Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Love Cake

My Love Cake Recipe

On New Year's Eve, my daughter and I made a favorite special cake called Love Cake.  It is a Sri Lankan specialty and my daughter's favorite cake.  The recipe I have is one I copied down from a cookbook my mother owned when we were in Sri Lanka.  I copied down the recipe sometime in 1973, before we left Sri Lanka, because my mother was not planning on taking her cookbook with her and she didn't realize that 17 year old me was all that interested in cooking!  I copied down recipe after recipe, in my "chicken scratch" handwriting, as my teachers used to call it, with my fountain pen and blue ink (Quink brand), which is what we all used those days (we weren't allowed to use a ball point pen at school).  Later, my mother bought me a newer edition of her cookbook, but the recipes had been revised and I preferred the older recipes as I felt they were more authentic. 

This is one of those cakes where everyone has a slightly different version of the recipe.  Mine calls for:

1 lb. semolina (which we called "rulang" in Sri Lanka), 2 1/4 lb. sugar, 1/2 lb. butter, 1 1/2 lb. cashews ("cadju" as we call it in Sri Lanka), 18 eggs (the whites of only 10), 1 wineglass of bees' honey, 2 lbs. candied peel, 1 lb. pumpkin preserves, 1/2 bottle essence of rose, 1/2 bottle vanilla, 2 tsp. almond essence, 1 tsp. cardamom powder, 2 tsp. cinnamon, a pinch of cloves, 1/2 small nutmeg.

The directions say:

Put the eggs into a basin, add sugar and beat them together.  Mix rulang (semolina) and butter together and add them into the mixture and mix well  Add the cadjunuts (cashews) finely chopped or minced, or better still, half chopped and half minced, together with the bees' honey, essences and spices.  Give the mixture a good stir and bake in a moderate oven till the top is nicely browned. 

First of all, daughter couldn't get over some of the measurements. For example, the wineglass of bees' honey.  How much was that?  I explained to her that we'd use a regular wine glass (which tended to be rather small back in Sri Lanka at the time) and told her to pour about 1/4 cup of honey.  Then, she shook her head when I told her that we used regular teaspoons back then, because we didn't have measuring spoons.  The baking directions weren't very helpful to her, either - what's a moderate oven? (350F, but 300F for our oven because it tends to run a bit hot).  For how long?  "Till it is done!"  :D

Then, we modified the recipe!  Daughter doesn't like candied peel, so we decided to omit that.  Instead, I added a little bit of crystallized ginger and a bit of orange flower water.  Then, she decided that 18 eggs were too much!  That's what I have always used, when making this cake.  My friend's recipe calls for 16 eggs (and a lot less candied peel).  Another printed recipe I have calls for 10 eggs.  Some other recipes say 8 eggs, which I thought were too few.  We decided to go with 12 eggs, the whites of only 10.  

Eggs: 12 Yolks and 10 Whites

Then, I proceeded to slightly roast the semolina in a pan.  No, the recipe doesn't state to roast the semolina.  But that is the way my mother taught me to make this cake, saying that's how her mother taught her, and I insisted that we did it that way!  Daughter doesn't much like the texture of the cake when using roasted semolina.  We compromised and I didn't roast the semolina as much as I would have, otherwise.  I told her she gets to omit this step when she starts making the cake on her own.  :)

Roasting the Semolina

While I did that, daughter ground up the cashews in the blender.  You need both finely ground cashews and pieces:

Ground Cashews

Then she ground up the pumpkin preserves:

Jar of Pumpkin Preserves

Then I directed her to add the honey, pumpkin preserves, essences, and ground spices to the ground cashews.  Wait, what?  The recipe doesn't say that!  No, but it is how my mother taught me to make this cake,  saying it was how her mother taught her.  In fact, my mother used to insist that we added all the spices and essences to the ground cashew and keep it overnight for all the flavors to meld.  We didn't do it that way, this time, because my daughter didn't see the need for it.

