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Moist, tender and citrusy, this syrup-soaked cake gets its distinctive texture from phyllo dough
Milk Street Bowtie Broken Phyllo Cake with Orange and Bay

Broken Phyllo Cake with Orange and Bay

Appears in March-April 2022

2 hours 30 minutes active, plus cooling

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Broken Phyllo Cake with Orange and Bay

Free

In “Aegean,” chef Marianna Leivaditaki tells of her attempts at portokalopita, a cake made with dry, broken-up bits of phyllo dough in place of flour. Like many Mediterranean sweets, the cake is doused with syrup after emerging from the oven, which partly explains the tendency toward a heavy, sodden texture. She recounts that it was a friend’s mother who baked the best, lightest version of portokalopita she’d ever had, and she obtained the recipe. The phyllo, cut into strips and dried in the oven, creates a layered structure in the cake that, when soaked with syrup takes on a moist, pudding-like consistency. Greek yogurt and oil add richness while eggs bind and lift, with an assist from baking powder. The cake is citrusy with grated orange zest, and the soaking syrup is infused with cinnamon, cardamom and bay for added dimensions of flavor and fragrance. (Leivaditaki suggests dusting the cake with bay dust, but we put the bay into the syrup.) If you like, serve slices of the cake topped with a spoonful of lightly sweetened cream whipped with a little Greek yogurt. Leftovers will keep well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to four days; serve slices slightly chilled or at room temperature.

10 to 12

Servings

Tip

Don’t forget to zest the orange before juicing it. To remove the zest in strips, a Y-style peeler is the best tool. You will need two large oranges for this recipe—one to provide the zest strips and juice for the syrup and one to supply the grated zest for the cake. Also, don’t use a cake pan that’s less than 2 inches deep. In a shallower pan, the syrup may overflow the rim. Lastly, don’t allow the cake to cool before pouring on the syrup, and after the second half of the syrup is poured on, don’t be alarmed if the syrup floods the pan. As the cake cools, it will absorb the syrup.

2 hours

30 minutes active, plus cooling

214 grams (1 cup) white sugar
4 3-inch strips orange zest, plus ½ cup orange juice
3 inch cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, lightly smashed
3 bay leaves
227 grams (8 ounces) phyllo, thawed
214 grams (1 cup) white sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
240 grams (1 cup) whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
For the syrup
  • 214

    grams (1 cup) white sugar

  • 4

    3-inch strips orange zest, plus ½ cup orange juice

  • 3

    inch cinnamon stick

  • 2

    cardamom pods, lightly smashed

  • 3

    bay leaves

For the cake
  • 227

    grams (8 ounces) phyllo, thawed

  • 214

    grams (1 cup) white sugar

  • 1

    tablespoon grated orange zest

  • 240

    grams (1 cup) whole-milk Greek yogurt

  • 1

    cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

  • 5

    large eggs

  • 1

    tablespoon baking powder

  • ¼

    teaspoon table salt

Directions
  1. 01
    To make the syrup, in a small saucepan, combine the sugar, orange zest strips and juice, cinnamon, cardamom, bay and ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then transfer to a 2-cup liquid measuring cup or small bowl; you should have about 1⅔ cups. Cool to room temperature.
    See Demo
    Broken phyllo cake orange bay 1
  2. 02
    Meanwhile, to make the cake, heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan with cooking spray, line the bottom with a round of kitchen parchment, then mist the parchment.
  3. 03
    Roll the thawed phyllo lengthwise, then slice the roll crosswise ½ inch thick.
    See Demo
    Broken phyllo cake orange bay 2
  4. 04
    Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, using your hands to unfurl and separate the strips. Distribute in an even layer and bake until brittle and light golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes, scraping up and flipping the phyllo once about halfway through; it’s fine if many of the pieces break as they’re turning. Cool to room temperature on the baking sheet.
    See Demo
    Broken phyllo cake orange bay 3
  5. 05
    In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and grated orange zest on medium until fragrant, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running on low, add the yogurt, oil, eggs, baking powder and salt. Increase to medium and beat until the mixture is well combined, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as needed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, if needed, scrape any zest that is stuck to the paddle attachment back into the bowl.
    See Demo
    Broken phyllo cake orange bay 4
  6. 06
    Add half of the phyllo to the batter base and, using a silicone spatula, fold until the phyllo is reduced in volume and almost evenly moistened. Add the remaining phyllo and fold until well combined and no dry patches of phyllo remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer without compressing the phyllo. Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. When the cake is almost done, remove and discard the zest strips, cinnamon, cardamom and bay from the syrup.
    See Demo
    Broken phyllo cake orange bay 5
  7. 07
    Set the cake on a wire rack. Using a toothpick, immediately poke holes through the cake’s thickness every ½ inch or so. Slowly pour half the syrup evenly onto the warm cake, then let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the syrup to soak in. Slowly pour on the remaining syrup. The cake will not immediately take in all of the syrup, so liquid will flood the pan; this is normal. Cool until room temperature and all the syrup has been absorbed, at least 2 hours.
    See Demo
    Broken phyllo cake orange bay 7
  8. 08
    Run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto a platter. Lift off the pan and peel off the parchment. Re-invert the cake onto a serving plate.
Tip: Don’t forget to zest the orange before juicing it. To remove the zest in strips, a Y-style peeler is the best tool. You will need two large oranges for this recipe—one to provide the zest strips and juice for the syrup and one to supply the grated zest for the cake. Also, don’t use a cake pan that’s less than 2 inches deep. In a shallower pan, the syrup may overflow the rim. Lastly, don’t allow the cake to cool before pouring on the syrup, and after the second half of the syrup is poured on, don’t be alarmed if the syrup floods the pan. As the cake cools, it will absorb the syrup.
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Broken Phyllo Cake with Orange and Bay

