Perfumed and lightly spiced the Persian Love Cake exudes the air of mystery and delight of exotic places delicately hidden in the flavourful crumb. Shrouded in a tale of love enchantment and laced with alluring ingredients such as cardamom, rose water and pistachio who could possibly resist this sweet temptation?
What better way to win someone over than with cake? Right? Well, those were the thoughts of a certain Persian women who fell hopelessly in love with a prince and wanted to win his heart. She baked him this cake, filled with magical love powers and he was enchanted for the rest of his life. Or so the legend goes.
The truth behind this tale of seduction is unsure but even if the cakes’s story is a wishful fable, what is for certain, is that this type of cake has in essence been a part of Persian culture for centuries. Iran was the first place in the world to distill rosewater more than 2,000 years ago. And in Iran, roses and rosewater are used in all sorts of ways—culinary, medicinal—even Persian poetry is dotted with references to roses.”
And we all know the significance of roses as a symbol of seduction and courage and this Persian woman was in dire need of both. Through the ages the rose came to symbolize true love that would stand the test of time. Staunchly promising affection that is forever riding high, denoting a true love that is stronger than thorns and can outlive all obstacles.
But it’s not just roses that hold a high level of significance in Persian culture. Cardamom and pistachios—the two other key ingredients in a Persian love cake—are as traditional to Iranians as cinnamon to the Portuguese or herrings are to the Dutch. One could go so far as to make the bold assumption that 80 percent of desserts in Iran have those three flavors in them, and that will probably not be an exaggeration.
Not only reminiscent of an alluring Persian garden the Persian love cake also has longivity in common with lasting love. If it is not devoured in one sitting, the oil in the ground almond base ensures a moist, densely textured cake that will keep well for a couple of days, covered in a tin. A sprinkling of dried rose petals looks beautiful for special occasions, but don’t worry if you can’t get hold of any. It’s still a cake to win hearts.
So whether this cake has truely been bestowed with love enchanting powers remains the stuff of wonder, but one bite of this fragrant cake with nutty warmth, contrasting zesty notes of lemon and intoxicating rose flavours and your resistance crumble….just enough to maybe be willing to believe it.
Traditional Persian Love Cake
From the cookbook ‘The Saffron Tales: Recipes From the Persian Kitchen’ by Yasmin Khan
For the cake:
- 200g unsalted butter
- 150g caster sugar
- 4 medium eggs
- 12 cardamom pods
- 100g plain flour, sifted
- 275g ground almonds
- Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 1 tbsp rose water
- 1 tsp baking powder
- A generous pinch of fine sea salt
For the drizzle topping:
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- Juice of 1/2 (half) lemon
- 1/2 (half) tbsp rose water
For the icing:
- 150g icing sugar
- Juice of 3/4 (three quarters) lemon
- 2 tsp cold water
- 2 tsp sliced pistachios
- 2 tsp dried rose petals (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 160C/Gas 3. Grease a 22cm cake tin (one with a removable base) and line it with baking parchment.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. When the mixture is thoroughly combined, beat in the eggs. Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and work with a pestle to get the seeds out of the pods. Discard the pods and grind the seeds to a fine powder. Add them to the cake mixture, along with the flour, ground almonds, lemon zest and juice, rose water, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. To check if it is ready, stick a fork in the middle of the cake – it should come out dry.
Towards the end of the cooking time, make your drizzle topping. Place the caster sugar, lemon juice and rose water in a small pan over a low heat and heat until the sugar melts. Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Poke holes all over the top of the warm cake and drizzle over the syrup.
When the cake is completely cool, make the icing by combining the icing sugar, lemon juice and a few teaspoons of water until you have a smooth, thick icing. Spoon the icing over the cake and finish with a sprinkling of sliced pistachios and, if you like, rose petals.
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