Mixture of Ground Cashew, Honey, Essences and Spices

The bottle of rose essence I had bought from the Sri Lankan store:

Rose Essence

By this time, I was feeling tired and a bit emotional as I reminisced how my mother and I would make this cake together, so I sat and rested while daughter beat the eggs:

Beaten Eggs

 And mixed the butter with the roasted semolina:

Mixture of Roasted Semolina and Butter
Then, I directed her to add the semolina/butter mixture to the beaten eggs and then add the ground cashews.   The batter was mixed well and poured into a baking pan we lined with several layers of parchment paper and greased (no, the recipe doesn't say anything about how to prepare the baking pan; I guess they just assumed that anyone who baked cakes would know?).  Again, it is something my mother taught me to do, using greased brown paper which was more readily available than parchment paper, when I was growing up.

Then, I beat up one of the egg whites and brushed it over the top of the cake.  No, it doesn't say so in the recipe, but (all together now): it is how my mother taught me to make this cake,  saying it was how her mother taught her!  :D  The beaten egg white on top is supposed to give it a bit of a glossy finish; I think ours browned a bit too much in places!

Then, the cake was baked at 300F for about 1 hour.  It is done when the edges are set but the cake is still fairly moist in the center.  

The Cake Fresh from the Oven

Back when my Granny made her cakes, she didn't have her own oven.  Even now, many Sri Lankan kitchens don't have ovens.  Granny, like most of her friends and neighbors, sent her cake mixtures to the local bakery to be baked for a fee.   Of course, back then, Granny couldn't buy her pumpkin preserves or candied peel already made from a store.  She bought her ingredients and made her own pumpkin preserves and candied peel.  That is why Love Cake, along with Rich Cake (which is a type of fruit cake, very similar to the British Christmas cake) were made for special occasions such as Christmas and weddings.  Because they were a labor of love, requiring many months of preparations before the main cake could be made. 

A Piece of Love Cake

What does one do with all the leftover egg whites?  Especially when 18 eggs are used?  Well, usually, one makes "kisses" or meringues, of course.  In our case, we only had 2 extra egg whites, one of which was used to brush the top of the cake.  I made a scrambled egg with the remaining egg white for my dinner, that night.

I was a bit disappointed that all I could taste was a bitterness from the strong flavors of the essences and spices we had used.  But, the flavors mellowed a bit over time and the piece I ate today tasted a lot better, to me. 

By the way, one of my friends also made a love cake and brought me a piece to try - her recipe doesn't call for almond essence, she said, and she baked her cake at 250F for 2 hours.  We tried each others cakes and pronounced them both to be excellent!  :D

Oh, and my daughter says someone needs to re-write my recipe with more precise, step by step directions! 

Do you have similar cakes?  Or recipes handed down from mother to child?  Does the making of these special family dishes involve unwritten steps, such as roasting the semolina and adding the spices to the cashews before mixing in the batter, etc.?


  1. Such an interesting story and recipe. If the spices were a too strong at first, I guess your mother (and hers before her) knew what she was talking about when she said to let the cashews and spices blend overnight.

    1. You know, I think you have a point there! Especially since we use freshly ground spices and they tend to be more potent.

  2. That recipe is what I think of as 'real' cooking. I've seen recipes like them in old community cookbooks, the sort that print a cookbook for fundraising so all the 'real' recipes that people use year in year out are published. I think that there is something entirely satisfying in these. Thank you for sharing. x

    1. You are quite welcome! I wish I had my Granny's recipes. Apparently, she made all kinds of things from cakes to wines to sweets. But she died when I was 15 and wasn't interested enough in cooking to ask her how she made anything (according to my mother, Granny didn't have anything written down).

