Saint Phanourios’s Cake

Saint Phanourios’s Cake Recipe

Saint Phanourios (pronounced “fan-OO-ree-os”) is to the Greek Orthodox what Saint Anthony is to the Catholics: the patron saint of lost things. But here’s the twist: this saint has a sweet tooth. Greeks bake, bless, and give away this humble nut-and-spice cake, also called a phanouropita, in return for the saint’s help to find something that’s missing. During my own year-long quest with the phanouropita, a friend’s grandmother showed me how to make the following version of this traditional Greek cake, which she likes to enjoy with morning coffee. Of the many recipes I’ve tried, it’s my favorite, because it’s so forgiving. The batter is easy to make by hand, and it’s all about proportions, which means you can use any reasonable measure (a coffee cup or drinking glass) in place of a standard cup. To my mind, the recipe’s looseness perfectly captures the spirit of Greek home cooking and offsets the formality suggested by Church and Saint. It also adheres to the traditional nine ingredients. (If you cheat just a little and count the cinnamon and cloves together as spices.) One unbreakable rule: Before you begin, take a moment to think of something you’d like Saint Phanourios to help you find—keep this in mind as you make the cake.–Allison Parker

LC Date with a Saint Note

If you’d like some divine company in the kitchen, print this image of the icon of Saint Phanourios and keep it within sight as you make the cake. Be warned, though—this alone won’t bring you what you seek. Sincerity is everything when conversing with a saint.

Saint Phanourios’s Cake Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 10 M
  • Makes one 9-inch cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 3 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions

  • 1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) degrees. Oil the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan (or a Bundt or loaf pan of equal volume). Dust the pan with flour, tap out any excess, and set aside.
  • 2. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, brandy, and sugar until thoroughly combined. Mix in the chopped walnuts.
  • 3. Sift together into a medium bowl the 4 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves. In small batches, add the flour mixture to the brandy mixture, whisking vigorously as you go. Continue whisking until completely combined. The batter will be very thick and slightly gummy—not to worry. (If it seems impossibly thick, you can always do what I do and splash in another tablespoon of brandy.) Tradition dictates that you’re supposed to whisk for 9 minutes by hand. Good luck.
  • 4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Before putting the cake into the oven, pause to say whatever kind of prayer you feel comfortable with as you focus on the thing you hope to find. (Greek Orthodox women make the sign of the cross, but the cake will not suffer if you skip this step.)
  • 5. Bake the cake until the top looks hard and golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
  • 6. Traditionally, the cake is now given away whole or cut into nine pieces and shared with others. If you’re serving the cake at home, you may want to sift a little powdered sugar over the top of the cake before slicing. The cake dries out easily, so if you do cut into it, make sure to wrap any leftovers well in plastic and foil, or store in an airtight container.
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Comments
Comments
  1. marcella says:

    I read the story and fell in love with it. Although I’m not Greek and not even Orthodox, I will bake the cake tonight (Saint Phanourios’s day is tomorrow). I have quite a long list of things I lost, I may be baking this cake lots of times in the next future :)

    • Allison Parker says:

      I hope you’ll find that the cake, even on its own, is lovely enough to keep baking again and again. And of course I hope that it helps you find what you’re looking for.

  2. Ah, love this! And love the idea of thinking for something that you wish to find (to fenari – the lighthouse!) while making this cake. It looks delicious. Efxaristw!

  3. Lauralee Hensley says:

    I liked knowing the history behind this cake. The recipe sounds simple enough, but at the moment I don’t have anyting that’s lost.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Lauralee, I’m glad to know that you’re not experiencing any losses. Trust me, the cake is still wonderful to make, and I think it would be no disrespect to enjoy it and share it with others as just a simple treat. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  4. Anna says:

    Insted of brandy you can use red sweet wine (some of my friends also use white dry wine). In Rhodes we add also raisins, which we put in the wine for about half an hour. It’s such an easy and delicious cake! Last night i was in St. Phanourio’s church in the old town of Rhodes and i was offered 4 pieces of phanouropita :-)

    • Allison Parker says:

      Anna, yes, I’ve seen (and made) some variations with raisins—though I hadn’t heard about anyone using dry white wine before. I would love to have been in the saint’s church in Rhodes. Maybe someday . . . Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. It feels like a lovely full circle to know that someone from Rhodes read my story!

      • Erasmia says:

        I am from Rhodes also. I have tasted many different recipes of Fanouropita. Every family has there own recipe. I also use brandy in mine. I’m going to try your recipe next time I make one. And I also like the addition of raisins.

