This recipe is adapted from a Claudia Roden recipe (which I think turns up in different forms in several of her books). It’s fairly heavily adapted, actually. For one thing, my version is vegan, though yours doesn’t have to be. For another thing, she claims that this amount serves 30 – 40 people, but I’ve fed this cake to hungry scientists and believe me, 30 people barely got through half of it, largely because it is very rich. I usually halve the recipe and still wind up taking the recipe to work.
This cake isn’t as tricky as it looks, but I’m warning you now that the central section *is* tricky – your filo sausages will not want to coil tightly around themselves without breaking. Fortunately, once you get past the middle few coils, the outer ones help to hold them in place, and the cinnamon and icing sugar will cover all the breaks anyway…Your Shopping List 1.5 kg ground almonds (I find this works well with half almond meal, half whole almonds processed into coarse crumbs) 1 kg caster sugar (this tells you all you need to know about the glycemic index of this recipe) 2 tablespoons of cinnamon 150 ml rosewater 100 ml orange blossom water 500 g filo pastry (refrigerated, not frozen. This would be a nightmare with de-frosted frozen pastry) olive oil spray (optional: 2 egg yolks for glazing, but since I never remember this, I can promise you it works without) icing sugar and extra cinnamon for decoration
Now what will you do with it?
In a large bowl, mix together the almonds, sugar, cinnamon and flower waters until you have a mixture that is nicely moist – Roden says ‘a paste’, but my version is a bit coarser than hers; I aim for a consistency where if you take a handful and press it together in your fist, it stays together.
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and line a *large* baking tray with baking paper. When I say large, the coil I usually end up with is well over 30 cm round, and I honestly can’t remember if I’m talking about the halved recipe when I say that.
Take the sheets of filo out of the packet and leave in a pile with the long side facing you. Spray the top layer with olive oil spray, take a lump of filling and roll it into a sausage shape a bit wider than your thumb. Lay sausage shapes end to end about one inch in from one long side of the pastry, leaving an inch at the t. Don’t join them together, because this will be your central coil and the more natural bendy points you have, the easier your life will be. Fold the short ends in over the almond mixture, then roll the pastry and almond mixture up into a long tube. Put the tube on the prepared tray, and coax it into a tight coil – this works best if you sort of massage it and pinch it wherever you need it to bend (I find that it’s rather a square coil at first, but that doesn’t matter – it will become rounder as you add more tubes. You will probably end up with cracks in your pastry. The goal is to minimise these, as the filling will try to escape.
Spray the next piece of pastry with more olive oil spray, and form another tube with the filling. Lay the tube on the tray with one end against the outer end of the coil, and gently curve the tube around the existing coil. This will be much easier than the first coil, and it gets easier with each successive tube, because less bending is required. Repeat this process until you run out of almond mixture, pastry, and room on the tray. I usually find that the almond mixture and tray space are the limiting factors…
If you want to glaze the top with a little beaten egg-yolk or milk, now is your chance. I usually just spray it with a bit more olive oil spray and bung it in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.
When you take it out of the oven, you may find that filling has escaped all over the place and it all looks a bit terrible. Don’t worry, this happens every single time I do it. Just let the whole thing cool on the tray and break off the bits of extraneous filling – nobody will notice if there are slightly broken edges, because the whole thing looks so spectacular.
Once the cake is cool, remove it very gently to a (large!) serving platter, and sift icing sugar over it, then cinnamon in a pattern like the spokes of a wheel.
Serve in very small slices that go all the way to the centre, or let people cut a finger length off the end of the snake. It is very, very rich.
This one’s vegan already, hooray! Traditionalists use melted butter, but they also probably spend five times as long making this cake, so I think there is something to be said for ignoring tradition.
I’m sorry, but unless you know where to find gluten-free filo pastry, I think the gluten-free will need to sit this one out. (Though I am now wondering about rice paper – you couldn’t make a huge big cake, I suspect, but perhaps smaller pieces?) And if you are avoiding nuts, this is also not for you. And it’s really, really not low GI, either.
In terms of flavour variations, I think this would be lovely with walnuts or pistachios replacing some or all of the almonds. I’m pretty sure I’ve done this with pistachios, actually. If I were using walnuts, I’d be inclined to stick to orange flower water only (a full 250 ml) and maybe add some orange zest. If I were using pistachios, I’d think about replacing some of the cinnamon with cardamom (cautiously, as cardamom is very strong) and using mostly rosewater.