  3. Oh my.. this cake looks and sounds amazing.. And all the love you and your mom , and now you and your daughter put into this cake.. amazing!!
    I miss cooking with my mom.. She could make an apple pie that was out of the world.. she made a buttery cinnamon pie crust.. I never mastered it.ha Her recipes always consisted of her saying 'oh, just put a little bit of this or a good bit of that?"' lol.. She didn't write many recipes down..She loved to cook and she had it in her head.. How I miss her specialities...that none of us 4 girls have..

    1. Oh, your mom's apple pie sounds delicious! Sometimes, it is hard to re-create those tastes of childhood - partly because the ingredients themselves have changed. But cooking together can be such a bonding experience, can't it? We are making memories along with the food.

  4. Thank you for sharing the creation of the love cake on New Year's Eve. It is special that the recipe has been passed down and that now your daughter will one day make her own and perhaps involve a daughter of her own, who knows? I'm glad it was tasting better to you the second day.


    1. I enjoyed sharing it, Bushlady. :)

      I think the next thing my daughter and I will make, on her next visit home, is a type of pudding made with coconut milk, juggery (palm sugar), and a generous amount of eggs! It's another of her favorite desserts.

      The first time my daughter "helped" me to make this pudding, she was a toddler seated at the table, mostly just watching, until I turned my back for a minute to get something and she decided to add some egg shells to the mixture! I had to fish them all out and I still tease her saying that the pudding was still a bit crunchy! :D

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post Bless. it made me laugh that DD wanted specific instructions and you just did it "as your mother taught you". I expect that's how most people were taught back in the day. I know i I learned most of my basics by standing and watching when I was just a girl. Xx

    1. My daughter would get so frustrated cooking with me as a child because she wanted precise measurements and I rarely measure anything unless I am making cakes or cookies, etc. Now, after more cooking experience, she's getting better with substituting ingredients and modifying recipes. But she still tends to want precise measurements. :)

  6. I love family recipes. I have a recipe for rolls from my grandmother that gives no indication of requiring flour until you are instructed to stir it in. No measurements, it's up to you. This cake sounds amazing and what fantastic memories you have of making this cake with your mother! I'm glad that it has started to taste better to you as the flavors settle.

    Regarding the 18 eggs -- does this mean that you use 8 whole eggs and 10 whites? How did you have leftover whites -- wouldn't there be leftover yolk? Oh...I just went back and reread. I was not reading subtraction where there should have been. ;) At any rate, it truly looks amazing!

    1. Yes, it is 10 whole eggs and the yolks of 8 additional eggs.

      Old recipes are more of a "take some of this, mix in some of that, add a pinch of something else", aren't they?

  7. Thank you for sharing the recipe! I'm so glad that your 17 year old self had the foresight to copy it down. :)

    1. You are welcome, Debbie. I, too, am glad I copied it down, along with several others that appealed to me (for curry powder, sponge cake, jams and chutneys, etc.) Ah, the days before internet! When everything had to be copied down or lost forever! :D These days, one can search love cake and a dozen recipes pop up!

  8. I laughed when I read there's another cake called "Rich Cake" because the Love Cake sounded already pretty "rich" to me, ha.

    It looks very good and huge! What a labor of love, indeed, it must have been back in the days of your grandmother and earlier!

    I don't have any recipes handed down by my mom or grandma. I have a couple from my dad, who is an amazing baker, but he's like your mom "A little bit of this, a tad of that, bake it until it's cooked..." aaargh. I'm like your daughter. I need precise step-by-step instructions :)

    1. I really don't know why the other cake is called "rich cake"; it is also known as Christmas cake and wedding cake. The love cake recipe I followed filled a 13" x 9" pan. For my daughter's 1st year birthday (to which my mother invited over 100 people), I made three such cakes! In addition to the birthday cake. :)

  9. What a fun experience to teach your daughter how to make the cake recipe passed down from your mother. And it looks yummy, too! Creating memories is an added bonus! :)

    1. Thank you, Carolyn! We did have fun making it together. :)


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