The first time I really heard of sugee cake was when I interviewed Eurasian cookbook writer Sasha Gill. I had never eaten a sugee cake in my life and was curious as to how it differed from a regular pound or sponge cake. After all, the ingredients were pretty standard to a Western cake. My friend Maxine described the cake as having the richness and denseness of a pound cake, but a crumbly texture that comes from the semolina and the almonds. She also talked about how toasting the semolina is important for the cake’s flavour.
That was something I’ve never done before and the combination of brandy, toasted semolina and butter was a winner! But what I feel really set the cake apart was the hand-chopped almonds. I used ground almonds for the first trial of this cake and it was dismal. Having minuscule chunks of almonds studded throughout the cake made every bite a textural delight and gave the cake so much character – worth taking the time to chop!
Here’s how I’d describe sugee cake, now that I’ve tasted it for myself – it reminds me of a rich banana cake, in the way that it leaves your finger and your lips with an oily sheen (in a good way). While banana cake often comes with huge chunks of walnuts, imagine bits of nuts running through the cake, so tiny they almost become part of the ‘crumb’. The flavour of brandy is also what makes the cake unique – I wouldn’t omit it, though it would be a great cake without it. The texture, though, is where the money’s at. It is so moist that you can practically hear squish of the cake as you’re cutting into it, and falls into moist crumbs when you put your fork through a slice.
That said, I would love to test this cake again with the addition of a syrup (Wex loves cakes when they are soaked with syrup right out of the oven) and with almonds toasted right before chopping! But for now, enough sugee cake for me!
Makes one 9″ cake
80g blanched almonds, whole, flaked or slivered
40g plain flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
140g egg yolks
4 tablespoons brandy
140g egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
The night before, toast the semolina in a dry pan over low heat until it turns a shade or two darker and smells fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to ensure even toasting. Add the butter and stir until it melts completely and incorporates with the semolina evenly. Leave to soak overnight at room temperature.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 170C. Grease a 9″ cake tin (I used a 10″ cake tin in the video but a 9″ cake tin would be my preference) and line its bottom with parchment. Chop the almonds by hand as finely as you can. Combine in a bowl with the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Combine the sugar and the egg yolks in a large bowl and whip with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the semolina butter and 2 tablespoons of brandy, and whisk gently to combine. With a spatula, fold in the flour mixture gently until just mixed. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form, then fold it into the cake batter a third at a time. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes in the oven. The cake is ready once a skewer inserted into its centre emerges clean. The skewer might look shiny or moist, because the cake is so buttery and oily from the almonds, but you should not see any batter clinging on to it.
While the cake is still hot, brush or sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of brandy over the cake’s surface. Rest for 10 minutes in the cake tin before unmolding. Cool completely before slicing. Some sugee cake purists suggest aging the cake for at least 2 days before eating, so that the oil from the almonds ooze into the cake and the flavour improves. I like to refresh slices of the cake for a few seconds in the microwave right before eating.