Birthday Baking Greek-Style

pastitsoMost of the people I love have birthdays in November: Scorpios the lot of them! Not least  my Spero, whose half-Greek heritage inspired me to bake birthday treats accordingly. He has often spoken fondly of his grandmother’s Pastitsio:  that, then, was to be the savoury component, and for that I turned to George Colombaris. For something sweet the choice was selfish: an almond lemon syrup cake because out of all the cakes I bake my most adored are dense, moist, nutty, sticky ones drenched in syrup.

Both, I now brag, were a triumph. The pastitsio, a sort of Greek lasagne: bottom layer pasta, middle layer a beef ragu and the top a deep couple of inches of exquisite cloud-soft béchamel lightened by eggs and enriched with loads of freshly grated parmesan (in the absence of the recommended keflagraviera). We dined on it, shamelessly, two nights in a row.

As for the cake, one of New Zealander Annabel Langbein’s,  it was all I could have asked for, and more. The syrup especially – an infusion of cardamon pods, star anise, vanilla bean, loads of sugar and water and the tediously peeled rind – no pith! – of three lemons – was spicy and complex. Whole blanched almonds adorned the top and all it needed was thick cream. Several days later it, like the pastitsio, was only better.

About victoria

Author of the gastro-memoir 'Amore&Amaretti: A Tale of Love an Food in Tuscany', I am a Byron Shire-based food and travel writer, food columnist, cooking teacher, recipe editor and chef. Born in Canberra, ACT, I have a BA in languages although am only really passionate about the Italian one, in which I am fluent, having spent four years in Tuscany in my late twenties, and returning reasonably frequently ever since. Despite that, my partner of many years, a wonderful artist, clothes designer and aged carer, is half-Greek!
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