apricot lamington layer cake

apricot lamington layer cake

Well, I’ve got some big news! We just moved to Melbourne, Australia!

As I write this, we haven’t even been here a full twenty four hours, and I can already tell how much we’re going to love our new home. While we haven’t had a chance to get out and see the city, I’ve already fallen head over heels for every single place I’ve casually stumbled upon while running from one boring errand to the next. I don’t remember the last time I just happened to walk past a Middle Eastern market in the city I live in, so it was pretty surreal to just happen upon one here a couple hours ago, and to stroll down the aisles and see all my favorite olives, cheeses, and breads. It hasn’t totally sunk in yet, and it means so much.

I’m also really excited to meet my Melbourne blogger friends and my extended Assyrian-Aussie family, and to get to know the community here. And holy moly, I obviously had the best flat white this morning. Oh and I stumbled upon the most adorable pasta shop for lunch.

So we’re thrilled to be here, although also very sad to leave Hong Kong. I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and readers about whether we're leaving because of the current state of affairs, so I just wanted to address that openly and say that it had absolutely nothing to do with our decision. We admire the protestors and their courage in the face of indifference and cruelty, we love Hong Kong, and we hope things end peacefully and justly. I love these posts from Mandy Lee and Charmaine Mok who said it better than I ever could.

apricot lamington layer cake
apricot lamington layer cake

Before we packed up our entire kitchen, I baked this cake to celebrate our big life change. It’s a layered spongecake inspired by lamingtons, an Australia/New Zealand treat. They’re usually cut into single-serving squares before icing and coating in coconut flakes, but I was inspired by my friend Ankiet to try it as a layer cake. And while lamingtons are often filled with cream and jam, I decided to replace the jam with one special ingredient: qamardeen! (AKA gamardeen or qamar al din).

Qamardeen is a super tangy apricot paste/fruit leather that reminds me of my childhood. Every time I’d go to my grandparents’ house, they would have snickers bars and qamardeen waiting for us in the drawer with the neatly-folded kitchen towels. Last summer, as Simon and I got ready to return to Hong Kong, my grandmother sent me home with a packet of the stuff, and I decided to save it for something special instead of just eating the entire thing in one sitting like I usually do when I’m in the US. I’ve never found a way to track this ingredient down in Hong Kong, so it felt particularly priceless to have probably the only sheet in the whole city. And when you have an ingredient that special, you want to make sure you really appreciate it. This cake was just the thing!

Oh but don’t worry: if you want to bake this cake but don’t have qamardeen handy, don’t sweat it. You can totally use apricot jam for a similar flavor (check out the notes below the recipe for specifics).

apricot lamington layer cake
apricot lamington layer cake

The only tricky thing about baking with gamardeen is that it can be a little on the chewy side. When it’s used for anything other than eating as a snack, it’s often softened by soaking it in water (e.g., turning it into an apricot drink). But soaking it for this recipe would be too finicky and messy, because it would become way too disintegrated and difficult to handle.

I reached out to my friend Mai for some advice, because she has a lot more experience working with qamardeen than I do. Mai suggested blending it directly into the whipped cream, and while that sounds unbelievably delicious, her idea actually inspired me to do something a little different. Instead, I cut out a cake-sized circle of qmamardeen by tracing around a cake pan, sandwiched the qamardeen between two layers of whipped cream directly in the middle of the cake, and then let the whole thing sit in the refrigerator for a couple hours to rest. The whipped cream hydrates the qamardeen, and after a couple hours it becomes perfectly sliceable and soft, but still set and just a little bit chewy.

If you decide to use qamardeen in this cake (instead of apricot jam), make sure it’s really good quality, or it will be too difficult to slice through. The imported qamardeen of my childhood was chewy enough to send you to the dentist, but ones I’ve had more recently are much softer and better preserved. I’ve noticed that most manufacturers have switched to vacuum sealing, which helps the texture stay super soft. And don’t forget, if you have trouble finding quality qamardeen, you can always make your own if you’re feeling industrious!

Oh and one last note about the recipe: Chocolate truffles are not exactly a traditional lamington decoration, but I added these to reduce wastage. I love the look of poured-ganache cakes, but they always require a bit of runoff. So if you want to put that excess chocolate to use, be sure to let it fall on a clean sheet pan, scrape it up (with all that excess coconut), let it chill for a few, roll it into truffles, and coat in some extra coconut. You’ll find more specific instructions in the notes below the recipe.

