Today, we are headed to Sri Lanka for a love cake! A cake for people who love each other and celebrate Valentine’s Day, but here’s how you can first love each other at the table.
The one who will make you feel butterflies in the belly, who will put a large smile on your face, or who will make you fly three feet above the ground will also have to prepare this love cake for you! A cake with enchanting ingredients, which shows that nothing in the world is more important than to love and to be loved!
Love… Every recipe hides a secret! This secret is called love! Cooking and teaching cooking is much more than just a recipe: it’s also giving and doing everything with your heart!
When the Portuguese arrived on the island in 1505, and since there were no women in the Portuguese navy, they married Sinhalese and Tamils, from the two largest ethnic groups in the country. It should be noted that this practice of mixed marriages with local populations had been encouraged by the Portuguese, not only in Ceylon, but also in the other Portuguese colonies, for example in Batavia in Indonesia, Macao in China, Malacca in Malaysia or Goa in India.
The children born of these mixed marriages were the Burgers. The term Burgher comes from the Dutch word burger, which means “citizen” or “city dweller”, and is related to the French word “bourgeois”.
The Burghers have introduced a number of foods and dishes into Sri Lanka that have become an integral part of Sri Lankan cuisine. The love cake is one of them, just like kokis, frikkadels (baked meatballs), the traditional Christmas cake (fruit cake) and lamprais (a curry wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf), just to mention a few.
The love cake dates back at least to the fifteenth century, and was initiated by the Portuguese who controlled large parts of Sri Lanka for more than a century. The love cake is probably of Portuguese origin because of one of its most important ingredients: puhul dosi, a variety of candied squash, related to the famous Portuguese squash called chila doce.
The beauty of cooking is that there is always an opportunity to discover new flavors and be surprised by new ingredients and surprising combinations. My new flavor, my discovery of the day, is called puhul dosi in Sinhalese.
A variety of squash in a cake? Why not?
After all, if carrots can be used in an Indian dessert like gajar ka halwa or the famous American carrot cake; if pumpkin can be the star ingredient of American pumpkin pie or pampoenkokies from South Africa, why not squash in Sri Lanka?
It is also known as winter melon, is an annual vegetable plant native to Malaysia and is related to squash, melon and cucumber. It is also from this ingredient that puhul dosi, the famous candied winter melon, is made.
In Sri Lanka, winter melon is called alu puhul in Sinhalese. You will find this variety of cucurbitacea anywhere in the world and if you do not find it under the name of alu puhul, don’t panic! It is also called “white pumpkin”, kashiphal or safed petha (in Hindi), pushnikai (in Tamil), or dong gua (in Chinese).
Most cooks buy already made puhul dosi in stores. Unfortunately, even if you can find this winter melon very easily all over the world, it will sometimes be difficult to find puhul dosi in some countries. There too, do not panic! You will find the recipe for puhul dosi on many websites and it is very simple to prepare.
I had the chance to find an excellent puhul dosi in an Indian and Sri Lankan market in Paris, in the Indian neighborhood. The most important tip to make puhul dosi is to ensure that the watermelon is drained well before making the jam.
Why love cake? And why love?
It is said that this cake was prepared by Sinhala and Tamil women to win the hearts of the contenders and, like love, it is deliciously sweet, fragrant, spicy and slightly intoxicating. Born from a simple and unpretentious Portuguese recipe, the love cake has had its own life in Sri Lanka, with fruits, cashews and spices from the island, and scents of rose water and citrus fruits, thanks to the Moorish influences of the region.
The standard and traditional recipe for love cake uses an almost equal amount of butter, sugar and cashews and plenty of eggs, as well as a good amount of candied fruits, essences, spices and honey. The cashew gives it a delicious taste and unexpected melting texture. This same cashew nut is the main ingredient of the bolo polana, this cake from Mozambique, that also features Portuguese origins.
The secret to the success of a love cake is the moisture it must keep inside. Do not let it dry.
And speaking of love, the love cake is traditionally prepared first and foremost for weddings but sometimes also for festive occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries.
Sri Lankans will tell you that the love cake can be kept for a year or more, in an airtight box but, at my table, its life was very short. I prepared it for dessert for a dinner with friends. They were all as curious as I was, and we devoured it all on the spot! It was definitely love at first bite!
The sweetness of Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love, will match perfectly with this recipe!
Happy holiday to all lovers and whatever the day of the year, never stop believing in love!
- 1½ cup fine semolina
- 6 large eggs
- 1¼ cup caster sugar
- 4 tablespoons liquid honey
- 1 cup butter
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 3 tablespoons rose water
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 8 oz. cashews , coarsely ground
- 3 oz. puhul dosi (candied winter melon), diced
- 1 tablespoon lime zest
- Preheat the oven to 300 F and line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper.
- In a dry pan, roast the fine semolina without stirring it and without coloring it.
- When the semolina is still hot, add the butter and mix well until the butter melts and mixes well with the semolina. Set aside.
- Separate the eggs.
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture whitens and doubles in volume.
- Add the lime zest, honey, spices, rose water, almond extract and mix well.
- Add coarsely ground cashews and puhul dosi and mix well.
- Add the mixture of semolina and butter and incorporate with the spatula, without beating.
- In another bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Add the egg whites gently to the previous preparation and combine everything without beating.
- Pour the mixture into the mold and gently tap it on the work surface two or three times to expel any air bubbles.
- Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes.
- Allow the cake to cool completely before cutting square shaped portions and serve.