I cannot find any traditional recipe or history on the Armenian Nutmeg Cake.
You can imagine my surprise when I excitedly told my neighbor that I was making an Armenian Nutmeg Cake and she responded with, “I don’t think there is such a cake.” My neighbor who is an Armenian cook par excellence checked all of her cookbooks for me…there was no mention of a Nutmeg Cake. I researched Armenian cooking to see which spices were most often used when preparing sweet dishes…cinnamon was the winner. My neighbor talked to her mom and her sisters…they had never heard of it.
Here’s a 2001 blog post that calls it “Laurie Colwin’s Spice Cake.”
This is going to be your cake. It’s easy. You can do it. And it will be your specialty. You don’t have to tell anyone where you got the recipe. You can say it is an old family recipe if you want. And I won’t ever publish it.
A bunch of newspapers ran minor variations of that “Syrian nutmeg cake” recipe in the latter half of 1957. My guess is they got it from Spice Islands, which included it in a 1961 cookbook. I can’t find anything older.
The recipe might have been an attempt to approximate something that was traditionally made with semolina or almond meal using ingredients that were readily available in the US in the 50s.
Okay, I am a long time fan of Laurie Colwin and that story sounds exactly like something she would do. But. BUT. 4 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg? Gads, that feels way too strong. Even her gingerbread recipe uses just a tablespoon of ginger and nutmeg is a much stronger flavor.
But my argument is probably with Arthur Schwartz, not you! : )
Your later recipes (thank you!) with one and a half or two tsp. of nutmeg feel a tad more balanced.
Now here’s the big question, you’ve made me so curious - have you made the cake?!