When I was growing up, our oven was used as an extra cupboard to keep outsized frying pans and exiled chopping boards. This was largely because my Indian parents were of a place and time (1950s Uganda) where no one had ovens at home: all breads were stove-baked flatbreads and all cakes were bought in or baked at the village bakery.
As a result, any cake that merited the annual clearing of the Sodha oven had to be incredibly special. The search for a worthy cake became a quest akin to Columbus in search of the Indies, and then, one day, I found it: the mighty Sri Lankan love cake, whose origin dates back to the 15th century, when the Portuguese ruled Ceylon. It has all my favourite cake characteristics at once: dense, floral, and full of nuts and spices. It was the one.
It is not naturally vegan, but it was the first cake I wanted to “veganise”. Although there is no single ingredient in vegan baking that can perfectly replace egg (which binds, stabilises and allows a cake to rise), ground flaxseed works very well, although it makes for a crumblier cake. The butter is easier to substitute: I use a pure sunflower spread that can be whipped or creamed to add bounce.
The overall effect with the fresh pineapple is a cake with a totally tropical taste, but with the warmth of your favourite blanket – a cake worth clearing out the oven for.
Pineapple love cake
This recipe is a collaboration: my friend Henrietta Inman, who bakes using natural ingredients, helped me turn the original recipe vegan; and the pineapple upside-down bit was my friend (and head chef at Palatino in London) Rich Blackwell’s idea. Serves eight.
4 level tbsp milled flaxseeds
180ml almond milk
1 small pineapple, peeled
1 orange, zested and juiced (to make 60ml)
260g light brown muscovado sugar
125g sunflower spread (eg, Pure), plus extra for greasing
2 tbsp rose water (I use Steenbergs’)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
100g ground almonds
150g fine semolina
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease the base and sides of a 23cm cake tin with sunflower spread. Line the base with greaseproof paper, making sure it comes at least 3cm up the sides of the tin (so the juices don’t leak).
Make the flax “eggs” by mixing the flaxseed with almond milk.
With the pineapple lying on its side, cut six round 0.5cm-thick slices off the bottom and put in a saucepan. Add the juice of one orange and 60g of the sugar, bring the mixture up to a boil, then turn off the heat and set aside.
In a bowl, use a spatula to cream the sunflower spread and the remaining sugar, then mix in the rose water, vanilla extract, lemon and orange zest.
In a second bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (ie the almonds, semolina, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and baking powder).
Add the flax “eggs” to the creamed sunflower spread and sugar mixture, then fold in the dry ingredients until just combined.
Layer the pineapple slices, one over the other, at the base of the tin to form an inter-locking circle with no hole in the middle, then pour the pan juices over the top. Spoon the cake batter into the tin over the pineapple, and spread out with the back of a spoon to level off.
Bake for 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean, then remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes. To turn out the cake, run a knife around the sides, put a plate on top of the tin and turn over. Voilà. Serve with coconut yoghurt or oat cream, or eat just by itself.
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