Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rosewater cake

I got this recipe from a cookery book that I've had since I was about 14, I think. It's probably the first cookbook that I ever bought... and probably the least useful at the time to me, because it was a book on how to bake cakes. Worse, it was a foreign book and by that I mean it was not published in India - the recipes called for all sorts of ingredients that might have been common in the West but certainly werent easily available at home then, and the measurements were in ounces which certainly didnt make sense to me!

But I bought the cookery book anyway, for the princely sum of Rs 75. I didnt even have an oven, but I bought the book. How could I resist? It had such tantalising glossy photographs of exotic cakes, cookies and biscuits and the recipes sounded so exciting to make, plus they were droolably readable! (I digress as always - but I think I've missed my calling as a book reviewer! Any takers, after that very original description?)

I tried one recipe - a coffee-flavoured cake with icing - from my book when my mother got a round Bajaj oven, but I have to say it wasnt the howling success I wanted it to be. Well okay, there was some howling involved but that was from me because I was so disappointed. The cake was crusty at the bottom and not quite cooked through (the Bajaj oven's fault because the heat source was only from the bottom!) and the coffee icing was runny and wouldnt set (the summer heat's fault).

All in all, not the best start to a baking career, so it was quite a while (many years) before I tried any baking again. I dont quite know why I expected to start out being a master baker at my very first baking attempt, but in hindsight it can be put down to youthful overconfidence and unfamiliarity with life's downs!

But I still loved the cookbook. Every so often I would thumb through it, drooling at the photos and wondering at ingredients like "demerara sugar", "lemon curd", "golden syrup", "molasses" and the like - all items that I had never come across in all my life.

One cake that I'd wanted to make used rosewater as the main flavouring ingredient and I thought I could try it out at last, now that I had a proper oven, not to mention many cakes under my belft (not literally, folks!). However, every time I went to the Indian shops, the rosewater kept getting forgotten. Finally the right moment came along... the perfect mix of time, desire and the availability of the required ingredients in my pantry.

I'm so glad to say that the cake came out as gorgeous as I could have wanted. The honey content in it made the cake burn a little more than was ideal but luckily it was still very tasty. The delicate flavour of roses, especially in the icing, was sensational - a bit like eating Turkish delight but not so sweet or overpowering. I think this is one of the few cakes that I found delicious enough to warrant a second helping rightaway.

Recipe for:
Rosewater cake


1 cup plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2/3 cup caster sugar (or 1/2 cup if you prefer it less sweet)
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 tbsp clear honey
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tbsp rosewater
4 tbsp milk
1/2 cup sultanas

For the icing:

1-1/2 cups icing sugar
4 tbsp rosewater
1 tbsp lemon juice


1. Grease a 6" round cake tin and with silicone paper. Sift the flour with the baking powder into a large bowl.

2. Whisk the butter, sugar and honey together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, 2 tbsp at a time, beating well between additions.

3. Fold in the flour and baking powder, then add the rosewater and the milk, turning the mixture over several times. Then mix in the sultanas.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake at 180C until the cake tests done. Check the top of the cake after about 20 minutes - if it looks like turning brown too quickly, cover the top with foil or brown paper to prevent burning.

5. Cool the cake for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack.

6. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add the rosewater and beat until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add the lemon juice and beat again. (If it's too thin, add more icing sugar). The icing should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon without dripping off, but should still be pourable.

7. Pour the icing over the top of the cake and let it drip down the sides.

Smooth the top if necessary with a palette knife dipped in hot water. Let the icing set for a couple of hours before cutting the cake.


Mrs. K said...

You bought a cookbook at 14?? Wow!

The cake looks yummy. I don't like the flavor of rose water though.

Vaishali said...

Ooooh, that sounds and looks gorgeous. Mmmmm...
A propos buying a cookbook at 14, I have something similar to share. In my case it wasn't a cookbook but a cookery class. When I was 20 years old and still studying my masters at the univ, my mother complained heavily to me that I hardly ever entered the kitchen and it was time I made conscious effort to learn cooking. A conscious effort I did. By enrolling myself into a two-day cookery class...for Punjabi cuisine. :):):):)
Why? Because I did not want to learn cooking from my mother; we used to fight all the time whenever we tried it.
Why Punjabi? Don't ask me. Do I remember anything from that class? Again, don't ask. :):):)

Vaishali said...

I just realised that I have written an essay for a comment. Sorry, Shammi. :(

Anonymous said...

RP: Thanks :) Pity you dont like rosewater, though!

Vaish: Aw come on, there isnt a word limit to comments! Not on my blog anyway. Write all the essays you want, however long they are - all are most definitely welcome! :)

TNL said...

That looks good....I bet the aroma while the cake was baking was wonderful...!


Lakshmi said...

looks so good, even I thought the same question a cook book at 14, great .

Mika said...

Interesting recipe, Shammi. I have a few cake recipes in your blog that I have marked for trial and this is another.

If I did not do the icing, do you think the rose water flavor would be perceptible?

Anonymous said...

Mika - without the icing, the rosewater flavour is not really perceptible. :)

Anonymous said...

I have a nice recipe for rosewater/almond paste cake that is great. Rosewater is so lovely.

Your description of the baking book had me howling with laughter as it exactly echoed my experiences buying Indian cookery books. I buy them frequently, and the ones that are solely for the Indian market can be a little inaccessible for those of us in the US. Measurements in katoris??? Brinjals??? Curd??? Slowly I have managed to interpret these to "American" terms and to find most if not all ingredients and spices. And I prize my cookbooks immensely. Sometimes I read them just to get a happy boost. I just returned from India with a new crop just waiting to be interpreted and tested out...

Justin Goldberg said...

Elizabethan cuisine is noted for its near-pervasive use of such ingredients as rosewater
, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, almonds, oranges, and currants. Most of these ingredients were not native to England and thus had to be purchased from merchants at a high price up until this period. Therefore, liberal use of them in a meal allowed a host to show off his or her wealth, much the way we would buy caviar or expensive wines for our dinner guests today. In deference to today's tastes and the desire for a balanced meal, I have removed these ingredients from many of the dishes you eat today. In addition, I have modified other ingredients and sometimes even the method of several recipes for either ease of preparation, transportation, or presentation. Therefore, my recipes for this meal are not strictly authentic redactions of the originals reprinted herein.

alisonneill said...

I just bought a cake locally made with rosewater and decorated with pistachio nuts. It was so good, I immediately went on to Google to find one I could make myself - this recipe was the easiest to understand - I'm looking forward to it! - thanks.

Unknown said...

I see sugar in step 2, but none listed in the cake section of the ingredients list. Does the cake not have any sugar in it?

Shammi said...

Hi Renee

Thanks for spotting the omission! I dont think anybody else did... yes, there IS sugar in the cake. 2/3 cup caster sugar (or a little less if you dont like it very sweet), to be precise. I've updated the recipe.

Anonymous said...

Hi ..Does the rosewater cake have 1 Tablespoon of baking powder ..please clarify ..thanks Jane