A Sri Lankan celebration cake usually made during the New Year! The actual origin of the cake is unknown and this recipe has been passed down for generations. There could be other variations of the Jaggery Cake!
This cake take me right back to my childhood and early teenage years, when we used to make a zillion things to celebrate the Sinhalese & Tamil New Year in Sri Lanka! Yes, that’s right, we have a separate New year, that usually falls in the middle of April. It is the biggest celebration of the Island which is only second to the Vesak festival. This is like Christmas to us. Food takes the center place out of everything else that’s going on like gift giving and gatherings.
This cake is something I learned to make by watching my Mom and to this date I picture her mixing stuff whenever I make it. This is the first time I made this after moving to the USA. The two of us are not very keen on celebrating New Year. Specially now, we see no point in making so much food to be eaten on a single day by two people. It’s 2021 and things hasn’t changed a lot and we have no friends living closely or neighbors to share all the sweets. So we made just this cake.
What this cake is like!
It is very similar to a dark fruit cake or a Christmas cake without the icing. Not very dense like a fruit cake but chewy and sort of fudgy. It’s got a bite to it due to all the nuts and dried fruit. The flavor is smoky and caramel like due to the kithul jaggery, but it is not overly sweet. Spices really comes through. You can use a little booze in the cake like rum, whiskey or brandy. This cake doesn’t have any wheat flour in it, only semolina.
This cake preserves very well. Two thirds of the cake is already wrapped and tucked away in the freezer. We plan to eat them in the Fall and Christmas! Also the cake needs time to mature, so it is best eaten after about 2-3 days of making.
These are all the ingredients you need to make this!
About ingredients & substitutes
Candied winter melon
These could be bought online or from an Asian grocery store. Sometimes it’s called pumpkin preserves too. If you can’t find these, you can use some dried pineapple chunks (chopped up of course) or some golden raisins.
Roast the semolina lightly in a wide pan over medium heat. This picture will give you an idea about how far should you take the roasting to. On the right hand side is the roasted. It is about 3 shades darker than the raw.
Jaggery is made using unrefined palm sugar. I used the ‘Kithul’ jaggery which is made using the sap of a special variety of palm. These can be bought online(amazon/etsy).
If you can’t find these, panela or even brown sugar will work. These will affect the flavor slightly though.
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With all that sorted out, lets see how the cake is being made.
Prepare everything before you start.
- Fruits and nuts should be chopped up finely. Use a food processor if you like.
- The jaggery should be shaved thinly or crushed.
- Separate the eggs (4 large or 5 small)
- Roast the semolina and set aside.
- If using freshly ground spices, grind them and set aside.
Line a heavy baking dish/tray with 3-4 layers of parchment to stop the bottom turning too dark
Preheat the oven to 170°C
pan dimensions W:9″ L:9″ D:2″. Doesn’t have to be exactly this size, but some thing close enough.
Beat the room temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix to clear
The mixture will be light & creamy.
Add the jaggery followed by all the other fruits and nuts and mix on low speed. You can also use a spoon to fold these in.
Then gradually add the semolina and the milk alternating. Mix on low speed or use a wooden spoon to fold. Milk will help loosen the batter.
Add the spices, vanilla and any liquor towards the end.
Beat the egg whites in a clean/dry bowl to stiff peaks
Fold the beaten egg whites into the thick cake batter. Make sure to do this gently without knocking out too much air from the whipped whites.
The air in the egg whipped whites will make the crumb light, airy and not too dense.
Once done, deposit the cake batter into the prepared baking dish and smooth out the top.
Bake for about 45-50 minutes.
Often 45 is enough. Switch off the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes more if necessary.
When a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done!
Leave on a wire rack to cool. once cool enough to handle, lift the cake off the dish and place on the wire rack to cool completely.
Once fully cooled, wrap and leave at room temperature for a 1-2 days for flavor to develop(mature)
Cut in to slices and serve!
Can be left at room temperature (in an air tight container) for several days.
Place in the fridge to keep longer.
Wrap and freeze to keep for several months