Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sri Lanka Love Cake

Sri Lanka long has been described as a paradise by travellers.
John Richardson

I found this cake by accident. This recipe was printed in the Seattle-Times , as a "eurofushion" . I would say" Persian" for lack of a better term. I was intrigued by the combination of ingredients, and and how they would all blend. Cardamon, rose water, vanilla, almond, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raw cashews. (I had just purchase 3 # of them at the Depot). Now I could put them to work. The cake is an unusual blend of pungent spices , flavorings, and preparation. Moist and deadly fragrant. It is sensational.

The recipe comes from Sri Lanka, where the cake is known by the English name. It's an intriguing moniker that nobody can explain, as the cake is adapted from Portuguese cuisine, probably from the 16th century, when Portugal dominated the spice trade and controlled a portion of the island once known as Ceylon.


It is possible that a Portuguese recipe was minimally adapted in Sri Lanka or used as a point of departure. The recipe's cashews and cardamom grow on the island and are used by the native Sinhalese in savory and sweet dishes. The rose water and penchant for fragrance are definitely a Muslim aesthetic and may trace to Ceylon Muslims or to the Moorish influence in Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages.

During Sri Lanka's 2,500-year history, many groups from other countries settled on the island as a result of trade or conquest - Arabians, Tamils (from south India), Malays, Javanese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Foods and influences from most of these cultures are displayed in the country's extensive culinary repertoire. To browse through a collection of all the traditional dishes cooked on the island - such as the "Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book," produced by a newspaper publisher - is to take a global journey gastronomically.

Recent decades of internecine warfare have marred the island nation and sundered its rich mosaic of cultures. But Ceylon was still in its heyday when the recipe for Love Cake was perfected in mid-20th-century. In Colombo, the capital on the western shore, the setting sun would gild the neoclassical architecture of the House of Parliament, bright bougainvilleas covered the porches of houses, and fountains played into the night.


Classic Love Cake


11/4 cups semolina meal
11/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups raw cashew nuts, finely chopped (the best)!
4 tablespoons rose water
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
9 egg yolks and 5 whites
11/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons honey

green cardamon pods


1. Warm semolina in a dry pan over medium heat until fairly hot to the touch, being careful not to let it brown.

2. Put in a bowl and stir to cool. While still a little warm, mix in softened butter using a wooden spoon. Add lemon rind, spices and salt. Mix well, cover and set aside two to four hours.

3. Separately, mix cashews with rose water, almond extract and vanilla. Cover and set aside.

4. Grease 9-by-13-inch pan and line with three thicknesses of wax paper. Butter well the top layer of paper. ( why 3?..IDK)

5. In a large bowl, beat yolks and sugar until they have doubled in bulk and become thick, creamy and very light in color.

6. Beat in the semolina-butter mixture, a little at a time. Add the honey and beat. When well beaten, fold in cashew mixture.

7. Beat egg whites with lemon juice until they hold firm peaks. Fold into the cake mixture.

8. Spoon the mix into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 250 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, until the cake is evenly golden-brown and the top feels firm to the touch. If the cake begins to brown too much any time during baking, cover with paper or foil.

9. When the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan but is still slightly moist in center (test with a skewer), remove from oven. (If cake is very moist in the center, switch off oven, cover cake with paper or foil and leave inside for another 10-15 minutes.)

11. Do not remove cake from pan. Let cool completely. While still in pan, cut into small squares.

Love Cake was a festive cake, usually made at Christmas and New Year's, weddings and birthdays. If served as dessert after dinner, it might have been accompanied by port, the best of which comes from northern Portugal. Remaining Love Cake would probably have been served with afternoon tea, a tradition observed since British colonial times. The tea, of course, would be the famous Ceylon tea, taken mixed with milk and sugar in the English style.

Love Cake goes equally well with coffee or Turkish coffee, the spiced Indian tea chai now popular in the Pacific Northwest, or with green tea. Try these beverages without any sweetening, alternating sips with bites of cake; the two will heighten each other's flavor.

Like the beverages, the cake reflects global influences, and at year's end, as we look back and ahead, it appropriately reminds us of the romance of times past.

Love Cake keeps well for 2-3 weeks in a tightly covered tin, stored in a cool place but not refrigerated. The cake tastes best after two days.

(befarma'id) بفرماييد (nooshe jan) نوش جان


  1. This looks amazing, so dense and moist and a very attractive top layer. I feel like I need to re-introduce cashews into my diet! Great post, by the way, very informative.

  2. Thanks Connie! all my info is from the Seattle -Times article. This cake really is soo yummy. I hope you try it. I'm addicted to it already :)

  3. What an exquisite cake and such rich ingredients. I adore cardemon and will often lace my tea with it. Sea Witch

  4. This cake looks so exotic and fragrant with all those spices - I can just smell it through my computer screen

  5. Astheroshe, this is a beautiful cake. I love the blend of spices listed above too, and I have all of it in my pantry-even the rosewater! By the way, I love how your'e storing them in that tin. A friend of mine does that, and I love going to her houses and opening all her tins to see what's inside...

  6. Thanks Stella!! Once i saw this recipe i knew it had to be on my blog. The spices get better after a few days. It is one of my new favs. I know you will love it. :)

    ps.. I am also addicted to antique tins, and will be posting them with some recipes.. Trying to make my pics look better :)

  7. Thanks Wizzy and Sea witch....I really love when my work is appreciated :)

  8. Oh my. This sounds wonderfully exotic. It is awesome that you give some history as well.

  9. Thanks Erica! hope you enjoy it :)

  10. I DEFINITELY need some Love cake! A;;; the spices nuts, rose water etc sound incredible and it looks so moist and delicious.

    On another note..the Levain CCW cookie is like an oversized Tollhouse cookie, but richer. I still haven't gotten the recipe right, but there are many like you who don't find it all that great.

  11. I discovered this delicious cake in Sri Lanka and also through a Sri Lankan friend. I am glad and grateful to Astheroshe for publishing this article. Will definitely have a go and bake it.

  12. The addition of two cups of finely chopped preserved melon commonly known as PUHULDOSI in Sri Lanka, will greatly enhance the unique taste and texture of this cake which happens to be traditional fare at Christmas time in the little island home of mine !!!