Archive for the ‘cake’ Category

This is a straightforward cake recipe using the creaming method. You might want to refer to the tips on creaming here and here.

Instead of butter, this recipe uses hydrogenated vegetable shortening, under the Spry brand name. I’ve commented on the history, use and health considerations of using Spry or its competitor brand, Crisco in an earlier posting. My personal choice would be to use butter, which would probably also give a better taste.

For the filling and icing, please see:
Chocolate/Coffee Filling
Chocolate Water Icing


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This quick bread basically uses the muffin method of mixing: dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another, mix together very quickly till just blended. The difference is that it is baked into a large cake, rather than small muffins. For me, I often do the opposite and bake cake recipes into muffin or cupcake sizes because they need less time in the oven and hence use less electricity.

Don’t let the ‘rub butter in flour’ bit fool you into thinking this uses the rubbing-in method (see Plain Scones). Here, it is just a way to incorporate solid butter. Other recipes melt the butter and combine it with the wet ingredients. Personally, I’m lazy to melt butter when I make muffins, and usually use oil instead :). A cooking oil with a neutral flavour is best, but coconut oil will give a strong tropical flavour if that’s the effect you intend to produce.

For more on oven temperatures, see grandma’s notes here.

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It’s taken me quite some time to write up this post because of a prolonged foray into the meaning of ‘soogee’ and the origins of this dish.

In Singapore and Malaysia today, it’s usually spelt ‘sugee’ but I quickly discovered that there are alternative spellings – ‘sugi’, ‘suji’, ‘sooji’, ‘soojee’ – which are used in India. However, suji is the Hindi term used in North India, whereas in South India, it goes by the name ‘rava’, ‘ravva’, ‘rawa’ (wonder if someone can help me – is this in Telugu?). You might like to refer to glossaries of Indian cooking here, here, here and here.

Now this strong Indian connection intrigued me because Sugee Cake is firmly entrenched in Singapore & Malaysian as a distinctly Eurasian dish, as you can see here and here, while Mary GomesEurasian Cookbook describes it as the ‘typical Eurasian wedding cake’ and at the restaurant at the Singapore Eurasian Association, Quentin’s, ‘the sugee cake made by his mother is always a hot favourite’. The status of Sugee Cake as a perennial local favourites is reflected by its inclusion in Singapore secondary school home economics textbooks :)!

Although categorised as a single ethnic community, Eurasians in Singapore and Malaysia have a diverse range of origins (Portuguese, Dutch, British – in chronological order of the appearance of colonial powers in Malaya, mixed with different Asian ethnicities, usually Indian or Chinese). However, what is usually presented as Eurasian culture in Singapore is the colourful Portuguese variety, which traces its roots back to the community in Malacca, a town conquered by the Portuguese in 1511. The Portuguese had also landed in Goa, on the west coast of India, in 1510, and established a colony there. Portuguese-Indian Eurasians from Goa soon migrated to Malacca in the following century or so, before the Portuguese lost Malacca to the Dutch in 1641.

It therefore seems most likely that Sugee Cake originated on the Indian subcontinent, an offshoot of Indian sweets made with sugee, such as halwa and kesari (this recipe being the version from a Singaporean with roots in Kerala, a state also on the southwest coast of India not far from Goa). Halwa and kesari, like many Asian sweets, are both cooked on the stove top, whereas Sugee Cake is baked in an oven, like a European cake, which represents the Eurasian element in this recipe.

But what is sugee/soogee/suji/sooji? It’s semolina, which is in fact a product made from durum wheat (what Italian pasta is made from). The Penguin Companion to Food tells us that durum wheat is a very hard variety of wheat and ‘when coarsely milled, the brittle grains fracture into sharp chips, and it is these which constitute ordinary semolina’. Semolina is found in cuisines all round the world, from British semolina pudding, to German rote Grütze, to Russian gurieveskaya kasha, to Greek ravaní (related to South Indian rava?), to Middle Eastern halva (clearly connected to Indian halwa).

Semolina, like other flours, can be milled in different ways and ground into different textures. According to this document about the wheat industry in India, suji is ‘coarse semolina’ and rava is ‘fine semolina’. Most recipes don’t make a distinction between suji, rava and semolina, so perhaps it depends on how fussy you are.

Besides Indian sweets and Sugee Cake, semolina is used in other Singaporean/Malaysian ethnic cuisines, such as the Malay Kueh Bingka Suji (N.B. there are other types of kueh bingka made with tapioca, also a popular nonya dish) as well Sugee Cookies, which are a mainstay of Chinese New Year snacking (see recipe here) as well as popular for Malay Hari Raya (see photos here). Most home bakers would probably pick up the most commonly available semolina flour by local flour mill, Prima Flour, which is found every supermarket.

Grandmother’s recipe below doesn’t include baking instructions, so you might want to cross-reference with other Sugee Cake recipes, such as this one from Rose’s Kitchen or this one by Amy Beh, the well-known Malaysian food writer. However, both use the creaming method which doesn’t feature in grandma’s recipe at all, and the length of time one is instructed to soak the semolina varies from 1 1/2 hrs (Amy Beh), to 3 hrs (grandma) to 8 hrs (Rose’s Kitchen). All the recipes use a heart attack-inducing number of eggs though! Reminds me of grandma’s Marmer/Marble Cake recipe :).