Hope you enjoy this cake as much as we’re enjoying our new home.

apricot lamington layer cake
apricot lamington layer cake
apricot lamington layer cake
apricot lamington layer cake

apricot lamington layer cake

yield: 12 slices
active time: 40 minutes
total time: 4 hours
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For the cake:

  • 6 large eggs (330g)

  • 150g granulated sugar (3/4 cup)

  • 150g all purpose flour (1 cup + 2 tablespoons)

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 230g heavy whipping cream (1 cup)

  • 15g sugar (1 tablespoon)

  • 1 cake-sized sheet of good quality qamardeen (can easily substitute apricot jam)*

For the decoration:

  • 175g milk (3/4 cup)

  • 14g butter (1 tablespoons)

  • 225g chopped chocolate (1 1/2 cups)

  • 100g finely shredded coconut (1 cup)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) convection.** Line 2 8-inch round cake pans with parchment.

  2. Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high with the whisk attachment until it turns very pale and more than doubles in size (about 6 minutes). When you lift the beaters, the trail will slowly disappear back into itself after 1 full second. Set aside.

  3. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift about 1/3 of the flour mixture evenly over the surface of the whipped eggs/sugar and carefully fold it in with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom. Repeat with the next 1/3, and then with the final 1/3.

  4. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 lined cake pans, and spread the batter evenly all the way to the edges of the pans. Drop the pans from about an inch above the counter once or twice to knock out any big air bubbles.

  5. Bake for about 15 minutes. To test for doneness, gently press on the surface toward the middle—it should slowly spring back after a second.

  6. Carefully run a knife around the edges to free the cakes, transfer them to a cooling rack, and peel off their parchment paper. Let them cool.

  7. Whip the cream: Place the whipping cream and 15g sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the whisk attachment to beat to stiff peaks (keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t overbeat).

  8. Cut out the qamardeen (if you’re using apricot jam instead, skip this part): Open up a package of qamardeen and place it on a cutting board with the plastic still underneath it (or use a sheet of parchment instead). Place an 8-inch round pan on top of the qamardeen, and use a sharp knife to trace around the edge of the pan to cut out a circle of qamardeen (use scissors if you have trouble). Remove the qamardeen scraps from around the cake pan. Set the 8” circle aside until you’re ready to use it.

  9. Place one cake layer on a cooling rack set over a sheet pan. Top with a thin layer of whipped cream (about 1/8 inch thick), followed by the round qamardeen sheet (carefully lift the plastic away from it once you’re ready to place it). Top the qamardeen with another thin layer of whipped cream, followed by the other layer (flat-side-up).

  10. Fill in any gaps on the side with a little extra remaining whipped cream and smooth the sides out.

  11. Once the cake is assembled with the qamardeen and cream, heat the milk and butter in the microwave (or stove) until it’s barely simmering. Pour over the chocolate in a small bowl and let it sit for 2 minutes. Stir together until it’s totally smooth.

  12. Pour the chocolate sauce over the top while it’s still warm and runny, and use an offset spatula to encourage it down the sides to coat everything evenly (no worries about smoothness). Sprinkle shredded coconut over the top and pat it on the sides until it’s evenly coated.***

  13. Let the cake sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours and then let it sit out for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

    Storage: While cakes don’t usually keep very well in the refrigerator, this one will last for about 24 hours (covered) without staling one bit. After that, you should freeze individual slices and thaw them in the microwave as needed (it will technically last longer than 24 hours in the fridge, but all cakes stale in the fridge rather quickly, and last much longer in the freezer).

* Make sure you use very good quality qamardeen, otherwise the cake will be impossible to cut through. Qamardeens vary a lot in quality, but fresh qamardeen should be chewy but soft, and you should be able to easily tear it with just your hands. If you can’t find good quality qamardeen, you can totally use apricot jam instead (also super delicious, and the exact same flavor). Simply spread a layer of jam on one cake, a layer of whipped cream on the other, and sandwich them together.
** No worries if you don’t have convection—it might just take a couple minutes longer to bake through.
*** Feel free to stop here for a traditional look, or if you want the same exact look as the cake in this post, make sure you scrape up the excess chocolate and coconut from the sheet pan, place it in a small bowl, and chill it for 1 hour. Once it’s firm enough to handle, scoop small pieces of the ganache and roll them into smooth balls. Roll these truffles in a little more shredded coconut. Warm the rest of the unused ganache in the microwave, and dip the very bottom of each truffle in chocolate to help it stick to the cake—arrange them in a circle border.

apricot lamington layer cake

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chocolate pomegranate babka

chocolate pomegranate babka

Whenever I mention my husband Simon on instagram, a few people are naturally curious whether he’s Assyrian like me. I mean, it’s true that he’s eaten more prakhe’t soma than most people, and while my mom and I have totally insisted on giving him an honorary Assyrian name (Shimun Keepa’t Dawa, ICYWW), he is in fact Jewish-American, with ancestral roots in Poland and Russia.

