohibitive cost - I guess they'll decide when they're older if they want to explore it for themselves. Although, being an English teacher, I do make my youngest go to English lessons, with me! LOL!

    1. Thanks Rachael. Family photos are something we don't have enough of so it's always lovely to get together and smile for the camera :)

      Like you say, if your kids want to discover more about their Australian roots when they're older, they will. That's gorgeous that your youngest attends his own mum's English classes!

  9. Such a lovely post Lisa! You and your sisters look so alike! I love hearing about other people's childhoods and cultures, so thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks Liz! I always get a bit nervous when talking about family on the blog but I think it's a nice way to connect with readers. I'm actually quite humbled by how many people have been interested in my little stories :)

  10. The mother-daughters pic is soo beautiful! Convey belated Birthday wishes to your, please :)

  11. Cake recipe turned out great! Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. That's great JJ! Very glad to hear that :) (I hope yours came out air-bubble free!)

  12. I would love to bake this - but at what temperature - I can't see it anywhere in the recipe... :-(

    1. Oh I can't believe I forgot to include the temperature!! I have fixed it now. 180 degrees celsius (or 350 F). Thanks for pointing that out kidskinthekitchen! :)


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