World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: June, 2007

The Baker’s Passport – Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon, just off the southeast coast of India, is a rich tapestry of cultures which can be experienced today through it’s rich and diverse food. Julia Child was station here during her time with the OSS.

Sri Lanka’s nearness to India has had a strong influence on its cuisine, as did the occupations of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. Writer Amanda Hesser, in the IHT poetically described its proximity as "…shaped like a fat tear rolling off the chin of India." As time lapsed the majority of defining dishes have been slightly modified. And it took a lot of cooking from many peoples, cultures and religions: the Hindus and Buddhists perfected the vegetarian dishes; the Christians refined the beef and pork recipes and the Muslims put attention to the mutton and lamb dishes. Many of the recipes revolve around rice, the central grain of curry dishes in Sri Lankan cuisine. Notably curries in this country are spicier than those found in  India. Other staple ingredients include coconut (milk, oil, or grated), as well as aromatic herbs and spices such as curry leaf, fenugreek, turmeric, chilies, and cinnamon.

But what about dessert you say?  Given the climate fruits are a plenty–mangoes, pineapple, papaya, woodapple, bananas, rambuttan, and mangosteen. For us bakers there’s kiri pani made from buffalo milk curd and golden syrup; the of Malay origin, wattalappam an egg pudding with jaggary and also kevum made with flour and golden syrup.

Spice traders, specifically the Dutch and Portuguese left behind a meatball curry which is baked in a banana leaf.  Hoppers, a crêpe of sorts with a bowl-shape and crispy edges shows up in many varieties such as honey, milk and the egg hopper containing a poached egg cooked into the center.   The batter is made from from rice flour, coconut milk and then fermented with yeast or the traditonal, and sour tasting, palm toddy liquor.  This favored treat is often found in "bakery hotels" or small restaurants for breakfast or lunch. 

But for me I’d like to try this quaintly named spicey infusion "Love Cake" adapted from Portuguese cuisine, probably around the 16th century, when Portugal dominated the spice trade and controlled a portion of the island. The recipe’s cashews and cardamom are native to the island. The rose water fragrance are a Muslim aesthetic and can be traced to Ceylon Muslims or to the Moorish influence of Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages. A country’s cultural history all in a slice of cake.  Oh and I’ll have mine with a cuppa Ceylon

PS: I’m coming home with this must-have Sri Lankan kitchen gadget, a coconut scraper, waste not want not!


Bolo d’Amor

Portuguese Love Cake

The traditional recipe, served at graduations and weddings, contains 14 egg yolks. I just couldn’t live with that on my mind. So, I asked around at work, my company has one of the most diverse workforces and adapted the following recipe which comes from her handwritten recipe notebook.  She says she got it from a newspaper but doesn’t know where as she’s moved around a bit. So be it as its too good not to share.  If anyone knows let me know so credit can go where it belongs. The secret is to have a soft texture in the middle and a firm and chewy exterior.  Some say if be slowly bake it and using the right-sized pan is the magic.


1 1/4 cups semolina meal (US bakers: Cream of Wheat)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg or cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups raw cashew nuts, finely chopped
4 tablespoons rose water
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
9 egg yolks and 5 whites
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
4 tablespoons honey


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Warm semolina in a dry pan over medium heat until fairly hot to the touch, being careful not to let it brown.

Put in a bowl and stir to cool. While still a little warm, mix in softened butter using a wooden spoon. Add lemon rind, spices and salt. Mix well, cover and set aside two to four hours.

Separately, mix cashews with rose water, almond extract and vanilla. Cover and set aside.

Grease 9-by-13-inch pan and line with three thicknesses of wax paper. Butter well the top layer of paper.

In a large bowl, beat yolks and sugar until they have doubled in bulk and become thick, creamy and very light in color.

Beat in the semolina-butter mixture, a little at a time. Add the honey and beat. When well beaten, fold in cashew mixture.

Beat egg whites with lemon juice until they hold firm peaks. Fold into the cake mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan.

Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 250 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, until the cake is evenly golden-brown and the top feels firm to the touch.

As the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan it should be a bit moist in center (test with a skewer), remove from oven.  If cake is very moist in the center, switch off oven, cover cake with paper or foil and leave inside for another 10-15 minutes.

If the cake begins to brown too much any time during baking, cover with paper or foil.

Cool cake completely. Do not remove cake from pan instead cut into small servings while in the pan.



Cruise West to Go Inside


If you are looking here for continuation of The Baker’s Passport series you’ll need to wait another week or so while I get this post out of my system.  I’ve been away for two weeks on holiday. And while this is a bit of a "what I learned on my summer vacation" this next statement will shock a good many of you so I’m just going to put it out there.

