Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Keik (Κέικ)

For Patricia, who asked me for my recipe for keik - I recall I had my mother's set of those shiny orange tea cups that we also used to measure the rice for the pilafi, but I have a nasty feeling I gave them away because I didn't like them. Reading your message, I wish I'd kept at least one...

Greeks like to have a home-made sweet to serve to an unplanned guest, as well as to have something to eat with their coffee, and the most classic baked good of this kind the 'keik'. The name of the item does of course come from the English word for 'cake', but it must sound somewhat weird to the uninitiated to call a cake 'keik' when Greeks have many sweets of their own. The answer to that lies - possibly - in the difference in sweetness: γλυκό (gli-KO) is a sweet in the very sweet Greek style of syrup-drenched cakes, where κέικ (KE-ik, or CHE-ik in the Cretan dialect) is a cake that isn't very sweet, and not syrup-drenched (ie something like a UK or US sponge). To call a keik 'gliko' would be to abuse the true meaning of 'gliko'.

Most Greeks remember very well the scene where the Greek in-laws meet the non-Greek in-laws for the first time (on the Greeks' territory) in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It basically sums up the meaning of 'keik' (it's definitely not a 'gliko'). It also tells us a little about Greek identity. 

Even the most useless cook can make a keik, which has been popularised mainly by the Yiotis flour company. The recipe for keik is included on the back of every 500g packet of their self-raising flour. Even though the name of the sweet (well, cake, really) denotes that it isn't a truly Greek cake, it is still considered a classic Greek sweet (ie cake). It is highly sought after by the diaspora, because whenever they visit their relatives in Greece and they are served keik, it always tastes so different to any cake they make back home, most likely because they skimp on the sugar, they don't use fresh orange juice and they can't be bothered to grate ALL the zest from the WHOLE orange.

If they ate keik in a rural area, they will remember the brilliant yeloow colour of the keik, almost as bright as the sun. This is most likkely because free-range organic eggs were used to make it. And if they ate keik in Crete, they won't forget the strong orange scent emanating from the keik as their yiayia or mama or thia cut it into slices.

I've been making keik for years (it was one of the first recipes I ever wrote up on the blog), especially right throughout the school year, because it goes into my kids' lunchboxes. For this reason, they aren't allowed to eat it for breakfast because they eat it during the break at school, and because I can't keep up with demand, I try to get them to take it easy with keik after school (otherwise it would disappear almost as soon as I made it) by providing them with other healthy and not-so-sweet or sugary alternatives.

My own keik is always made with olive oil (if you have been reading this blog long enough, you will know why: it's cheap and abundant in our house). Couple with our orchards' oranges and my regular gifts of free-range eggs, I can truly say that i can have my keik and eat it too.
The teacup and teaspoon I used to make my keik
Diaspora Greeks worry very much about the measurements used in making a cake. To be honest, I stopped using measuring implements many years ago and I get by not just on my estimations, but on the feel of the cake. In this post, I will show you exactly how I made it today. For this reason, I have carefully measured the ingredients of the keik, and I also present the measuring equipment I use, just in case there is any doubt in your minds when you try to reproduce the recipe at home.

Just like Yiotis says, you need:
4 eggs
1 1/2 teacups regular white granulated sugar (don't use any other sugar for this cake - the colour of the cake batter will be affected, which will not make it a keik)
1 teacup margarine (according to Yiotis - I never buy margarine these days; instead, I use 1 cup minus 0.5cm below the rim of olive oil)
1 teaspoon of vanilla-flavoured sugar (Greek home-cooks - this does not include food bloggers or gourmet cooks - tend to buy their vanilla flavouring in tiny plastic vials which are enough for one cake; some people use up to 2 vials of this kind in a standard keik: although I no longer buy vanilla sugar vials, I have used it in thie recipe because this is what most Greek cooks do in fact use)
EITHER: 1/2 teacup milk (Yiotis gives you a choice - and of course, I do not use milk because I have...)
OR: 1/2 teacup freshly squeezed orange juice (never ever ever from a juice box or bottle); you will need a medium-sized orange
the grated zest of one whole medium-sixed orange (you will need to use an orange even if you decided on using milk, so why not use the juice too - hence, grate it BEFORE you juice it)
4 airy teacups self-purpose flour (ie don't pack the flour in the teacup; measure it by pouring the flour from the paper bag into the teacup)
1 HEAPED teaspoon of baking powder (Yiotis tells you that you should use self-rising flour, but I have stopped using it because it seems to contain a lot of rising agent and I basically don't like it; hence the addition of the baking powder)
a bundt tin - this is absolutely vital as Greek keik is always made in this way

In a mixing bowl, place the eggs (both yolks and whites), sugar, olive oil, vanilla sugar, baking powder, orange zest and orange juice. Beat well with a wooden spoon (I never use an electric mixer - I don't even have one) until everything looks well mixed (since I use olive oil, I ensure that the olive oil emulsifies well with the other liquids). Add the flour gradually, cup by cup, and mix well after each addition. You will know that you have added the right amount of flour when the wooden spoon you mix the batter with stands up straight in the bowl and needs about 2-3 seconds to lose its balance before it falls on the side of the bowl.

Grease the bottom and sides of a bundt tin with olive oil. (I always use olive oil; I never line my baking tins with paper - EVER - but you may not feel so confident as I do.) Pour the batter into the tin, scraping off the batter in the bowl with a spatula. Place the tin in the middle of the oven and bake at moderate heat (175C) for 45-55 minutes. If you use a fan oven, the cake will take less time to cook.

To test if the cake is done, push a knife through it to see if the blade comes out clean (as an experienced keik maker, I can tell when the cake is done just by the weight of the tin - it feels airy). Even if it isn't cooked right through, the keik will probably cook right through if you simply switch off the oven and let the cake continue cooking the oven's warmth for the next half hour. I usually take my cake out when I know it's done, because I love the final stage of keik-making: holding it upside down over a large platter, tapping it heavily on the platter and watching the keik come out perfectly. A Greek keik is always served UPSIDE DOWN, you see, so even if it cracks unattractively on the top as it cooks, who cares, since no one will see the top: they will only see the bottom.

So there you have it, the perfect keik. As a friend pointed out to me this morning, I never realised that keik-making could get so technical. But the truth is that cake-making does require a degree of exactitude that a savoury main-meal dish does not. But then again, my ingredients are generally farm-fresh and local. Everyone's oven is also unique and they don't all cook in the same way. And remember, keik has a hole in the middle, and it's not a gliko - it's a keik.

PS: there is a variation of this cake with chocolate - I'll present it to you next week when I make another keik.

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