Get Ready to Cook

10 to 12

Servings

2 hours

30 minutes active, plus cooling

Tip

Don’t forget to zest the orange before juicing it. To remove the zest in strips, a Y-style peeler is the best tool. You will need two large oranges for this recipe—one to provide the zest strips and juice for the syrup and one to supply the grated zest for the cake. Also, don’t use a cake pan that’s less than 2 inches deep. In a shallower pan, the syrup may overflow the rim. Lastly, don’t allow the cake to cool before pouring on the syrup, and after the second half of the syrup is poured on, don’t be alarmed if the syrup floods the pan. As the cake cools, it will absorb the syrup.

For the syrup
  • 214

    grams (1 cup) white sugar

  • 4

    3-inch strips orange zest, plus ½ cup orange juice

  • 3

    inch cinnamon stick

  • 2

    cardamom pods, lightly smashed

  • 3

    bay leaves

For the cake
  • 227

    grams (8 ounces) phyllo, thawed

  • 214

    grams (1 cup) white sugar

  • 1

    tablespoon grated orange zest

  • 240

    grams (1 cup) whole-milk Greek yogurt

  • 1

    cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

  • 5

    large eggs

  • 1

    tablespoon baking powder

  • ¼

    teaspoon table salt

Step 1 of 8

Make the Syrup

214
grams (1 cup) white sugar
4
3-inch strips orange zest, plus ½ cup orange juice
3
inch cinnamon stick
2
cardamom pods, lightly smashed
3
bay leaves
½
cup water

To make the syrup, in a small saucepan, combine the sugar, orange zest strips and juice, cinnamon, cardamom, bay and ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then transfer to a 2-cup liquid measuring cup or small bowl; you should have about 1⅔ cups. Cool to room temperature.

Step 2 of 8

Preheat the Oven

Meanwhile, to make the cake, heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan with cooking spray, line the bottom with a round of kitchen parchment, then mist the parchment.

Step 3 of 8

Cut the Phyllo

227
grams (8 ounces) phyllo, thawed

Roll the thawed phyllo lengthwise, then slice the roll crosswise ½ inch thick.

Step 4 of 8

Bake the Phyllo

Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, using your hands to unfurl and separate the strips. Distribute in an even layer and bake until brittle and light golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes, scraping up and flipping the phyllo once about halfway through; it’s fine if many of the pieces break as they’re turning. Cool to room temperature on the baking sheet.

Step 5 of 8

Make the Batter Base

214
grams (1 cup) white sugar
1
tablespoon grated orange zest
240
grams (1 cup) whole-milk Greek yogurt
1
cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
5
large eggs
1
tablespoon baking powder
¼
teaspoon table salt

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and grated orange zest on medium until fragrant, about 30 seconds.


With the mixer running on low, add the yogurt, oil, eggs, baking powder and salt. Increase to medium and beat until the mixture is well combined, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as needed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, if needed, scrape any zest that is stuck to the paddle attachment back into the bowl.

Step 6 of 8

Bake the Cake

Add half of the phyllo to the batter base and, using a silicone spatula, fold until the phyllo is reduced in volume and almost evenly moistened. Add the remaining phyllo and fold until well combined and no dry patches of phyllo remain.


Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer without compressing the phyllo. Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.


When the cake is almost done, remove and discard the zest strips, cinnamon, cardamom and bay from the syrup.

Step 7 of 8

Pour the Syrup

Set the cake on a wire rack. Using a toothpick, immediately poke holes through the cake’s thickness every ½ inch or so. Slowly pour half the syrup evenly onto the warm cake, then let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the syrup to soak in. Slowly pour on the remaining syrup.


The cake will not immediately take in all of the syrup, so liquid will flood the pan; this is normal. Cool until room temperature and all the syrup has been absorbed, at least 2 hours.

Step 8 of 8

Serve

Run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto a platter. Lift off the pan and peel off the parchment. Re-invert the cake onto a serving plate.

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