  5. lora says:

    I loved every word of this story. It shows how baking and cooking is so much more meaningful to most of us than just mixing ingredients.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Thank you so much, Lora. I really appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment saying how much you loved the story. That means a lot to me. I hope that all your cooking and baking projects are imbued with special meaning for you.

  6. Does it count as an official St Phanourios wish if while READING the recipe, I wish for two of these cakes to magically appear at my doorstep? :)

    • Allison Parker says:

      Reginald, oh, sure it counts—send me your address, and you never know what might appear! Thanks for reading and commenting, and for your support along the way.

  7. jacquie says:

    wow your story really struck a deep cord w/me—thank you very much for sharing it. even though i missed St Phanourios day, i think i might still need to make/offer this cake. along that line do you think cherry grappa or peach schnapps would work in place of the brandy as i have both of those in the house?

    be well in your “staying found”
    jacquie

    • Allison Parker says:

      Jacquie, thanks so much for leaving a comment. I’m glad the story resonated with you. The cakes are made year-round (just most often upon the feast day of the saint), so don’t feel that you missed out—you can make a delicious cake to share anytime.

      As for the cherry grappa or peach schnapps . . . I’m not sure about those, because a half cup is quite a lot, so the resulting taste would be quite different. If you absolutely had to choose between the two, I guess I’d say try the schnapps. I’m all for experimenting in the kitchen, so it’s worth a try—I do wish you would make the cake in the classic way first, though, so that you know what it’s supposed to be like before making adjustments. You don’t have to use expensive brandy. Maybe you can borrow a half a cup from a neighbor, then share the cake with him or her as thanks?

  8. calli says:

    To add a story: The mother of a friend took one to church to be blessed. When she went to pick it up after the service, it had disappeared. So unless the saint couldn’t resist…

    Looking forward to trying out your version.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Yes, these cakes do tend to disappear! Did it turn up at the church’s coffee hour later? Regardless of where it went, I certainly hope that your friend’s mother’s prayers were answered. Thanks so much for sharing the story. If you do try this recipe, let me know how you like it!

  9. Rita says:

    I can’t believe there are no eggs in this recipe. Was this an omission or is the recipe correct as is? Please advise as I would like to try baking this.

    Thanks,

    Rita

    • Allison Parker says:

      Rita, the recipe is correct as printed. There are no eggs, no butter. It is, in fact, a vegan cake recipe (though I’ve never really thought of it that way for some reason). The omission of eggs and butter is due to the Orthodox influence, for times when certain fasting rules apply.

      I do hope that you will give the cake a try. I think you’ll be surprised that something without eggs or butter can be so good!

      And I hope that when you make it, you bring yourself closer to finding whatever you may be looking for.

      Thanks for writing (especially for asking a question that others may have as well).

  10. AZ says:

    Hi, First off, thank you for replying to my other post and the wishes. I was wondering, can I substitute ground allspice for the ground cloves? That’s all I have. Also, given that the recipe is ‘flexible’, may I substitute the orange juice in my fridge for the freshly squeezed orange juice? Or will that alter the taste?

    Thanks again!

    • Allison Parker says:

      You’re welcome!
      To answer your questions, I think that yes, you could substitute allspice for the cloves to good effect. As for the orange juice . . . I really do believe that fresh juice is far superior to what you buy in the store, but in the interest of keeping things real around here, I confess that I have “cheated” with store-bought OJ in this recipe at least once. The cake still tasted good. I used juice without pulp (you can strain your juice if it has pulp in it). Just be sure that the juice is not old (or from concentrate) and it should be OK.

      Good luck to you, and let me know how it turns out.

      • AZ says:

        Hi,

        I just cut the first slice, alas, the middle did cook properly. I swear I must have pricked the cake at least ten times, perhaps I didn’t prick the middle enough..

        Sadly I can’t give these slices away..

        However, I did try the crust and it was great! I love cinnamon, so I may add more next time..as well as cooking it longer.

        Oh well, thanks again!

        • Allison Parker says:

          I’m so glad you tried the cake—and sorrier that it didn’t turn out for you. What type of pan did you use? If using a deep pan, then pricking the cake with a longer wooden skewer, right in the middle, might help you achieve a better “reading” on the cake’s doneness. I do hope you’ll give it another go sometime. As you were able to tell from the crust, the recipe does make a very tasty cake. If you do make another attempt, let me know how it turns out.

