Constantinople Cake

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traditional golden cake from Constantinople

Our dad’s mom, Yiayia Maria, would make this cake for us and we loved it, still do! It was a favorite of our grandfather’s who hailed originally from Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey) and  he preferred it to all other sweets. That tells you something right there because he had one, SWEET tooth 🙂

You can tell this cake recipe has it’s roots in Asia Minor from these key ingredients: white (fancy) flour, white sugar AND spiced almond milk. The Persians brought almond milk to Constantinople and the trick to using it in baking will change the way you use, and drink, almond milk forever more!

Because almond milk is made up of some crazy-percent water, baking with it is like using – well, plain water. The trick here is to spice the milk and then to reduce it by more than half over low heat. Takes about 10 minutes, no fussing with it, and the end product is a much thicker (though not ‘thick’) almost creamy liquid. Persians would add a drop of honey or grape molasses for sweetness and drink before bed. I’ve tried it and it’s a lovely, light, aromatic way to go off to sleep.

In this recipe, a bit of citrus juice is added to the cooled almond milk reduction giving you something akin to buttermilk for the most perfect, light, airy cake crumb. The cake flavor is delicately spiced enough to stand on it’s own with just a dusting of powdered sugar OR, and equally authentic, topped with your favorite jam and sprinkled with coconut flakes. Can’t you just taste it?!

Traditionally served in small slices with Greek coffee, Constantinople cake is the perfect way to celebrate an occasion or end a lovely meal. However, whenever you choose to enjoy it – you will not be disappointed!

The recipe below is compiled from a few different sources as, unfortunately, my yiayia’s original recipe was never written down. It’s a simple recipe and I’ve detailed all your steps so no guessing. This recipe is the very closest I can get to the original, reminds me so much of Yiayia, and it is WONDERFUL.

MAKE AHEAD OPTIONS: The spiced almond milk reduction can be made up to 5 days ahead and kept covered in the fridge. The cake itself is actually better if you can let it sit at least two hours and, wrapped, it will keep well for up to 3 days. Another nice thing, you can completely decorate this cake and loosely cover with plastic wrap more than 24 hours ahead of serving. I recently ate a delicious piece from a cake first sliced 5 days earlier 🙂
It is not difficult to make at all and remember your make-ahead options above, too!
  • 2 1/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp rosewater
  • cinnamon stick
  • 2 tbsp orange zest (1 medium orange)
  • 10 pods cardamom pods, use crushed seeds or scant 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sesame (or vegetable) oil
  • 1, 12 ounce jar of your favorite jam or 1 cup powdered sugar
Warm almond milk, zests, rosewater, cinnamon stick and crushed cardamom seeds together over low/medium heat – #4 on my induction stovetop, cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to very low – #1 on induction stovetop, cook for 5 minutes. Shut off heat and allow to cool for at least 25 minutes.
At about 10 minutes into cooling, you should see a thin skin start to form as liquid thickens. Stir to reincorporate if you like but do not remove! This should cook down to a bit over 1 cup which is what you will need for this recipe. Feel free to sweeten and drink any extra 🙂
When almond milk reduction is cooled, strain out spices/zest and stir in orange juice. Let sit approx 10 min. and, right before adding to recipe, stir in vanilla extract.
Whisk together flour/sugar/baking powder and soda/salt in large bowl.
Add almond milk reduction and mix to combine completely. Batter will be very thick! Mix in oil until completely combine.
Scoop batter into 9″ round baking pan, bottom lined with parchment paper, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Turn cake out onto a cooling rack and allow to rest for at least 2 hours before decorating (or eating – cake needs time for flavors to finish coming together!).
Before topping with jam, use a serrated knife to level off top of cake or you’ll have jam sliding everywhere! Top with unsweetened coconut flakes and garnish with fresh mint leaves. Or simply dust liberally with powdered sugar for an elegant, minimalist approach 🙂

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17 Responses to Constantinople Cake

  1. Στέφανος May 9, 2017 at 1:23 am #

    Και πώς το λένε το κέικ στα ελληνικά;;

    • Kiki May 9, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

      Πραγματικά δεν ξέρω! Η γιαγιάμου απλά το αποκαλούσε “Κέικ του παππούli” 🙂

      • kiki May 9, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

        reply in English: I don’t really know! my grandmother always called it ‘Papouli’s cake’ (grandpa’s cake) 🙂

      • Στέφανος May 9, 2017 at 8:04 pm #

        Θα το αποκαλέσω «Πολίτικη Τούρτα»!

        • Kiki May 9, 2017 at 8:17 pm #

          Έτσι 🙂

  2. Angela May 9, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

    Can it be made without almond milk? I have a nut intolerance

    • Kiki May 9, 2017 at 8:08 pm #

      I wouldn’t recommend it! check out our milopita / apple cake recipe. it’s delicious and the walnuts are completely optional 🙂

  3. Hanne May 10, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    This recipe looks moist and lovely, redolent with cardamum and rosewater. I wonder what your favorite jam to use in this recipe is? We used orange marmalade but I don’t think that is traditional maybe just what we always had on hand.

    • Kiki May 10, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

      strawberry is my favorite! not very exotic but I could spread strawberry jam on a piece of paper and love it 🙂
      orange marmalade is my absolute favorite on toast that is just a bit burnt……. I think it’s time for just that snack!

  4. Andrea May 15, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    Success! Made this on Saturday to serve on Mother’s Day, easy and delicious. As you say the flavors deepen as the cake sits. The almond milk reduction is a revelation and infused with the spices – magic :-)))

    Thank you Kiki and love from Cape Town, South Africa

  5. Lisa Angerame May 22, 2017 at 5:38 am #

    hello! i can’t wait to make this. wondering if you think homemade almond milk will work?

    • Kiki May 22, 2017 at 10:12 am #

      yes, absolutely! that’s, of course, what was used traditionally 🙂
      just remember not to sweeten or flavor your homemade almond milk and you should be good to go, Kiki 🙂

      • Lisa Angerame May 29, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

        awesome kiki! our greek inspired memorial day party got rained out so i am holding out on making this cake for another occasion. but will be sure to let you know when i make this!

  6. Anishka July 1, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

    Thank you Kiki. I made the cake today and it turned out well. My vegan husband loved it! I dusted it with icing sugar and served with fresh strawberries. Beautiful!!!

  7. Maria June 30, 2018 at 8:17 pm #

    hi, looks amazing! do you think orange blossom water would work instead of rose water? Or it would be too “orangey” with the juice and zest? thank you!

    • Kiki July 1, 2018 at 9:15 pm #

      Yes! I think it would be wonderful! may steal the substitution myself next time 🙂


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