Cooking With

Naira Vardanyan

Although rooted in Armenian culture and cuisine, the pastry chef combines techniques from around the world for her Manan House Cake

After mastering various pastry styles—flaky, creamy French/European delicacies; simple-yet-rich American cakes; Armenian treats filled with nuts, cinnamon and honey—chef Naira Vardanyan experimented with her favorite flavors, textures and preparation styles. What eventually emerged was her signature cake. “It wasn’t perfect at first,” she says. But after multiple taste tests and tweaks, Vardanyan introduced the Manan House Cake, which she sells for $3.49 PER each generous slice at her recently opened confectionery, Manan Bakery (6620 W. Flamingo Road, Suite 4, 733-4000, MananBakery.com). The dessert marries the texture of an American sheet cake with a combination of Armenian and European cream and nut flavors.

Vardanyan grew up in an Armenian home, but what was coming out of the kitchen was a cornucopia of cuisines. Her father, a baker, was constantly whipping up special treats for the family and the neighborhood, and although he would bake traditional Armenian fare, he also exposed the community to the very finest delicacies of other cultures—cakes, pastries, bread and more.

The same is true of Manan Bakery. French éclairs and cream puffs, American carrot and red velvet cakes as well as Armenian gata and baklava fill the shelves of the display case. “I grew up watching him, and I knew I wanted my own bakery to make all those things—not just for Armenians or Americans or anyone specific,” she says. “I want to make things everyone will love no matter where they originated.”

The almond essence of her signature cake is perfect for fall, and its airy texture provides a light-yet-sweet punctuation to an otherwise heavy holiday meal. Make it yourself at home, or, of course, Vardanyan has you covered.

Manan House Cake

Makes 1 sheet cake, about 25 servings

Cake ingredients

2 pounds almond paste

1 pound sugar

1 pound butter

15 eggs

4 ounces all-purpose flour

4 ounces almond flour (try Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or Walmart)

Frosting ingredients

8 ounces heavy whipping cream

8 ounces sugar

4-5 tablespoons pastry cream

2 colors of food coloring (Manan Bakery uses orange food coloring and cocoa powder)

1 tube ganache for cake decoration (optional)

Combine all cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine well. Divide into two separate bowls. Add one of the food-coloring colors to one bowl, add the other color to the other bowl. Add as much dye until you reach your ideal cake color. (You will repeat this process for the frosting.) Spread the mixture from one bowl into one 12-inch-by-18-inch sheet pan. Spread the other mixture into another sheet pan of the same size. Bake both at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. When the cakes are done, let them sit until cool. Flip them out of the sheet and let the underside cool as well. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the two colors of frosting. Frost the bottom cake with the desired color. Then layer the second cake on top. Frost the top cake with the remaining color. Decorate the top layer of frosting with ganache if desired. Then put the cake in the freezer for 15-20 minutes to set. Cut into 2-inch-by-4-inch rectangles.

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