We love celebrating each other’s holidays, and Rosh Hashanah has always been one of my favorites to cook for. Sometimes it’s a big gathering with all our friends (I have particularly fond memories of one time in grad school when we pushed two giant tables together and fed twenty people in our small one-bedroom apartment), and other times it’s just the two of us.

Right now, we’re in the middle of another international move (🤭 more on that soon…), so this year it was just the two of us celebrating way too early, because we’re currently on vacation in Korea, avoiding our empty apartment and waiting to fly to our new home to find a new place. But back before I packed up my entire kitchen and stand mixer, I baked a babka with a few of my favorite ingredients. Pomegranate seeds are an essential part of the Jewish new year, so a chocolate pomegranate loaf felt like the perfect way to celebrate. It’s chocolatey, tangy, and a little sweet, and it’s braided round-challah-style, which looks super complicated, but is actually a lot easier than it seems. I’ve even put together step-by-step braiding photos to make it super straightforward to learn how.

I also want to wish a happy Rosh Hashanah to my Jewish-Assyrian friends and family in particular. Eastern Orthodoxy (an early denomination of Christianity) is an important and beautiful part of Assyrian identity. But it’s also important to remember that some of us come from families with multiple religions and ethnicities under one roof, and many of us embody multiple identities.

So here’s to twice the traditions, twice the celebrations, and all the love!

An early shanah tovah to all, and eidukhen howie breekhah ❤️

chocolate pomegranate babka
chocolate pomegranate babka
chocolate pomegranate babka
chocolate pomegranate babka

chocolate pomegranate babka

yield: 8 to 10 servings
active time: 1 hour 15 minutes
total time: about 4 1/2 hours
download a
PDF to print

dough

  • 175g whole milk (3/4 cup)

  • 6g dry active yeast (2 teaspoons)

  • 100g sugar (1/2 cup)

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature (160g total)

  • 600g all purpose flour (4 2/3 cups), divided into 500g and 100g

  • 7g salt (1 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 115g softened butter (1 stick)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°F (80°C). Once it preheats, turn it off and open the door open a crack before you start making the dough.

  2. Microwave the milk until it’s about 115°F (45°C). Add the yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with the hook attachment), stir in the warm milk, and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

  3. Add the sugar, eggs, 500g of the flour, and salt to the stand mixer. Let the mixer run at low speed with the hook attachment, just until everything is incorporated into a very shaggy dough. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time with the mixer running at low speed, allowing each tablespoon to disappear completely before adding more.

  4. Once all the butter has been added, gradually add the last 100g of flour 1 tablespoon of the time with the mixer still running on low. Once the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, stop adding flour (I add exactly 100g, but you might need more or less if you don’t measure precisely with grams). It’s ok if the dough pools at the very bottom of the bowl.

  5. Increase speed to medium, and knead the dough for about 7 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic.

  6. Lightly oil a mixing bowl and your hands. Scrape the dough into the bowl, and use your hands to shape it into a ball (tuck itself under its bottom to smooth out the surface). Leave it in the bowl with the seam-side facing down.

  7. Cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap, place it in the oven (again, make sure the oven heat is off and that it has cooled down for at least 10 minutes), leave the door open a crack, and let it proof for about 1 hour. The dough is done rising once it's noticeably larger, and has approximately doubled in size. While it’s rising, make the filling.

filling

  • 40g butter (3 tablespoons)

  • 130g dark chocolate chips (at least 60 % cacao) / 3/4 cup

  • 75g pomegranate molasses (about 3 tablespoons)

  • 1 pinch salt (about ⅛ teaspoon)

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it almost completely melts (and no longer), remove from heat, add the dark chocolate, and start stirring it together.

  2. Once the chocolate has melted, add the pomegranate molasses and salt, and give it another stir. Let it cool to room temperature before using it (it should be spreadable like room temperature frosting).

rolling and splitting the logs into 4 strips

  1. On an unfloured smooth surface, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Shape each into a smooth ball. Roll out the first ball into a 12x19-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick (let the dough rest to relax if it fights you, and make sure you roll it out all the way or you won’t be able to use all the filling). To get a rectangular shape, pull the corners out between rollings.

  2. Once the first dough is rolled out, evenly spread half the filling over its surface, leaving a border of 1/2-inch on one of the longer sides and 1/8 inch on all the other sides, and brush a tiny bit of water on the side with the large border. Tightly roll it up from the chocolatey long side to the bare long side. Pinch it closed, and then pinch the ends closed too. Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling.

