This isn’t the first time I’m posting something that I am fairly confident no one will recognize or actually make (no one that I know personally, anyway; jaggery cake is out there on the internet) and it won’t be the last time. On a recent trip to Gerrard St. I picked up a pyramid of jaggery. I’d been meaning to pick up some for a while, to experiment with, but as it happens, I’d had it for weeks and hadn’t any occasion to use it. So, I googled it (as I do with just about any problem I have in life) and found out that jaggery is used in a number of sweets, including a cake made with jaggery (with several recipes originating from Sri Lanka and South India). Interesting.
Like most of the recipes I’ve posted, this one is a compilation of ideas from other book- and internet-based recipes, traditional/popular information on a particular food, and my own knowledge of cooking processes. Once I found out there’s such a thing as a “jaggery cake” I set about learning what that actually was. What I found is: there’s almost unlimited ways to make a jaggery cake. Most of the recipes have a few things in common, though: cashews, pumpkin, semolina or atta flour, rich spices, and jaggery, obviously. Some had eggs, some didn’t (and based on my recent cake-ratio research some recipes don’t even appear to be able to produce an actual “cake” despite the description explicitly detailing the cake’s cake-like texture) and in general, most of the recipes were decidedly confusing and vague.
Part of my personal goal with this blog is to provide clear, detailed instructions for every recipe I post; I’ve been discouraged too many times by cookbook and internet recipes that are filled with vague instructions and, more than a few times, completely missing ingredients that are later referred to, etc. In many recipes, this isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, but when we’re dealing with the science of baking, vague/missing ingredients can spell disaster for the final product.
Anyway, let’s talk about the final product, finally. I consider it something akin to a coffee/spice cake. It’s not very sweet, it’s crumbly, and it’s flavoured with similar spices. Most of the flavour ingredients suggest earthiness: the molasses-rich jaggery, whole-grain atta flour, cloves and nutmeg, nuts, pumpkin, and honey. The defining/unique character is given to the cake by the green cardamom (a distinctly South Indian spice) and the scent of rose water (used heavily for Indian sweets, among many other uses) Indeed, both my girlfriend and I were quite perplexed by our first bites; a lifetime of cake familiarity gets thrown out the window by rich rose scent and the coolness of the cardamom. It’s really something quite alien to my palate. I’ll probably decorate the remaining slices with thick icing to smooth over a cake that’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever had before. Even I have my limits!
That’s not much of a recommendation, is it? Here’s a selling point – the cake is pretty wholesome. Whole grains, unrefined sugar, nuts and pumpkin? Why, it’s practically health food (not really). But really, as far as rustic Sri Lankan cakes go, this is not too bad.
- 2 cups of atta flour (I talk about what this is and where to get it here)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 3-inch cinnamon sticks, or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 tsp whole green cardamom
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 250g jaggery, cut into small chunks (dark brown sugar may be a good substitute if you’re hard up but this is a jaggery cake)
- 1/2 cup whole cashews
- 1/2 cup thick coconut milk
- 1/3 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling, check the cans!)
- 1 tsp rose water
- 2 tbsp honey
What you will need: medium and large-sized mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, grinder/mortar and pestle (if using whole spices, small food processor (to grind jaggery and cashews), 9-inch circular baking dish (or something close to that), a fork to stir
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Do that.
- Mix together the dry ingredients. In the medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and powder, and salt. Stir and sift these together using the fork or your hand until you’re confident the powders are mixed evenly.
- Process the jaggery and cashews. In a small food processor, add the jaggery pieces and cashews and process them as fine as you can.
- Combine the oil with the jaggery/cashew mix. In the large bowl stir together the processed jaggery and cashews with the oil. Get it as smooth as you can, but no need to go crazy.
- Process and add the spices. In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the spices as fine as you can. Stir them into the oil/jaggery/nut paste.
- Add the rose water, pumpkin and honey to the jaggery mix. Pour the rose water, pumpkin puree and honey into the jaggery mix, and stir until they’re incorporated.
- Add the eggs to the jaggery paste. One at a time, crack the eggs and stir them into the jaggery paste. Just stir to combine them smoothly, don’t beat them up.
- Pour half of the flour mix into the jaggery mix and add the coconut milk. Pour half of the flour mixture into the large mixing bowl, along with the coconut milk. Stir to form a smooth mixture.
- Pour the remaining flour mixture into the batter. Pour the remaining half of the flour mixture into the large mixing bowl. Stir to form a smooth mixture.
- Grease the baking dish. Using a paper towel dipped in oil or butter (or a cooking spray), apply a thin coat of oil to the baking dish. If you don’t do this, expect your cake to be stuck to the dish. It’s not fun. Really.
- Pour the batter into the dish. The batter is pretty thick, so do your best to smooth it out in the dish. Just make sure it’s not very uneven in any places.
- Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Or so. Once you get around to the 35 minute mark, check it with a toothpick to see if it’s still wet inside, near the center. If it’s not, it should be good to pull out of the oven.
- Enjoy the scent of roses and spice filling your home. Do that.
- Let it cool on a cooling rack. Don’t put hot things in your mouth. Or attempt to ice hot things with icing that melts.
Enjoy, or at the very least, be amused and delighted by a sensory field trip.