KitchenTigress: Sugee Cake

Sugee Cake

Wanna make a sugee cake that's light and fluffy? That's right, the Eurasian classic doesn't have to be dense and heavy. Let me, a half-Eurasian, show you how.

What? You didn't know I'm half-Eurasian? Hey, half of Eurasian is Asian and I'm 100% Asian. That makes me 50% Eurasian, right?

Eurasians serve sugee cake on special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, Christmas, New Year, christenings and, I hear, funerals.

There're many sugee cake recipes out there and after comparing several, I became very confused. How much sugee should you use? Do you fry it? Do you soak it? If you do, how long should it be? A few hours? Overnight? What do you soak it in? Melted butter, soft butter or creamed butter? Or maybe it's milk? How many egg whites? How many yolks? Baking powder, baking soda or neither? How much flour? How much almond?

So many questions and, I tell ya, soooo many different answers. Every recipe I've looked at is different. The conclusion I've come to is: sugee cakes are like zebras – no two are alike.

Guess what? Another zebra just joined the zeal. Here's my take on Eurasians' most loved cake:

To fry or not to fry? The sugee, that is, aka semolina. Definitely fry. If you don't believe me, try it and see how fragrant the semolina is after it turns brown. Too lazy to stand by the stove and stir? You could do what I do. Just bung the semolina into the oven. Baking browns just as well as frying, minus the constant stirring. You just have to stir once midway.

To soak or not to soak? Definitely soak because browned semolina is very dry and sandy.

What to soak in? Definitely butter, whipped to within an inch of its life. Why not softened or melted butter? Because the butter must have lots of air if you want a light and fluffy cake. Why not milk? Because the batter has the right thickness without any milk (or cream). It's what I call the "plop consistency", i.e. the batter goes "plop" when you drop it from your spatula/spoon/whatever.

For how long? Till the semolina loses its crunch but not its bite. I find that an hour is ample. How do you tell when it's done? By tasting, of course. How else?

How many egg whites? Two. How many yolks? Five. To be exact, it's 80 g each for a 18 cm cake. This is the right amount if light and fluffy is your kind of thing. The cake rises well but doesn't collapse or crack. There may be a slight dome but it subsides nicely once the cake is removed from the oven.

Should you add a leavener? Definitely, to help the cake rise. I go for baking soda but I'd imagine an appropriate amount of baking powder works just as well.

A light sugee cake is nice but a denser version has its merits too (and character). Why? Because you can get a grainier, nuttier crumb by using coarsely ground almonds. The dense batter prevents big almond bits from sinking to the bottom of the pan. For a fluffy cake, the almonds must be finely ground.

How much semolina, almond and flour? The first cake I baked had one part plain flour, two parts almond and four parts semolina. I'd never eaten sugee cake before and was expecting something dense because that's how everyone describes it. To my surprise, what I got was very light and fluffy. I liked the cake very much but thought it could be nuttier.

The second time round, I used an equal amount of semolina and ground almond and, hey presto, magic happened. The cake knocked everyone's socks off. It was so light it flew off the table (into everyone's mouth). The third time, I used cake flour instead of plain flour. That cake didn't send any socks flying. Instead, it knocked everyone dead. They all died, smiling and still wearing their socks.

Would you dare bake a killer cake?

Of course you would! Good cake is worth dying for.

How to make sugee cake

Step-by-step guide

This recipe makes a very fluffy sugee cake because air is beaten separately into butter, egg yolks and egg whites. Besides toasted sugee, there's also toasted almonds in the cake, making it very nutty.

sugee cake
(For one 18 cm cake)

  • 165 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 35 g castor sugar
  • 1 tsp golden syrup
  • 2 tsp brandy
  • 60 g sugee (aka semolina) – spread thinly on baking tray lined with aluminium foil, bake 10 minutes at 180°C, stir thoroughly, continue baking till light brown and fragrant (another 5 minutes or so), leave till cool
  • 80 g yolks
  • 35 g castor sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60 g almonds – bake at 180°C till brown and fragrant (6-8 mins), chop roughly when cool, grind till fine
  • 20 g cake flour
  • 1/6 tsp baking soda
  • 80 g egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 35 g castor sugar

  1. Whisk butter and 35 g sugar till thick and pale. Add golden syrup and brandy. Mix till combined. Add baked semolina. Mix thoroughly. Set aside till semolina is soft, about 1 hour, in air-condition if weather is unusually hot so that butter doesn't melt.

  2. Preheat oven to 170°C. Line 18 x 5 cm round cake pan with parchment paper.

  3. Whisk eggs yolks and 35 g castor sugar till thick and pale. Add vanilla extract and ground almonds. Sift cake flour and baking soda into mixture. Mix evenly. Add to butter mixture. Fold till almost even.
  4. Whisk egg whites till thick foam forms. Add cream of tartar. Whisk till foam thickens further. Gradually add 35 g castor sugar as you continue whisking. Keep whisking till egg whites just reach stiff peak stage. Fold into yolk and butter mixture in 2 batches till just evenly mixed, scraping down thoroughly as you fold.
  5. Pour batter into cake pan. Level top. Bake till cake shrinks very slightly from sides, around 40 minutes. If cake browns too fast – check 25 minutes into baking – block oven's top heat with baking tray. Remove cake from oven. Let cool a few minutes. Unmould and leave on wire rack till completely cool.