          • AZ says:

            Hi again. I used a 9-inch round cake pan. I have a nagging feeling that my oven’s thermostat isn’t correct. I’m thinking of investing a thermometer. So I tried it again, this time I cooked for 50 min and inserted a skewer rather than a toothpick. It came out clean so I took it out, when I sliced into the middle still looked fairly dense. My slice tasted great, so I gave away the rest. My friend loved it!

            Is this cake on the dense side? Also, I bit more spice and used 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup golden brown sugar. I love brown sugar in cakes and bread.

            Thanks again!

            • Allison Parker says:

              Oh, I am so glad that you tried again. When you find a pan and bake time that work for you and your particular oven—stick with them. So glad that you liked the taste, shared it, and that your friend loved it, too. I’m also glad you experimented with the recipe. There’s tradition, and then there’s your own personal journey and connection to the cake. (And, yes, it is a more “dense” cake, as you notice—you’ll never get one that’s airy or fluffy; it’s just not that type of cake.) Thanks again for your persistence and letting us know about your great result! The saint should really pay attention to your dedication, I’d say.

  11. michaela says:

    Hi,
    Loved your story. I can understand how isolated a freelancer stay-at-home mum can feel and am very glad you found your way out of this.
    I love simple traditional cakes – i imagine all the Greek (and non-Greek) women who have been making this in their kitchens with ingredients at hand over the centuries. I’m Chinese but you can be sure i’ll attempt this some day and I already look forward to having this with some strong (greek?) coffee :))

    Just a question: what is the texture like? moist i imagine as with oil-based cakes plus the orange juice. I’m just curious about the intensive mixing because most oil-based cakes call for stirring in gently. Is it just for tradition’s sake? not that i mind:) does it make the cake harder, stronger?

    Thanks for the story and recipe!

    • Allison Parker says:

      Michaela,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I also like to imagine all the hands over time that have made the same recipes I make. There’s something comforting about that. Also, simple cakes are lovely (and, yes, especially with some strong coffee—Greek or not).

      As for your question…
      The cake is moist enough when fresh, but the amount of flour and nuts keeps it from being spectacularly so. If you have in mind any oil-based cake that comes out like a pound cake—it’s not that texture. It’s a bit coarser, denser. As I mention in the recipe, the cake does dry out rather quickly so you have to be careful to wrap it well if you’re storing it for later.

      The vigorous mixing is pretty much by necessity—the batter becomes very, very thick; to blend in the flour, you have to really put some muscle into your stirring, at least if you’re doing it by hand. Of course, in some other recipes for phanouropita, as I mention in the linked article, an element of tradition comes into play as well as far as the duration of mixing.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. I hope you’ll make the cake and tell me how you like it.

  12. Esther says:

    I love to bake, and baking a cake with magic behind it is irresistible. When you say that St. Phanourios will give you back something that you’ve lost, do you mean THINGS or even intangibles, like joy, desire, or motivation?

    A few months ago, I lost a pouch containing my well-loved diamond earrings and a valuable watch. I looked all over the house but could not find it. Then, I heard that a saint—Saint Therese of Liseux—might help, so I prayed to her. They say that after your prayer to St. Therese, she will give you a sign of roses to confirm that she will help you. I got so many confirmations after my prayer, but the pouch still did not turn up. Finally, after 3 days, my husband called me from his office and told me that he found my pouch in his briefcase! To this day, we don’t know how my pouch ended up there but I’m not complaining. There is really something to this saint business.

    Anyway, back to St. Phanourios, thank you Allison for your recipe and story. You have inspired me to bake a new cake and have introduced me to a new saint, to boot. I’ll let you know how the baking and the finding goes.

    Cheers!

    • Allison Parker says:

      Thanks so much, Esther, for sharing your story—I’m so glad you found your jewelry! I didn’t know that Ste. Therèse was supposed to help in these matters.

      As for Phanourios—I’ve heard of his finding salt cellars, husbands, jobs… but my own experience has proven to me that this process (the saint) works in mysterious ways and certainly, perhaps especially on behalf of someone looking for something intangible such as you describe.

      I do hope that your baking and finding turn out as you wish. Let me know!
      Thanks again for commenting.

