Happy 2013 cyberworld! To kick off the new year and end the holiday arc of my culinary trek around the world, I’m heading back east to Sri Lanka.
When I asked my friend Rutabaga for a Sri Lankan holiday specialty, it took approximately 0.0025 seconds for his face to light up and proclaim “Rich Cake!” Here’s his story:
This Sri Lankan Rich Cake is rarely found outside Sri Lanka except in the Sri Lanka diaspora scattered throughout the world. The Rich Cake is really Sri Lanka’s version of the Western fruit cake. However, unlike the Western fruit cake, which I’ve never been able to eat, this version is unique for its moistness and rich flavor. The key to this cake is the finally minced dried fruits and the low temperature that the cake is baked at. We serve this cake during the Christmas season at our home to not only provide something to nibble on here and there or to serve to our guests, it serves also as a passageway to my wife’s homeland which she left as a six year old due to ethnic strife her family faced at that time. So in a way this preserves the family’s heritage or tie to the country of Sri Lanka. A brief history on the Rich Cake: It is thought to be a derivative of the Western fruit cake brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese and Dutch who eventually colonized Sri Lanka. It is commonly served during Christmas time in Sri Lanka. It is cut into squares, wrapped in a layer of wax paper and then a layer of decorative foil with ribbons tied on each end. It is often served to guests during this special time as they visit the home and it also given as a gift to neighbors to enjoy. This cake is also served during weddings and while served at the wedding, it is also the cake that goes home in a small decorative box , personalized to the bride and groom, as a favor. It gets better as it ages, and the same cake is again served on the one year anniversary of the couple. It is said that if you as a single woman place the cake that you received at a wedding under your pillow you will dream of your future husband.
Now, I know all you fruit cake naysayers out there. I was one of them. And I was wrong. Clearly I’ve just been eating the wrong kind of fruit cake. In fact, I was so sure I wasn’t going to like this that I added raisins to it since the final product was going to mom, who loves fruitcake. Why are raisins so significant? Here’s why: I dislike two foods in the world- melon and raisins- and so I sabotaged my own project by making something that I would not eat. Sadly, once I tried the cake batter, I immediately started cursing my foolishness. I think the reason that this cake is so palatable to fruitcake haters is as Rutabaga said: the cake itself is flavorful and moist, and there are no fruit chunks thanks to the fine mincing. There’s none of the typical “What the crap is that?” when you bite into it, but merely a hearty “mmmmm.” I will admit there are a lot of ingredients. Also, the “stewing time” is significant, as is the baking time, both reasons that I’m posting this so late. However, it’s totally worth the wait, so next Christmas season give this fruitcake a try. I’m pretty sure you won’t be getting rid of it so easily. I sure won’t.
- ½ cup raisins*
- ½ cup sultanas
- ¼ cup cherries
- ¼ cup crystallized ginger
- ½ cup candied peel
- ¼ cup pumpkin preserves
- ½ cup pineapple jam
- ¼ cup apricot jam
- ½ cup strawberry jam
- 2 TB rose water
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp powdered cloves
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 1 TB honey
- ¼ cup brandy or spiced rum
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup chopped, toasted cashew nuts
- 1 cup butter**
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 9 eggs, separated
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup water
- Mince all the fruit into small bits. Mix all the cut fruits, candied peels, jam, and add spices together with the brandy, honey, vanilla and the rose water. Add the caramel to this mixture. Mix well, put it into an airtight bottle and keep aside for a week.
- Make the caramel by dissolving the sugar in half the amount of water in a thick saucepan over a medium heat and bring to boil without stirring till it turns pale brown. Remove from the heat, add the rest of the water and allow it to cool.
- Toast the semolina lightly in a dry skillet and allow it to cool.
- When you’re ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 300F and grease and sugar either a 9 x 13 rectangle or a 12" springform pan. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Set aside.
- In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar, add the yolks one at a time and beat well between each addition. Add the semolina and the baking powder and mix lightly. Add the prepared fruits and nuts and mix well.
- Gently fold in the beaten egg whites and mix to combine. Do not overmix. Pour into prepared pan of choice.
- Once you put the cake in, reduce heat to 250 F and bake for about 3 ½ hours until top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
- I did my beans-butter swap for this and it came out equally moist and just as flavorful. There's so many things going on here, the beans, as always, were disguised. So, rather than 1 cup of butter, I did 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup pureed white beans
- You can omit the raisins and use dried cranberries instead.
- I've subsequently made this and baked it at 325F for 1 hour 15 minutes and it worked just fine.
- I've also made this with just 7 eggs and it worked just fine.
12/14: Please note that this post has been updated since originally published. The pictures have been replaced by some exponentially better, and the recipe was corrected for mistakes and updated with tweaks and suggestions.