Without a kitchen disaster, this amazingly moist and flavorful cake would not have come into being.
Last September we ate at a restaurant in Athens called Logia tis Ploris. The food was wonderful. When we returned to Alaska, I recreated a few of Logia tis Ploris’ recipes, including Beet-Yogurt Spread and Clams with Onions and Dill, both of which are excellent.
I was not so successful when I tried to make the spoon sweets that Logia tis Ploris served over yogurt for desert. I thought the spoon sweets had been made with golden raisins. I now realize they were made with fresh grapes. This was my first mistake.
Spoon sweets are fruits, vegetables, or immature nuts that Greeks preserve in sugar syrup. In traditional homes, spoon sweets are served on small crystal plates to honored guests.
Since I’ve made many a sugar syrup, I thought making raisin spoon sweets would be a snap. And so it might have been, had I paid attention to what I was doing. Rather than measuring, I just dumped what seemed to be the right amount of sugar into a pan, and topped it off with a little water. This was my second mistake; I should have measured.
I set the pan on the burner, brought it to a boil, and turned down the heat so the sugar syrup would bubble rather than burn. Then I lost concentration. This was my third, final, and worst mistake. Instead of watching my bubbling pot (a necessity when hot sugar is involved), I started puttering around. Cleaning the kitchen. Attending to the cats. Anything and everything but paying attention to the pot on the burner.
By the time I remembered it, the syrup was already at 250°F (firm ball stage) and was way too thick. I thought I could salvage it by adding lemon juice. The added liquid helped a little, but not enough. After it cooled, my hoped-for yogurt topping could not be poured over yogurt or anything else. It was too thick for syrup, and too thin to be turned into candy.
Even though the texture was all wrong, the raisins tasted wonderful. They were moist and sweet and lemony. I couldn’t bear to throw them away. But using them? How to use them escaped me. I scraped the raisins into a jar and put them away in the cupboard.
I couldn’t quit fretting over the raisins. Every time I opened the cupboard, the abandoned jar reproached me. Periodically, I’d stab a couple raisins with a toothpick to reassure myself they were worth shelf space. Every time I did so, my dilemma remained the same: what to do with something that tastes great but is in an apparently unusable form.
One day, the light came on. When I was a kid, my sister and I learned to cook by baking; our guide was Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. We’d carefully study the recipes, weighing our options carefully before deciding what to make. Lemon-Raisin Cookies were one of my favorites; homely cookies that always tasted great. I decided to use these cookies as inspiration for creating something delicious with my jar of syruped raisins.
I couldn’t make cookies with my raisin disaster because the dough wouldn’t have enough moisture to dissolve the too-thick syrup. I thought cake might work; the volume and liquidity of cake batter could easily handle the raisins. If I flavored the batter with lemon, I’d get the Betty Crocker cookie flavor that inspired my epiphany.
Eventually I decided a lemony Greek yogurt cake would be the perfect vehicle for my orphaned raisins. I couldn’t find a recipe for what I had in mind, so ended up making up my own. As I was investigating Greek yogurt cake recipes, I came across a great idea for topping cakes with sugared almonds in Aglaia Kremezi’s Foods of the Greek Islands. I incorporated that idea, in modified form, into my recipe.
I made the cake for my friend Teeny’s birthday. It was astonishingly good. My kitchen disaster was the foundation for one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. For Christmas presents this year, I’m making raisins in syrup accompanied by copies of the Lemon Yogurt-Raisin Cake recipe.