  13. Zoe says:

    As a gift to my boyfriend’s parents, I made my first St. Phanourios two nights ago. We sliced into it last night and it was fascinating – such an aromatic, dense cake, not too sweet, not too heavy. I’m 1/4 Greek and come from a family that makes tiropita and saganaki for every holiday meal, so having a dessert in my recipe Rolodex is such a treat, especially one with such an interesting history. Thinking about my figurative “lost thing” while making this cake marked the first time that I was moved while baking, and sharing a cake with such a story made it so much more meaningful. That is something that I love about our culture – there is a purpose for everything, which is probably why the food is so good and nourishing. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Allison Parker says:

      Dear Zoe,
      Your message is a huge gift to me, right before the Christmas holiday. Thanks so much for not only placing your trust in Leite’s and this recipe by making the cake, but also taking the time to think about the story and intentions behind the cake and to leave a comment. Also, I am so honored that you’d make this as a gift for your boyfriend’s parents. I agree, a sense of purpose sure can go a long way toward nourishment—as can community and sharing.

      Again, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. May you and all in your circle have a lovely holiday season and an inspired, delicious new year.

  14. Chris L says:

    Would appreciate any guidance on the brandy. Probably you don’t call for well-aged Hennessy from France :) but there are just all kinds out there, so thought it might be worth asking, thanks in advance.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Hi, Chris. Thanks for posting your question. Given my love of authenticity, and my own Greek heritage, I have only ever used Metaxa in this cake–and not the Reserve range, either. I keep a bottle of the 5-Star Metaxa on hand, and I think you’d have no trouble finding that in a local liquor store. Expect to pay around $30/bottle.

      As for other options…. well, no one’s going to stop you from tossing in your VSOP or XO Imperial, of course, but it seems we both agree that might be better in a glass alongside your cake, rather than in it. :)

  15. Dear Allison, I am writing to you from an Orthodox Convent. I really enjoyed reading your article and for the first time in my life am sending a comment via the internet because I felt it would be great to share this with you as well.
    The Patron Saint of our Candleshop is St. Phanurius. Several years ago we printed a booklet–The Life and Miracles of St. Phanurius–which also includes a canon of supplication to him. (We made a humble attempt at a matching CD so that people could learn how to chant it.) Back then we printed 1,000 copies and they sold out very quickly, but for years we were not able to reprint it due to lack of time. Just today, thank God, we were able to send to the typesetters Volume II, which includes the forty accounts of Volume I and over 40 more. These are all true stories, written in the first person, of how St. Phanurius helped various people from all over to find what they had lost or needed to find–and yes, tangibles and non-tangibles alike. We would love to send you a copy as a gift when it comes from the printers, which we are hoping won’t be too far down the road. If you want to let us know how we can do that, that would be great. There is a link to contact us through our website. God be with you and may St. Phanurius always guide you! Mother Thecla and Sisters

    • Allison Parker says:

      Dear Mother Thecla,
      I am deeply honored that you would be moved to send a comment via the Internet, for the first time ever, because of my article. And incredibly touched that you’d offer me a copy of your own “True Stories” collected in your new volume. I would love to read these accounts. I will certainly be in touch—not only to arrange that, but to express even more personally to you my gratitude. Thank you for your blessings.

      • Dear Allison, Thanks for your reply, we were very happy to hear from you and we look forward to that other communication you mentioned. Can you please also tell us where you got that beautiful icon of St. Phanurius? God Bless! Mother Thecla and Sisters

        • Allison Parker says:

          Dear Mother Thecla, you are welcome. For the icon of St. Phanourios, I’ll have to retrace my steps and get back to you on its origin. I’ll be sure to let you know. Blessings back to you and the sisters. ~ Allison

        • David Leite says:

          Hello Mother Thecia, the icon came from this Romanian site. Hope this helps.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Allison,

    I found your article in the Best Food Writing 2011 book, and I enjoyed the history behind the cake about as much as the delicious sound of the recipe. I’ve been on the hunt recently for vegan treats, too, as a friend of mine is vegan and says she rarely finds sweet treats she can eat. Most of them contain butter, cream, an egg, or, more than likely, all three. I tried my hand at vegan banana bread last week and it turned out really well! When I saw that your recipe is (unintentionally) vegan I had to give it a try. It was a HUGE hit. I wish I had a more moving story of things lost or found but the truth is it was just a wonderful sweet treat to share with friends. I’m excited to bake it again. I try to bake by-the-book on first go around but I think I’d like to tweak a few things for the next time. Have you ever tried adding fruit? Maybe apples or pears? I think the possibilities are endless. Again, thanks for sharing your story and sweet recipe!