I was on an Alaskan cruise.  Not a big mega cruise ship but a small cruise line, Cruise West based in Seattle.  And do they know how to show a girl a good time. This trip is a huge benefit of my job and the best surprise of all to me is that I would do it all again and again.  There ships are designed for an up close and intimate experience, sorta like Alaska in hi-def.  And they are conscious about the impact they are having and do something about it actively by reaching out to the communities they travel in.  Plus if you are into the nature up-close thing their boats can do "donuts"…oh there a whale, no wait over there…!

Over seven days 70 of us floated among bitty bergs and glacial waters peeping at glaciers, (they are all pretty much receding), bears (looking very lean from a longer than typical winter), and humpback whales, dolphins, stellar seal loins, puffins, and the one of the single most spectacular moments of  my life occurred in 25 degree weather at 12:30am, a viewing of the Aurora Borealis. My 8th grade dream realized!

I’m a bit of a lucky gal as this was my second time in Alaska. I’ve stayed at Camp Denali during a fall pro photographer’s tour a few years back and now I’ve seen the Inside Passage from a puffin’s view (interestingly they do look as they appear on the Trader Joe’s cereal box!). So, the icing on the cake on this sailing was that most of the passengers onboard were not only there for the marine and wildlife they were all into talking about light, exposure, pixels and the ongoing raw vs. jpeg debate. (When will this question end?)  Mark Kelly, a local Alaskan and professioinal photographer helping out with the logistics of putting us in the right spot at the right time (see photo above) and their was another professional, Julie Smith, helping us out with all types of photo-related problem solving.


Vacations to state the blind obvious, are magnificent things. Often we don’t realize how much we need the escape of routines. To be pulled from the ho-hum ordinary into the extra ordinary. To hear stories about others and to think maybe, just maybe I could be that, I could do this or that. That’s what this trip did for me. You see if you have a leaning, I mean a real passion for something like nature, or for the bigger prouder "environment" you need to go to Alaska.  The size and shape of the land will shock you and humble you all in one breath. And it’ll sneak right up on you and make you re-evaluate most of what you thought was important in existence. Really, it’s that big. You learn to use the full range of your senses allowing you to return to your previous existence slightly changed.

Before the trip began I took a rather indulgent and pricey 40-mile excursion south of Juneau on a float plane over the Juneau Ice Fields taking in the Taku Glacier and landing for lunch at the same-named lodge.  Now what drew me to this quiet rather senior citizen outing was of course the notion of eating the pink fish in Alaska in a wild and rustic setting. Oh yes and although I persuade people all day to buy things they may or may  not want I was drawn in by the "your cool beverage will be chilled with chips of 1,000 year old glacial ice." Hey, we all by bottle water so back off.

The lodge site is between two glaciers on the Taku River. Lunch was already in progress.  The BBQ pit was being stoked and fanned with alder wood by the young chefs in preparation for the wild King salmon bake. Inside the lodge the finishing accompaniments of reindeer sausage, baked beans, blueberry coffeecake scones, baked compote and herb biscuits was being pulled together.  There was little to be seen of Scarface the bear that lives well during the season on salmon droppings.


After lunch we heard the story of the long-time previous owner of the lodge Mary Joyce who in 1935 at the age of 27 decided that just for fun she’d like to drive a dog team 1,000 miles from Juneau to Fairbanks. Frankly, everyone thought she was off her sled but she arrived in Fairbanks, where she learned she was entered in the Miss Alaska beauty contest and declined that in favor of honorary membership in the Pioneer Women of Alaska.   Ms. Joyce also had a salmon-eating cow and a connection to the Smith in Smith-Corona but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Finally we were invited to ask questions.  After I asked enough appropriately worded but pointed questions about personal observations on global warming, waste disposal, the source of the wild king salmon (locally caught and sustainable) and about the realness of glacial ice in my glass all was confirmed with the yarn about "how" these young lodge keepers keep their "refrigerated" goods chilled by an itty bitty berg.

Imagine that, all in the last true frontier, and just one day.

Taku Herb Biscuits

Adapted from Taku Glacier Lodge Secret Recipes

These biscuits were all flaky goodness. 

4 cups bread flour

3/4 cup dry milk

2 tsp. baking powder

2tsp. salt

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 level tbsp each of dried thyme, parsley, tarragon, basil

1/2 tbsp. garlic powder

1 cup cold butter

About 1 1/2 cups very cold water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place all ingredients except butter and water in mixing bowl, cut butter into mix (so pieces are not smaller than a peanut).

Make a well and add cold water. Don’t add all the water at once. Work enough to make a slightly sticky dough, adding water as needed.

Place dough on floured board. Fold, turn it over and fold again. Do this about 8x. You may need to add a little flour between folds if the dough is too sticky.

Pat into a square about 1" thick, cut into square shaped biscuits or simply use a round cutter.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Best served hot accompanied by butter and honey.