August 27 is the feast day of St. Fanourios the Martyr, also known as the Newly-Found, since his icon was first discovered in the year 1500 on the island of Rhodes. The icon depicted the saint in the garb of a Roman soldier holding a cross of martyrdom in his left hand and a lit candle in his right hand along with twelve scenes from his martyrdom. From his clothing and the severity of the tortures he suffered as a Christian at the hands of the Romans, St. Fanourios is thought to have lived in the second or third century AD.
Traditionally, on the day before the saint’s feast day fanouropita is baked and taken to church for blessing at the Great Vespers, the evening service, in honor of the saint. At the conclusion of the service, the fanouropites are shared among those in attendance. According to tradition, at least nine people should have a piece of the delicious and nistisimo (it is fasting-appropriate because no animal products are among the ingredients) cake.
St. Fanourios has helped countless people find lost items and according to tradition, after you pray, mentioning the saint and his mother, and then find the lost item, you bake a cake (fanouropita) in honor of the saint which is shared as a thanks-offering. The traditional version of the cake features nuts and raisins and is topped with sesame seeds or powdered sugar depending on which version of the recipe has been passed down in your family and followed for generations.
The recipe below and its variations can be enjoyed any time of the year, adding seasonal fruits or a variety of nuts, if preferred, especially during periods of fasting.
3 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
1 1/3 cups orange juice
3/4 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup ouzo
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
Sesame seeds, for topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 13 by 9-inch baking pan by greasing with oil, then dust lightly with flour, and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
Make a well in the center and add the orange juice, olive oil, and ouzo. Stir until just combined. Fold in the walnuts and raisins. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for one hour or until a skewer or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely and cut into squares or diamond shapes to serve.
If preferred, cognac, or Metaxa, can be substituted for the ouzo, chopped almonds or pecans for the walnuts or a mixture such as half walnuts and half almonds, golden raisins or dried cranberries for the raisins, and slivered almonds for the sesame seed topping. Add a 1/2 cup diced apples with the nuts and raisins for an apple fanouropita.
Powdered sugar can be used instead of sesame seeds as a topping for the cake, just omit the sesame seeds and allow the cake to cool completely before sifting the powdered sugar over the cake. If using powdered sugar as a topping, you might prefer to cut the amount of sugar in the cake itself by up to half.