Soogee Cake

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Do compare this with the earlier recipe for Marble/Marmer Cake. Both recipes are noticeably generous with the use of eggs, but this one has fewer ingredients. Most importantly, this recipe doesn’t include any raising agent, which indicates that the rise is completely dependent on:
a) the creaming process – remember to cream butter and sugar till extremely light & fluffy, and add the egg yolks a teaspoonful at a time to prevent emulsifying;
b) the whisked egg whites – beat till ‘medium peak’ stage where the whites are still glossy and smooth but distinct marks are left by the whisk as you beat and when lifted, the peaks can hold their shape for a while (this is before you get to ‘hard peak’ stage where the tips of the whites are more pointed). Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America says,

This is the ideal stage for foams to be folded into batters… since the whites are still flexible enough to expand without bursting as they get hot.

And of course, fold in the flour and whisked egg whites very gently to prevent knocking out the air from the batter.
There are no instructions for doing the marbling, but of course, grandmother knew the technique well enough not to have to write it down in these notes to herself. One way to do it is to remove a third of the batter, add in the cocoa powder. Then pour the cocoa batter into the bowl of plain batter and swirl lightly before pouring the mix into a baking tin.

Speaking of baking tins, grandmother’s recipes often don’t specify the size of baking tin to be used. According to British cooking guru, Delia Smith, this is a typical problem of heirloom recipes:

One of the primary reasons why cakes sometimes fail is the recipe itself. It might be wrong or simply too vague, like some of grandma’s hand-me-downs which never mention details like tin sizes or oven temperature.

Marble Cake II

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Like the first Sponge Cake recipe, this is one that grandmother got from a friend, noted here as ‘Mrs Tsiang’.

This sponge cake recipe is quite different from the first Sponge Cake and the Banana Sponge Cake recipes I posted earlier. Those follow the classic Victoria Sponge Cake in having equal amounts of butter, sugar and flour.

Interestingly, this particular sponge cake recipe can be either baked or steamed. If baking, 375ºF/180ºC is probably a good temperature to use, as with the Banana Sponge Cake. If steaming, don’t forget to make sure the water is really boiling and on high heat before putting the cake in and make sure there is plenty of steam so that the cake will rise properly.

Sponge Cake Tsiang

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This is the first of two different plain sponge cake recipes which grandma got from her friends. You can see this one is labelled as Mrs Choa’s recipe.

The method is identical to the Banana Sponge Cake recipe which was one of grandma’s signature dishes. The equal quantities of butter, sugar and flour as well as method in these two recipe are the same as the classic Victoria Sponge Cake. Read more about the history of Victoria Sponge Cake, which is considered by some to an icon of British culture.

From my own experience with the Banana Sponge Cake, it’s very important to do the creaming properly. Cakes require the fat and sugar to be thoroughly beaten until very light and fluffy so don’t be impatient, and be careful to add the egg very gradually to prevent the mixture emulsifying. (Read more about the creaming method here and here.)

I’ve successfully used 375ºF/180ºC for the Banana Sponge Cake, so I wonder why grandma changed the temperature to 425ºF from the original temperature. I also don’t understand the notes which equate 9 eggs to ‘2 Med + 3 small’.

Sponge Cake Choa

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A light and crumbly fruitcake, Dundee Cake originated in 19th century Scotland as a commercially mass-produced cake from marmalade company, Keiller’s. Read a wonderfully-detailed account of the history, plus recipe and photo of Dundee Cake here. It’s also typical to decorate the Dundee Cake with concentric circles of split almonds, as you can also see in this photo/recipe. Read a more general history of fruit cake here.

With little more than quantities and a list of ingredients (“Raisins etc.”), Grandmother’s brief notes here assume one is familiar with how a Dundee Cake should taste, the cake-making techniques required to achieve that and perhaps also the conventions of decorating Dundee Cakes. Perhaps many people in the late 50s and 60s would have been well acquainted with Dundee Cakes, as hinted at by this Australian food history blog, which also reproduces the writer’s grandmother’s Dundee Cake recipe from the 1950s :) and says that these cakes were very popular at the time. Incidentally, the blog is by a professional historian of medieval history at the Australian National University!

Even though she was probably never short of anything she needed during her life, my grandmother was always very careful to not be wasteful. She kept drawers full of old receipts and cut-up scraps of paper — held together in neat piles by rubber bands — for scribbling notes on. This recipe, for example, has been scribbled on a tiny scrap of paper, folded and stained by rusty staples, possibly one of the blank end pages ripped out of a book from ‘Fine Art Publishers’, copyrighted and ‘Printed in England’. Grandma also hoarded cupboards full of used plastic bags, all neatly folded into squares, and to save on paper napkins, she would open a packet of them then painstakingly scissor each one into half so that we would only use the minimal amount of paper each time.

From what I hear of others from my grandmother’s generation, these habits of careful use of resources and hoarding things ‘just in case’ weren’t unusual. I’ve wondered whether this was a legacy of living through the hardships of World War II, or whether it was a hangover from days when convenience items such as pads of notepaper and plastic bags were not so cheap (or given away free!) and readily available as they are today. Ironically, the push for greater environmental consciousness is seeing us return to the thrifty ways of our grandparents’ times, or in today’s jargon, ‘ reduce, reuse and recycle’.

Dundee Cake

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