My appreciation for the love cake you see in this picture is three-fold:
I made it with my aunt, and we followed my grandmother’s hand-written recipe. I’m not letting that cloud my feelings about the end result itself, but those circumstances generated good feelings in me toward the cake, naturally. Just this cake above, not love cake overall.
I finally understand why love cake tastes like it does because I made it, instead of having had a small, wrapped square offered to me at a wedding or other celebration. Now those complex flavours and textures make sense–the chewy parts are no strange mystery and the sugar and spice combination doesn’t catch me off guard at all. Plus something about making something yourself makes it taste better, doesn’t it? I fear that may have had some influence on how I experienced the cake when it was done, versus other times, but it’s more than that because finally…
…I’m just getting old. The nuances in this cake were lost on me and in fact, I hatedlove cake, if you can stand the irony, until now. And now…well, now I sort of love it. Which I should be happy about, except, see the part about getting old. It’s the kind of cake you may need a refined palette for.
Because the recipe includes pumpkin preserves, you see, and I used to loathe any dried or otherwise preserved fruit. I loathed that chewy texture and saw it less as a contrast to the other ingredients in a dish and more as an obstacle to enjoying them. Like raisins–gross! I wouldn’t touch rice pudding and was sad when someone added them to a stunning biryani. I couldn’t deal with a stray dried cranberry in granola and I still can’t go near fruit cake. Now I want raisins in my couscous and I throughly enjoyed this love cake, pumpkin preserves and all. Who am I? And how disgusted would the old me be with this love cake-loving traitor? These are my internal dilemmas. You can’t help me.
Hopefully you are more mature than me, regardless of your age, and you can appreciate the loveliness that is love cake today. It’s simply delicious, rich with cashew nut meal and slightly crumbly. Those pumpkin preserves, shown below, can be found in South Asian grocery stores and are found in the traditional love cake recipes. You will find youself snacking on this highly sugary preserve while you mince it, and if you have any sharp cheese around, you might want to have that handy too. I’m skipping replacing jellies with slivers of pumpkin preserve on my next cheese board–I’m mature/old enough to enjoy them that much. I think they would be a fine thing to nibble on with a glass of ice wine or port too. But back to the cake–if you can’t find pumpkin preserves, another aunt of mine suggested using minced pieces of pineapple which I think is an inspired idea.
Love cake is served at Sri Lankan weddings, birthdays and some other celebrations. To present it at weddings, it’s usually cut into very small squares, wrapped in cellophane and packaged individually in tiny white boxes for guests to take home with them. Because it’s so sweet, you only need a tiny piece, not the wedge I’ve carved out here, but don’t let me stop you. Cream, unsweetened and whipped, provides a neutral, silky balance, and this is just the cake you want to have with strong black tea (Ceylon tea, of course).
Oh and a word about the recipe. It was interesting trying to decipher my grandmother’s recipe, which called for rulan and which my aunt explains as essentially Cream of Wheat–which I discovered is semolina or farina to us in North America. The original recipe refers to a “wine glass full” of “bee’s honey” (so cute!) and calls for 200 cashew nuts, which were counted and, I was surprised to find, weighed exactly the 3/4 pounds of cashews that a third aunt in Sri Lanka said they would in her handwritten adjustments of my grandmother’s recipe. And now the aunt/second mother/culinary genius that I gush about on this site from time to time and I have re-tested and modified the recipe to bring it to you. Which is to say, a lot of love has gone into it over the years. I really hope you enjoy it.
170g semolina (or farina or Cream of Wheat), toasted in a pan and set aside to cool
170g unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks)
15 g minced lemon rind (rind of 1 lemon approx.)
1 oz brandy
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond essence, or rosewater
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 oz honey
7 room temperature eggs, whites and yolks separated
170g raw cashew nuts, minced with a knife or processed finely
225g pumpkin preserves, including the syrup, minced (or sweet pineapple)
Icing sugar (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)
Special equipment: 9″ or 10″ cake pan, electric hand mixer or stand mixer.
Preheat your oven to 300F degrees. Butter a 9-inch or 10-inch cake pan with a removable bottom. If using a pan without a removable bottom, dot the insides with a little butter, then line it with parchment paper and butter the paper well. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the first eleven ingredients: using the back of a spoon or a spatula, mix completely until the butter is creamed and blended evenly into all of the ingredients. You will have a wet paste when done mixing. Set bowl aside for 15 minutes until the liquid has been mostly absorbed.
Meanwhile, add the sugar and egg yolks to a medium bowl. Using a hand or stand mixer, mix on high until the sugar is almost totally dissolved. You should feel only miniscule granules when you test it with your finger and it will be a very pale batter when you’re done.
Add the cashew nuts and the pumpkin preserves with their syrup to the semolina mixture and mix to combine. Pour the egg yolk and sugar mixture into the semolina mixture and stir well to incorporate.
Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, in a medium bowl using a stand or hand mixer. Add half of them to the main mixture and gently fold them in. Repeat with the second half, fully incorporating them into the mixture until it’s thinned out to the consistency of a thick pancake batter. You will likely have to use all of the egg whites, but stop if your batter is starting to look too thin.
Pour the cake batter into the buttered pan, leaving at least an inch of room from the top. Bake in the oven for 2 hours, checking at 75-minute mark if your cake is already browning on top, and definitely at the 90-minute mark for doneness. How long your cake takes to bake will depend on the size of pan you use, how deep your cake is and also your oven. Insert a toothpick deep into the cake and when it comes out completely clean, the cake is done. Remove the cake from the pan and carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream if you’d like.