Sri Lankan Love Cake to Win a Suitor
Three Little Halves blogger and illustrator Aleksandra Mojsilovic reimagines party prep with affordable, edible table displays.
Many centuries ago, when the Portuguese ruled the tiny island of Ceylon, a cake was born. They called it the Love Cake, as it was baked to win the hearts of suitors. Like love, it was deliciously sweet, fragrant, lightly spiced and slightly intoxicating. Born of an unpretentious Portuguese recipe, the cake has taken on a life of its own, with fruits, nuts and spices native to the island, and fragrant touches of rosewater and citrus, courtesy of Moorish influences in the region.
These days, there are as many recipes for Love Cake as there are cooks on the island now known as Sri Lanka. Some recipes specify grinding cashews coarsely, some require processing them into fine meal. Some call for semolina roasted in a dry skillet, some don’t. But all of the recipes agree on one thing: The key to authentic Sri Lankan Love Cake is a wonderfully moist, soft center, wrapped in the golden armor of a slow-baked semolina crust.
Sri Lankan Love Cake
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
16 ounces raw unsalted cashews
10 ounces fine granulated sugar
10 egg yolks
Zest of one lemon
Zest of half orange
Juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon rosewater extract (see Note)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces semolina
3 ounces candied ginger, minced as finely as possible
5 egg whites
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with butter and line it with two layers of parchment paper. Grease the paper with butter. In a food processor, chop the cashews into a fine meal.
2. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the 8 ounces of butter and the sugar until creamy. Add the egg yolks and mix well until the sugar has dissolved completely. Add the lemon zest, orange zest, lemon juice, spices, honey, rosewater and vanilla and continue to mix.
3. Beat in the semolina. When the semolina is fully incorporated, add the cashews and then the candied ginger. Mix well.
4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold firm peaks. Fold the whites gently into the cake mixture.
5. Spoon the batter into the pan, smooth the top of the batter with a spatula and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the cake is golden on top, feels firm to the touch and is very moist in the center (test with a skewer).
6. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, then remove it from the pan, dust with confectioners’ sugar, cut into squares and serve.
NOTE You may want to adjust the quantity of the rosewater depending on the type of extract or rosewater brand you are using.