It has a strong, rich cashew flavour, fragrant with spice and the essence of rose. My nan’s version was particularly fine – it always had the right texture and her recipe was much sought after. I’m certain that part of her secret was the newspaper she used to line the tins.
This cake is as much about the texture as it is the flavour. It should be dense, really moist and almost fudge like in the middle, surrounded by a layer that is slightly more cooked, and topped with a thin crust.
- 225 g coarse semolina
- 225 g butter, diced, at room temperature
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 9 egg yolks
- 225 g caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 g freshly grated nutmeg
- 5 egg whites
Spice cashew mix
- 225 g cashews, finely chopped
- 110 g pumpkin preserve (see Notes), finely chopped
- 15 g honey
- 5 ml rose essence
- 5 ml vanilla essence
- 3 ml almond essence
- 5 g cardamom powder
- 3 g cinnamon powder
- pinch of salt flakes and freshly ground white pepper
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
This recipe needs to be started the evening before.
- For the spiced cashew mix, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Cover and leave to sit at room temperature at least overnight. This allows all the flavours to soak into the cashews and mingle nicely.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a rectangular cake tin with six layers of newspaper. The best way to do this is to cut out the appropriate size, as you would with baking paper, then hold the newspaper under running water until it’s quite damp before fitting it into the tin.
- Oil this paper and then line with a layer of baking paper. Set aside.
- Spread out the semolina on a baking tray and place in the oven for 10–15 minutes until it starts to colour slightly, stirring it around a few times to ensure even toasting. (Alternatively, you can toast it in a large frying pan over a medium heat, stirring often.) Add the butter and lemon zest and mix it through the semolina until fully melted and combined. Set aside.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C. Pour 400 ml water into an oven-proof container and place in the base of your oven. This will add a little moisture to the cooking process.
- While the semolina is toasting, place the egg yolks, sugar and nutmeg in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat for 10–12 minutes on a high speed. The best way to tell when the yolks are ready is to turn the mixer off and look for slow volcanic bubbles forming in the mix. Transfer to a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients and set aside.
- In a clean bowl, whisk egg whites to form stiff peaks. Set aside.
- Working in alternate batches, gradually add the cashew mix and buttery semolina to the whipped yolks, ensuring each batch is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next. When the cake batter is thoroughly mixed, gradually add two-thirds of the egg whites, again in batches and mixing well. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly. Holding the tin with both hands, tamp it down by firmly tapping the tin on a bench.
- Now, with clean and slightly damp hands, spread the remaining egg whites evenly over the cake.
- Bake for 40–50 minutes, turning the cake halfway through, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, but only just.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Wrap the cake in beeswax wrap (or plastic wrap) and leave to sit for at least a day, a week is even better. This is a long-lasting cake and I have heard tales of it being kept for months and months.
• Pumpkin preserve is predominantly used for Sri Lankan Christmas cake and love cake and is best sourced from a Sri Lankan grocer. It’s made from winter melon, which is also called white pumpkin in Sri Lanka even though it’s a melon. The fruit is cut into pieces and candied, then covered in crystallised sugar. It is very sweet and can be eaten on its own as a lolly.
• Cooking this cake to the correct texture can involve time and patience and a good knowledge of your oven. I prefer to bake it in a conventional oven but if you only have fan-forced try reducing the temperature to about 140°C (275°F). If you are unsure of doneness, I would err on the side of slightly under.
• Store leftover egg whites in the freezer, or why not make a pavlova?
Recipe and image from Lanka Food: Serendipity & Spice by O Tama Carey, Hardie Grant Books, RRP $55.