    Elizabeth

    Reader Phanourios Cake

    • Allison Parker says:

      Dear Elizabeth. Thanks so much–for taking the time to make the recipe, for commenting, and even sharing a photo! I’m so glad that the incidentally vegan-ness of the cake meant that your friend got to enjoy it, too. To tell the truth, I think looking for a way to please a friend, bringing a little something sweet into her life, is a very worthwhile search. I’m so glad you found this cake. I’m such a traditionalist when it comes to this particular recipe, that no, I’ve never tried adding anything else to it, but you’re probably right that some fruit would be good. I think I’d do dried fruit pieces, though, which would probably do less to alter the cake’s chemistry than fresh fruit with all its moisture. Still, worth experimenting. I’d love to hear about results. Again, thanks so much for reading my story, making the cake and sharing it. I love hearing that this tradition is still working magic for others, too. Regards, Allison

  17. marilynn carroll says:

    What can you substitute for the brandy if you don’t wish to use any alcohol?

    • Allison Parker says:

      Dear Marilynn,
      Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve been thinking about your question, and while I’ve never tried a substitution in this recipe (I love brandy and other spirits in cakes), I do have a couple of suggestions. First, of course, you have to understand that the taste will be different, perhaps the texture, too, from what’s intended. It’s a sizable quantity of liquid, so not like just swapping or omitting a tablespoon. But if you still wish to skip the brandy, then I think you could try either unsweetened orange juice concentrate, or use heavy syrup from one of the canned fruits that would complement the orange flavor already in the cake (I don’t know that mandarin orange would taste good, but perhaps apricot?). If you give it a try, I’d love to hear about the results. Good luck! ~ Allison

  18. Phoebe says:

    Hello Allison – If I wanted to do this recipe as cupcakes, what would I change (if anything) and what would the temp and cooking time be? I’d like to try cupcakes for my mother’s 40-day memorial so it’s earier for people to take one home if they’d prefer… Thanks!

  19. Anna says:

    Allison, I just saw your article for the first time today. (I followed a Pinterest picture!) We adore Saint Phanourous; in fact, we were behind in baking cakes for him (we still “owed” him for finding my husband’s wedding ring). One morning when my husband desperately needed his wallet, he promised this saint our next child would be named for him. We now have a daughter named Phanouria (the ultimate cake!). What a blessing to find a wonderful recipe on here that is also fasting. I think we also own one of Mother Thecla’s CDs of the cannon! We love it!!!

    • A. C. Parker says:

      Anna, wow! What a tribute your daughter’s name is. Thanks for letting us know about your experiences–though maybe I should say “your husband’s” as he’s the one who seems to be losing things. Hope everyone in your family has (or will soon find) everything they’re looking for. Cheers, Allison

  20. Aline says:

    Allison it is St. Fanourios day today. I just discovered him today and bumped into your page as I was looking for a good recipe of Fanouropita. I am orthodox, but never heard of him. Anyhow, the cake is in the oven right now…let’s see how it will taste. May Agios Fanourios listen to all your prayers.

    • A. C. Parker says:

      Aline, thanks so much for your wishes. I was indeed baking my own cake on St. Phanourios’s day this past year, as I do each year (and still at many other times as well). I hope you enjoyed the cake… and that you have been richly bestowed with all you have been seeking. ~ Allison

  21. Kathleen says:

    Was looking through the Saints and Sinners slideshow….found the recipe.
    I’ve been praying to St. Anthony on and off for years, now I have another, maybe St. Anthony and St. Phanourios can help me find my mind…two heads are better than one, esp. when it comes to saints.

    • A. C. Parker says:

      Kathleen, Agreed. Can’t have too many saints in your corner. Or cakes on your counter, for that matter. Good luck!

  22. Mary says:

    Hi Allison, I’ve been looking around for a good phanouropita recipe and this one looks excellent. One question – I’ve prayed this lovely prayer and asked for St. Phanourios’ help. Do I have to wait for his help to bake the cake, or can I start now?! Thanks!

    • A. C. Parker says:

      Hi, Mary. Some people bake the cake later, some first. Personally, I’ve always found that there is no such thing as an ill-timed gesture of gratitude, or an ill-timed cake. Me? I’d bake now *and* later. Hope your prayers are all answered in the new year just underway. ~ Allison

      • Mary says:

        Ha! Well, I didn’t wait for your answer (or the answer to my prayer) and I went ahead and started making the cake. I had only begun to mix the ingredients when I got a phone call with my answered prayer. :) I finished the cake with a smile on my face!

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