|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:
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:
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:
And mixed the butter with the roasted semolina:
|Mixture of Roasted Semolina and Butter|
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.?