Persian Love Cake
An introduction to Persia, love and cakes
Persia is very old, even older than I am. The Persian Empire can trace its antecedents back to about 550BC when the first Persian Empire was established by a fine fellow called Cyrus the Great. Now Cyrus was a major dude. Cyrus was the son of Cambyses I, King of Ansan, and Mandane the daughter of Astyages the King of Media. This Astyages bloke had a dream which was interpreted as meaning that his grandson would rise up and overthrow him.
At the time Mandane was pregnant and she was summonsed back so that Astyages could top the nipper when he was born. Mandane was having none of this and managed to find a stillborn infant that she passed off to Astyages as her own. Meanwhile the real nipper, Cyrus, was raised by shepherds. There’s much more to this story and, like many tales of ancient times, it involves death, destruction and (believe it or not) cannibalism.
But of course this has nothing to do with Persian Love Cake. And, of course, properly, we should no longer speak of Persian Love Cake. We should speak of Iranian Love Cake but somehow the verb or qualifier “Iranian” does not carry with it the mystique of the ancient Arab worlds that we learned out in tales like Aladdin. I suppose that the Arab world we learned about in Aladdin is nothing like the Arab world as it was but no matter, we are all prisoners of our own misconceptions.
There is a Persian cuisine and it is extensive and, as you would suppose, Gentle Reader, if you have any idea of the geography of the world you will not be surprised to learn that Persian cuisine borrows from, and influences, other cuisines, especially Indian. To me the thought of Persian cooking (or let us say Arabian cooking) brings to mind rosewater and pistachios and honey as well as the scent of cinnamon (which always smells better than it tastes). I think of pine nuts and lamb cooked slowly with apricots.
But I am getting carried away. We are to focus on a particular dish which is pretty easy to make. I discovered Persian Love Cake (or as I refer to it, PLC) in a café in Cobargo, New South Wales. Cobargo is a mighty metropolis with a population of almost 700 souls.
The café in which I discovered this great Persian delicacy is now closed, and more’s the pity as who knows what other culinary delights would have been found there. I am told that a young girl was madly in love with a well-to-do young fellow. She needed a way to win his heart and decided that a PLC was the way to go. Whether she got her man or not is not recorded but let us hope so and let us hope that they lived happily ever after.
You do not need to make this recipe to make someone fall in love with you. But you should always prepare food with a view to sharing a bit of yourself and your love with others. Food is not something to be rushed. It is something to be savoured. I cringe at adverts that spruik things like “breakfast on the run”. What can that mean? I cannot understand why one would eat food when walking down the street. PLC is a great desert and could perhaps be preceded by a Lamb Tagine served with some cous cous. Lovely. The PLC should be served with orange scented yoghurt (see below) .
There are many variants of the PLC. This one is the one I use: it has the dimensions of a pie rather than a cake. Some are variants are cakier and some are covered with rosewater-flavoured frosting. This one, however, is the jam.
Here we go.
The stuff and the go
Boot up the oven and crank it up to 180°C (you don’t want a fan on).
Find a blender or food processor. If you can’t find a blender you have some light mixing work ahead of you but not enough to tire you out. If it is before noon grab a coffee, if after a glass of red will help you with your labours. There’s an intermission after step 5 where you can rest up with a beer. If you don’t have a blender then you’ll need a mixing bowl (but then you had worked that out already).
Now, before you go any further you need to find a 20cm springform cake tin (with low sides: I use one about 3cm high) and grease it. My Mother used to keep the butter wrappers and use these to grease tins. Waste of time. Stick your finger in and smear it around. Probably a good idea to wash your hands first but I leave that to you. Now line it with baking parchment. When it’s cooked you’ll remove the side and leave the cake on the bottom until it cools.
You gonna need the following stuff:
180g almond meal (buy this in packets from the supermarket or, better, get it from a healthy shop where it will have been made without quite taking the brown skin off the almonds)
110g rapadura sugar *
100g brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg lightly beaten 125g Greek yogurt ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg ½ teaspoon cinnamon 2 tablespoons pistachios, hacked up into chunks
* Rapadura is the pure juice pressed from the sugar cane, which is then evaporated over low heats, whilst being stirred with paddles, then ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at a high temperature nor spun to change it into crystals and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar.
The original that I used as the basis for this recipe says unsalted butter. This original recipe was clearly written by a complete fool … why use unsalted butter and then add salt in the next line. It’s beyond me. Use ordinary, high fat, high everything butter with salt and miss out the ½ teaspoon in the next line. We’re ready to rock ‘n‘ roll:In your food processor (blender) mix the almond meal, sugars, spices and salt (if you insist) until they are combined. That means they become a sticky and fairly grainy mess. Remove half the mixture and press it well down into the cake tin. You can estimate half by eye or you can weigh it: use your imagination and be courageous.Add the egg and yoghurt to the remaining mixture and mix it up. It will go nice and squidgy – more viscous than a good engine oil, maybe up there with an SAE 140 gearbox oil. This tastes really good. You might have the will-power to take a taste but the small child you were foolish enough to allow to assist you will not. Stun any such child for the duration.Pour this gooey stuff over the base; it should find its own level. Don’t lick the bowl yet – there’s more work to do. Get those hacked up pistachios and sprinkle them on top as evenly as you can.Fire the cake into the oven. Set the timer for about 30 minutes and pour yourself a cold one or lick the bowl or both. This may not be an acceptable move in today’s enlightened age as there is raw egg in this squidgy stuff and I gather that, while eating cake mix including raw eggs was de rigeur in my day, it is now frowned upon as there is salmonella in every egg and it’s out to get you. The timer will wake you up at which time you need to see if it is cooked. It probably will be cooked but the trick is to press lightly with a finger on the top. It the cake springs back you are good to go. Otherwise give it another 5 minutes.When you’re happy (or as happy as you can be) remove the cake from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. Remove the sides of the cake tin but leave the bottom. I generally whack it in the fridge after it's well-cooled and then you can ease the bottom of the tin off.You’re hot to trot: you don’t need to keep it in the fridge but I would. Consumption: To serve it you just hew it into pieces and bung it on a plate. It’s good with vanilla ice-cream or orange flavoured yoghurt and orange pieces. To do orange flavoured yoghurt just mix the grated rind of an orange into a splodge of yoghurt.
Above: Two Lovers is a 1630 painting in miniature by the Persian artist Reza Abbasi towards the end of his career. Using tempera and gold on paper, Abbasi depicted two lovers in a sensual embrace, becoming, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "inextricably bound together, merged volumes confined within one outline."
Painting: Reza Abbasi