I’ve never really spoken about my love for Indian sweets here. I grew up in a house where ghee (clarified butter), sugar and dry fruits were used in abundance. I’d go to heaven and come back with just the waft of cashewnuts and almonds being tempered in a dollop of unctuous, melting ghee. There was no room for miserliness in the kitchen.
My grand mom always told me that ghee was good for me. She’d proudly say that I’ve got my weakness for sweets from her. It’s sad that today, when I think of ghee, I think of cholesterol on reflex. A realization dawned upon me some time back – for someone who had a teaspoon of ghee with her food every single day, I don’t even have it as a staple ingredient in my pantry anymore. If my grand mom is watching over me, she will not be pleased.
Indian sweets have a reputation of being overly sweet. But that is one of the many characteristics that define them. You have all these amazing flavour components from rich ingredients but sugar is what brings them together. I saw someone making payasam (kheer) with Splenda on TV the other day and I felt murderous. If you can’t eat something the way it’s supposed to be eaten, then don’t eat it at all.
There is a common thread that runs between Indian, Turkish and Greek desserts. They certainly don’t take the word sweet lightly. And in terms of ingredients, semolina (rava/suji) is a staple when it comes to making desserts in these countries. These pineapple syrup infused semolina cakes are a take on my favourite Indian sweet, pineapple kesari – diced pineapple and dry fruits are thrown into the decadent semolina-ghee mixture. It’s a breakfast staple at South Indian weddings and I could never stop myself from licking the ghee from the banana leaf.
I baked the semolina cakes and infused them in pineapple syrup; for a quintessential Indian touch, I made a saffron infused crème anglaise and topped the cakes with candied cashewnuts. Kesari bath in a chic, modern avatar – sorry grandmas of the world, but these taste too damn good!
For semolina cakes
- 25 g (1 heaped tbsp + ½ tbsp) semolina (rava)
- 25 g (2 flat tbsp) plain flour
- 2 eggs, separated
- ½ tbsp sugar
- Zest of half a lemon
For pineapple syrup
- 300 ml pineapple juice
- 200 g (1 cup) caster sugar
- Zest of half a lemon
For saffron custard
For candied cashew nuts
- 10 cashews
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease three 5inch ring moulds with butter. Line a baking sheet on parchment paper, set the ring moulds on top. Leave aside.
- In a clean, stainless steel bowl, beat egg whites with a pinch of sugar until stiff. Set aside.
- Beat the egg yolks with remaining sugar and lemon zest until pale and creamy.
- Fold in the semolina and plain flour into the egg whites. Fold roughly. Add the egg yolk mixture and fold to combine.
- Pour the batter into the prepared moulds evenly and bake for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring pineapple juice, sugar and lemon zest to the boil. Cook the syrup for 10 minutes, until the juice has been reduced to half and is of a syrup consistency. Set aside.
- For custard, bring cream, 2 tbsp of milk, saffron threads, 1 tbsp of sugar and vanilla extract to the boil. Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks, remaining milk and remaining 1 tbsp of sugar. Once the milk comes to the boil, pour half of it to the egg mixture while whisking. Pour the egg mixture back to the saucepan of remaining milk mixture and simmer on low heat, continuously whisking for 3 minutes until it thickens. Pour the custard into a clean bowl, wrap it with cling film and set aside to cool.
- For candied cashewnuts, add sugar to a saucepan. On medium heat, caramelize the sugar until it becomes a dark brown. Add the cashewnuts and combine. Pour the mixture on a tray and set aside. Once cooled, break the cashewnuts into pieces using a rolling pin.
- To assemble, make small incisions in the cake using a knife. Pour the pineapple syrup into each cake. Use all of the syrup. Unmould the cakes carefully by running a knife around the mould. Place the cakes on a plate. Before serving, pour the custard top over the syrup infused cake and garnish with candied cashew nut brittle.
- Serve at room temperature or cold.