I’m having coffee with some ladies this afternoon, so I made a suji (semolina) cake. This is an old-fashioned cake I remember from childhood, when eating cake was an event restricted to birthdays and special visits to or from family friends. Cakes were not usually frosted, unless they were shop-bought. I don’t believe it was possible to purchase cream anywhere in our town at the time.
Instead, for general cake icing, a mid-70s edition of Ellice Handy’s “My Favourite Recipes” on my shelf suggests to cream butter and sugar with a little flavouring. But most recipes in the book were for plain cakes; in that still-frugal age, the use of butter, sugar and eggs together would have been considered sufficiently festive. In the same book, the author provides a recipe for Orange Cake, marked “quite rich”, which departs from the basic recipe with the addition of an extra egg (bringing the grand total used to three). I wonder what this lady would think of today’s cheesecakes and tortes.
Anyway, back to semolina cake. This recipe is from my friend Mala in JB.
- 250 g butter
- 200 g sugar
- 4 eggs
- 100 g semolina flour
- 100 g ground almonds
- 70 g flour (I added a little baking powder so it wouldn’t be too flat)
- 1 tsp of vanilla
essence (I usually pump up the flavour with another 1/2 tsp)
- A little milk if needed
Make this in the usual way, creaming the butter and sugar, then adding the eggs and vanilla, and finally the dry ingredients bit by bit, incorporating them well into the mixture. Add a little milk to bring this to a soft, dropping consistency.
I didn’t have enough ground almonds in the cupboard, so I ground some whole ones in the food processor, leaving them a little coarse.
Right at the end I could not resist adding a sprinkle of nutmeg and a little almond essence. If I’d had some rose essence in the cupboard, I’d have used that instead of the almond. It just seems a little more typical.
Baked in two sandwich tins for half an hour at 160°C, this produced a cake with a slightly moist and gritty crumb.
It did not rise very much, which was ok presentation-wise, as I cut it into fat squares to serve. For something a little larger and more impressive, one could cook the whole lot together in a larger tin, I suppose. This is quite a sweet cake, which is also how I recall they were.
After sampling a piece, the scent of it on my hands alone is enough to bring back a whiff of hot, sticky afternoons in Malaysia, ceiling fans turning slowly and strong milky tea on the table.