As I have mentioned before, the secondary digital channel for the 7 Network is broadcasting a lot of cooking shows in the afternoon timeslots. One of the shows currently being re-run is Gary Rhodes’ Cookery Year. I think it was broadcast the first time around a few years ago on the ABC. Oh, the good old days when the ABC seemed to be the only station to be interested in broadcasting any British cooking shows on TV, regularly in the same timeslot in primetime (If I remembered correctly, they were always shown on Wednesday night at 8pm) and all without any commercial breaks… Somehow 5 or 6 years ago, the commercial stations started to get in on the act and took off with the TV rights of these shows and haphazardly showed them, delayed or refused to show them at all! ABC was left with Nigella Lawson, Nine went to the dark side with Gordon Ramsay, and Ten took Jamie Oliver, while most of the bulk of the rest of the good British cooking shows – Rick Stein, Gary Rhodes, Ainsley Harriott, Delia Smith, Antonio Carluccio, Sophie Grigson, Nick Nairn, Madhur Jeffrey, etc. – all ended up at the 7 Network. And what did 7 do with all these shows a couple of years ago, mishmash them all together and showed them on Saturday afternoons, cutting off the opening titles and end credits! What a cheek! Thank goodness now with the introduction of digital TV, at least now they are dusting off all these shows from their shelves again and showing them properly this time around on its secondary channel! Well lets just keep all our fingers crossed that they keep them there and don’t muck around with their timeslots again in the future…
Anyway, I got sidetracked there… Talking about Gary Rhodes, in one of the episodes shown again recently, he baked a Lemon Semolina Syrup Cake. The cake suddenly reminded me of the Sugee Cake which has been on my to-bake list for ages. However having grown up on the other side of the country, this Eurasian cake is not familiar to me, not having tasted it before, well, at least I don’t think I had tasted it before. Even if I had I wouldn’t have known it was this cake anyway in my ignorant youth… This cake is apparently a legacy of the Portuguese rule in South East Asia; called Sugee Cake in Malaysia and Singapore – sugee is just another English spelling of sooji or soojee which is the North Indian word for semolina, and it is spelt as suji in Malay. However in Sri Lanka, it is known as Love Cake. I tried to find out the source of the original Portuguese cake that had inspired the Sugee Cake, but was thoroughly confused… Middle-Eastern countries have their semolina cakes, Greek also have their version of semolina cakes, but not Portuguese! However there are almond cakes in Portugal. The closest I came to is a Portuguese almond cake known as Toucinho do Céu (translated as Pig’s Heaven because lard was originally used in making the cake) which uses lots of egg yolks, a typical ingredient of a lot of Portuguese desserts and cakes. So who knows? Maybe semolina was introduced on the way from Portugal to South East Asia via the Indian subcontinent and that’s why the name we called this cake is based on an Indian word, sugee?
Anyway, enough of the history. So I pulled out a few recipes I had collected previously and went to work on this cake. Most of the traditional recipes used a lot of egg yolks as mentioned before, which was probably the main reason that had stopped me from trying the recipes out before, so I decided to just adapt and use whole eggs which appeared in some of the more contemporary versions of the recipe. I know this will significantly reduce the tenderness and moistness of the cake but on the other hand I don’t have lots of egg whites leftover by using whole eggs. I had also planned to make the cake using only semolina and almond meal only, inspired by Gary’s cake, and no wheat flour. However, silly-billy me, I was so sure I had bought a small bag of almond meal recently just before Christmas, so I did not check my pantry before I went shopping. So when the time came to start on the cake, I looked and discovered that I had actually bought hazelnut meal and not almond meal! So improvisation here I come, I reversed my decision and use cake flour in place of almond meal, that’s why this recipe has no almond meal whereas all of the Sugee Cake recipes I had come across has some sort of almonds incorporated… But the result is not bad at all, it is very similar to rich butter cake in taste but with the slightest hint of a granular texture; not as soft and moist as I would have liked or imagined the true texture of Sugee Cake should be, with all those egg yolks. However, all in all, still very delicious!
Lastly, another thing I tried was to try and get the cake to rise more evenly during baking, and not have too much of a domed top. To do this, I lined the cake tin with multiple layers of brown paper, same as baking a Christmas cake. The brown paper will prevent the sides from getting too much heat during baking, so that it can be baked at a lower temperature for a longer time without the sides and top getting too brown. I think I achieved the desired result, this cake browned more evenly and has a more level top when compared to my Rich Butter Cake I baked previously which is quite comparable in ingredient quantity.
Makes one 18cm cake
225g butter, softened
150g semolina flour
170g caster sugar
1 teaspoon brandy essence
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
115g cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1. Line an 18cm square cake tin with 4 to 5 layers of brown paper. Line a layer of baking paper on top of the brown paper.
2. Stir semolina flour into the softened butter and mix in. Leave to sit for at least 3 to 4 hours at room temperature, or overnight if possible.
3. Preheat oven to 150°C.
4. Beat eggs for about 1 minute on medium high speed. Start adding sugar gradually as you continue to beat the eggs. Beat until the mixture leaves a trail of ribbon when you lift the egg beater; total beating time can be 6 to 10 minutes depending on the power of your beater.
The ribbon stage: When you lift up the beater and write a figure ‘8’, it should stay visible for a short while.
5. Beat in brandy essence and vanilla.
6. Lightly beat the butter and semolina mixture until fluffy.
7. Pour about a third of the beaten eggs into the butter mixture and fold in to loosen the butter mixture. Add the second third of the beaten eggs and fold in to combine. Add half the flour mixture and fold in. Repeat and fold in the remaining egg and flour mixtures alternately.
8. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface.
9. Bake for about 60-70 minutes, or until cooked when tested with a skewer.
Taste: Rich, buttery cake with the slightest hint of a granular texture
Consume: Best within 3-4 days
Storage: Store in airtight container at room temperature in cool weather, but best kept in the refrigerator in hot weather (return to room temperature before serving)
Recipe Reference(s): From various sources