If you’ve never had a piece of the world famous Sri Lankan Love cake in your life, you clearly have wasted your life so far.
This is one of those wonderful hybrid yummies that evolved from the island’s colonial past, along with the decadent Christmas cake, breudher and other such vibrant dishes. The Sri Lankan Love cake for me is essentially a Christmas treat, but I am always ready for a bite of it any time of the year!
According to what I know, the Sri Lankan Love cake is a legacy of the Portuguese era, from whose influence and quite a lot of local flavour, the natives conjured up this fragrant cake. We know this is Portuguese from the addition of the pumpkin preserve, or the puhul dosi as we call it, which is similar to doce de chila – Portuguese squash preserve. But we Sri Lankans will simply not be content with bland flavours direct from abroad oh no! We are people of demanding palates and a penchant for passionate flavours and hence the spices, the rose water and the cashews came into the picture.
I am not quite sure how the cake got its name though. I did some research on this lovely cake, for something so beautiful must simply stalked (said me in a completely non-creepy stalkerish way). Some say that during the Portuguese era, this was a cake that was baked to win the hearts of suitors while others say that it is because of the labour of love involved in all the cutting, chopping and the grinding of the fruits, the nuts and spices. Either way, it does taste like love – sweet, feisty, intense, fragrant and slightly intoxicating. I like to think that it is because of this reason that the cake got its curious name.
- Prep Time : 20 minutes
- Cook Time : 30 minutes
- Yield : 20 pieces
- Egg yolks - 10
- Sugar - 500g
- Semolina - 250g, roasted
- Butter - 225g
- Cashews - 400g, finely ground
- Pumpkin preserve - 200g, chopped
- Nutmeg - ½ tsp, ground
- Clove - ½ tsp ground
- Cinnamon - 2 tsp, ground
- Egg whites - 5
- Vanilla - 3 tblsps
- Lime - 1 rind, , grated
- Honey - 80 ml
- Almond essence - 2 tsps
- Rose water - 4 tsps
- A whole lotta love (no not the Led Zepplin kind)
- Heat the oven to 180 C.
- Beat the egg yolks and the sugar to form a smooth, thick cream that will eventually double in size.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the roasted semolina and the butter.
- Beat in the butter and the semolina mixture into the egg yolk mixture and add in the minced pumpkin preserve, cashews, the spices, golden syrup, lime rind and the essences. Mix well.
- In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold in the egg whites carefully into the semolina mixture.
- Pour the mixture into a well lined cake tray and bake at a moderate heat (180C) for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out moist but clean.
- Cut into small pieces (no big whopping sized pieces of this) and serve.
Beware of its humble appearance, the Sri Lankan Love cake is a very ordinary looking cake sans frills of fancies. Brown and uninteresting at the first glance, there is nothing exciting about its look. But then you take a bite and……. It’s love at first bite! Literally. Fragrant, spicy, floral, nutty, fruity – it’s everything wonderful and more. With a heady mix of scents – rose, cinnamon, almond, cardamom, clove and nutmeg, it woos the nose at first, while the teeth sink into a texture that is at first slightly crunchy but sinfully moist and rich in the centre. The tongue meets the nubby texture of the toasted semolina while the teeth occasionally meets the juicy pieces of pumpkin preserve and the cashew nuts, where the creamy taste of cashews encounters and compliments the sweetness of the preserve. The spices pierce through the richness of it all, harmonizing with the rich floral note of the rose where the sensual and the nutty dominate. Occasionally you encounter the zestiness of the lime rind and when you do, it’s a wonderful surprise. The tangy, the sweet, the floral, the spicy – everything merges in a beautifully seductive dance in this sensual experience summarized into a very unassuming looking cake. It’s like the world’s most exotic brownie – gooey, chewy and very much comforting. And uniquely, Sri Lankan. It is the taste of home.
Traditionally, the Sri Lankan love cake appears in households during Christmas time or is offered at Sri Lankan weddings wrapped in gold paper which the guests can either eat or take home. And wisely so, because everyday eating of this cannot be recommended if only due to the massive amounts of eggs, butter and sugar involved! It will be a happy death though.
- The trick is to getting a firm chewy exterior with a soft, moist centre. While most attribute it to the recipe, I think it’s all about the baking time and the cake tin used. Use a wide cake tin so that the cake batter does not stand up more than an inch. Bake at a moderate low temperature so as not to burn the top (this happens, trust me), not to dry the cake out or worse, leave the cake raw and gluggy in the middle.
- Roasting semolina is easy. Heat a skillet or a frying fan and dry roast until slightly golden and grainy. Et voila!
- While most people chop their cashews, I like to grind them coarsely. This helps them get incorporated better into the cake rather than encounter large soggy cashew pieces in the centre.
- Pumpkin preserve can be found in any Sri Lankan food store in town. If you can’t find pumpkin preserve, you can also use candied squash/winter melon, pineapple instead and while it wouldn’t taste the same, it would taste absolutely delicious. Or you can completely omit it and still get a really great cake!