  3. Let the 2 logs rest for 5 minutes, and then use scissors to slice each log open lengthwise, leaving 4 strips of dough (2 from each log). Line a sheet pan with parchment.

chocolate pomegranate babka
chocolate pomegranate babka
chocolate pomegranate babka
chocolate pomegranate babka

braiding the loaf

All strips should be facing cut-side-up at all times. Think of them as always having 4 sets of parallel partners—when you twist them, each strip should join up with a new partner. If a strip is coming from under another one, it should get folded over its partner. If a strip is coming from over another one, it should be folded under its partner. If this makes no sense to you, just follow the images and directions below, and you’ll be just fine.

Place the first strip horizontally on a parchment-lined pan.

Place the first strip horizontally on a parchment-lined pan.

Place a second strip perpendicular to make a big plus sign.

Place a second strip perpendicular to make a big plus sign.

Place a third strip horizontally and below the first strip.

Place a third strip horizontally and below the first strip.

Momentarily fold back the right side of the first strip.

Momentarily fold back the right side of the first strip.

Place a fourth strip vertically next to the second one.

Place a fourth strip vertically next to the second one.

Lay the first strip back over the fourth one to make an interlocking # sign.

Lay the first strip back over the fourth one to make an interlocking # sign.

Take the top 2 strips, and cross the right one over the left one; allow the 2 strips to criss cross away from each other at an approximate right angle.

Take the top 2 strips, and cross the right one over the left one; allow the 2 strips to criss cross away from each other at an approximate right angle.

Continue with the other 3 pairs, being sure to cross in the same direction every time (always cross the top one over in a counter-clockwise direction).

Continue with the other 3 pairs, being sure to cross in the same direction every time (always cross the top one over in a counter-clockwise direction).

I’m working clockwise while crossing over in a counter-clockwise direction (doesn’t matter which direction you work, just which direction you cross)

I’m working clockwise while crossing over in a counter-clockwise direction (doesn’t matter which direction you work, just which direction you cross)

Once you’ve made all 4 criss-crosses, each strip will have met up with a new parallel partner.

Once you’ve made all 4 criss-crosses, each strip will have met up with a new parallel partner.

If you’re having trouble seeing the new pairs, turn the sheet pan 45°. The new pairs are now pointing toward 12, 3, 6, and 9:00, like when you started.

If you’re having trouble seeing the new pairs, turn the sheet pan 45°. The new pairs are now pointing toward 12, 3, 6, and 9:00, like when you started.

Cross the ones on top, but this time going left over right.

Cross the ones on top, but this time going left over right.

Continue with the other 3 pairs, being sure to cross in the same direction every time (always cross the top one over in a  clockwise  direction this time).

Continue with the other 3 pairs, being sure to cross in the same direction every time (always cross the top one over in a clockwise direction this time).

Here we go, moving from one to the next clockwise again, but this time also  crossing over  in a  clockwise  direction.

Here we go, moving from one to the next clockwise again, but this time also crossing over in a clockwise direction.

After this second pass, you should end up with a bunch of little stubs (if they’re super long, you can do 1 more round of twisting—these are not long).

After this second pass, you should end up with a bunch of little stubs (if they’re super long, you can do 1 more round of twisting—these are not long).

Tuck these stubs under the loaf to make a neat round/square loaf.

Tuck these stubs under the loaf to make a neat round/square loaf.

rising and baking the loaf

  1. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let it rise for about 45 minutes at room temperature, until it’s puffed up slightly (it will take less time if your room is warmer than 70°F. It shouldn’t double in size, just about 1.25 to 1.5x its original size).

  2. Once you’re almost ready to bake preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

  3. Bake for 35 minutes uncovered.

  4. Loosely tent with aluminum foil and continue to bake for another 30 to 45 minutes, until its internal temperature reads 200°F (93°C). If you want the top to brown more, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes. While it’s baking, make the syrup.

syrup and topping

  • 50g sugar (1/4 cup)

  • 45g water (3 tablespoons)

  • (optional) pomegranate arils for sprinkling (about 2 tablespoons)

  1. Place the sugar in a small saucepan and cover with the water. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 1 minute until the sugar dissolves (no longer, or it’ll turn into candy). Let it cool down as the babka bakes.

  2. As soon as the babka comes out of the oven, brush with the cooled syrup, and then top immediately with pomegranate arils. Let it cool to room temperature (or at least 40 minutes) before slicing and serving.

Storage: Promise me you will not put this bread in the refrigerator. It has a lot of butter and flour, so it will start to stale almost immediately in the fridge. Without the pomegranate arils, it will last at room temperature for several days. The pomegranate arils will shorten its room temperature shelf life to just 1 or 2 days. But it keeps wonderfully in the freezer for 3 months, either frozen as an entire loaf of cut into individual pieces (wrapped tightly, in either case).

chocolate pomegranate babka

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