‘Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all’ (Julia Child)
For the Persian Love Cake
200g unsalted butter, room temperature
150g caster sugar
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
150g Greek yoghurt
10 cardamom pods
100g plain flour, sifted
275g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
Zest 1 unwaxed orange
1 tbsp. rose water
A pinch of salt
For the Orange & Saffron Syrup
80g caster sugar
Juice of 1 orange
5 - 6 strands of saffron
1 tsp rose water
For the Rosewater Drizzle Icing
100g icing sugar
A few tbsps. Water
2 tsp rose water
Preparation time 30 minutes
Baking time 45 – 50 minutes
Serves 8 people
To help ensure a good lift or volume from your cake, beat the butter & sugar together until to pale, creamy & smooth. When rubbed between your fingers it should feel almost smooth with very little graininess from the sugar.
Pre-heat the oven to 165C. Grease a large Bundt tin or 22cm round cake tin (lined with baking parchment).
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. When the mixture is pale & fluffy gradually beat in the eggs. Stir in the Greek yoghurt.
Place the cardamom pods in a mortar, press open with the pestle to remove the seeds from the pods. Discard the pod shells and grind the seeds into a fine powder.
Add the cardamom, flour, baking powder, ground almonds, salt, orange zest and rose water to the cake batter and fold in, making sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients.
Transfer the cake batter into the cake tin and smooth out the top. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. To check if it is ready, stick a thin knife into the middle of the cake – it should come out clean.
While the cake is baking you can make the orange & saffron syrup. Place the caster sugar, orange juice and saffron in a small pan over a low heat and heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the rose water.
Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. With a skewer, punch holes all over the warm cake and drizzle over the syrup. Gently release the cake from the Bundt tin when the cake has cooled.
When the cake is completely cool, make the drizzle icing. In a bowl combine the icing sugar, water and rose water and mix until you have a smooth, thick icing. Drizzle the icing over the cake, sprinkle with a little chopped pistachio nuts and dried rose petals if available.
Thoughts for this month's Tribune Food
While grocery shopping last week and being faced with an entire aisle of overpriced chocolates, cuddly toys and cutsie cards, I started to wonder why is it that February 14th has become the day that is devoted to the notion of romantic love. Yes, I’m referring to Valentine’s Day, that day in the middle of the month that some find almost as annoying as the ‘r’ that has managed to squeeze it’s way in there!
As it turns out the origins of St Valentine's Day are far far darker than a box of ‘Black Magic’. According to an article entitled ‘The gory origins of St. Valentine’s Day’ which was published in The Smithsonian last year the original celebration of the day takes its roots as early back as the third century. It is thought to have begun as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of one or maybe two Christian martyrs called Valentine who were executed on February 14th during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus. It is speculated that the Christians might also have chosen this date to cover-up the more ancient pagan Roman celebration of Lupercalia in mid-February, a ritual with its roots in a rural masculine cult involving the sacrifice of goats and dogs and evolved later into an urban carnival. Over the centuries writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare played their part in romanticising the day. However it wasn’t until much later on, with the rise of Industrialisation did mass produced cards and chocolates make an appearance.
This month’s recipe is dedicated to those true romantic souls for which a Hallmark card will not quite convey your sentiments. Or those who believe that maybe Valentine’s Day has become a bit too exclusive, favouring ‘romantic love’ over all the other forms of love which equally help to sustain us and are also worthy of recognition and gratitude.
If, someone were to ask me what love might taste like in a cake I would be tempted to say that this recipe right here is it. Much like St. Valentine’s Day the exact origins of this cake are unclear, however story has it that Persian Love Cake was baked by a woman who was madly in love with a Persian Prince, the cake was charmed with magical powers to enchant him into falling in love with her. There are many variations of this recipe which differ both in ingredients and method used. However there does seem to be general agreement that it contain groundnuts, cardamom, citrus fruits, rose water and saffron. It is most likely that the original version of this cake was closer to ‘Basbousa’ a popular Mediterranean dessert made with semolina flour and almond meal, soaked generously after baking in a citrusy rose syrup giving it a flatter appearance and a heavy texture.
The recipe presented here results in a lighter more aerated cake than its traditional version. It calls for unsalted butter so not compete with the delicate floral tones of the rose water. Cardamom, which gives this cake its warm, fragrant, exotic smell. This is a spice used liberally in Indian and Middle Eastern baking much as we would rely on vanilla. The addition of ground almonds lend the cake a slightly dense crumbly texture when baked, which is perfect for soaking up the opulent and heady orange and saffron syrup. So in whatever form your ‘Persian Prince’ might take, they will find it hard to resist the charms of this cake!