The Almond Sugee cake: a Singapore Eurasian heritage

Written by on September 29th, 2009 // Filed under Culīnaria

Eurasian almond sugee cake recipe, Cheryl Marie Cordeiro

The almond sugee cake, a Singapore Eurasian favourite.
Photos © Jan-Erik Nilsson and Cheryl Marie Cordeiro for CMC, 2009

Apart from the rich fruit cake, which is characteristically heavy handedly laced in brandy, that marks Christmas and all its cool weather, sometimes even rainy festivities for the Eruasians in Singapore, the Almond Sugee or Semolina Cake, would be an all-rounder cake for festive events. This cake, in all its variations of with or without icing, nutmeg, cardamon, brandy or cognac soaked etc., is served at Eurasian Christenings, weddings, house-warming parties, New Year’s Eve parties, birthdays and anniversaries.

Admittedly, I grew up not really liking this cake, because it seemed like we had it all the time. In fact, there was no event at home that didn’t omit this cake from the menu. But nostalgia kicks in, even for tastebuds when you’re away from home and just the smell of this cake baking in the oven in my Swedish home, brings me right back to happy Christmases and everything I would associate as a Singapore Eurasian heritage.

The recipe given here comes from Wendy Hutton’s (2007), book entitled, Singapore Food: a treasury of more than 200 time-tested recipes.

250g butter, softened
250g fine semolina / sugee
7 eggs, yolks and whites separated
250g castor sugar + 1 tbsp castor sugar for beating egg whites
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp rose essence
2 tbsp cognac or brandy
250g ground almonds
125g plain flour, sifted
Set oven at 150 deg C

*There was no mention of the use of baking powder in Hutton’s (2007) recipe, though in my version of the cake, I do use some baking powder, as my grandmother, Dorothy Cordeiro did in her recipe.

Semolina or sugee, soaking in butter

Semolina in butter.

I begin with soaking the semolina in the softened butter. How long the semolina sits in the butter is really relative. You could let it sit for an hour (as Wendy Hutton recommends), up to 4 hours (as some of my aunts recommend) or let sit in the refrigerator overnight (as my great grandmother recommended).

Almonds, for the sugee cake

Almonds, peeled.

Then the next thing I do is to peel the almonds. This too, is relative, depending on how you want your cake to look. I have made sugee cakes with almond skin left in for colour and taste variation. But for this presentation, I did away with the peel.

Rough chopping the almonds, at Cheryl Marie Cordeiro

Almonds, rough chopped.

Since I prefer the cake with a little more texture and bite, I rough chop the almonds, instead of fine grinding them.

Eggs for the semolina cake, at Cheryl Marie Cordeiro

The number of eggs to this semolina cake is surprisingly many.

The number of eggs used in this cake is not for the faint hearted. I figure that goes for the amount of butter used too. But really, nobody eats an entire sugee cake at one sitting (except Uncle Ben) and I think it’s the richness of the egg yolks and butter that makes this cake one of the more unforgettable delights to melt on your palate.

Egg yolks, separated, for the semolina cake

Egg yolks, separated.

I was about 7 years old when I was allowed to help with baking the sugee cake at home in Singapore. And the first task I learned was how to separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. It was a fantastic job to have because I thought it so fun to handle the sliding consistency between my fingers. I had great difficulty not breaking the egg yolks though!

The almonds into the sugee, semolina batter

The almonds, going into the semolina batter.

Once the almonds are chopped and the semolina and butter are thoroughly married, the egg yolks are beaten with the sugar to a light consistency. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the tablespoon of sugar, so that the egg whites don’t deflate easily.

Carefully mix the buttered semolina with the other dry ingredients and fold in the egg whites. Add the dash of brandy / cognac, as a last touch.

The sugee, semolina batter into the baking form

The slightly chunky batter into the baking form.

Once the batter is thorougly mixed, pour it out into a greased baking form and bake at 150 deg C till the cake is nicely browned at the top, which takes about an hour or so. If the top of the cake is turning brown too quickly, turn off the top heat to the oven and continue to bake evenly. Due to its temperamental nature, I would recommend to try to keep the oven door closed at all times during baking, as a swoosh of cool air might result in the cake deflating. If you need to check how the cake is doing, look at the top and sides of the cake. When the sides of the cake is just beginning to come away from the tin, then it’s thereabouts done.

Looking at the served sugee cake, I think most Swedes would think it a standard sugar cake or sockerkaka. A look of surprise often follows with the first bite into this cake when served in Sweden, and then the enquiries begin on the what and how.

Although the sugee cake is often served with marzipan and icing on top in my family, I think I prefer it served as is. Because my favourite bit of the cake happens to be its golden brown top, where the sugar, butter and semolina caramelises. Sheer heaven!

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64 Responses to “The Almond Sugee cake: a Singapore Eurasian heritage”

  1. Your recipe sounds exciting and yes, I believe my grand-aunt did what your grandmother did, to stir-fry the semolina lightly till golden brown. It does give a more fragrant cake!
    Happy baking and thank you for sharing your thoughts / variations on the sugee cake!


    Posted by cheryl
  2. Hi, just realised the recipe which I have inherited from my Thai / Peranakan grandmother thru mum is similar to yours except we don’t use rose essence and we always use whole almonds just for that extra colour and subtle nutty texture. I have tweaked it slightly over the years, using vanilla pod seeds instead of essence and blend half the almonds and rough chop the other half to get a more complex grain. Grandma’s recipe had us stir-fry the semolina lightly until golden brown and letting it cool before soaking in the butter. Experimented both times, the stir-fry version smells more fragrant but results in a drier cake which we have to compensate with spiking about 50 ml of milk.

    Like you, our family preference has always been for the sugee “as it is”, totally unadulterated and not glazed as the whiff of the cake itself just takes your breath away, especially with that slightly burnt upper crust. Making it in a week!!

    Posted by ShaneyBoy
  3. Hi Ishani,

    Loaf tins are most commonly used in my family for this cake – it’s easier for cutting, serving and storing.
    Other aunts of mine use bundt or tube cake tins. I’ve also seen sugee cakes baked in square tins, so I figure depending on how much you’re making and your oven temperature, most types of cake tins should be fine.

    And yes, you’re right, sugee cake recipes are usually in large quantities – for feeding entire families I guess :-)
    I’ll soon be putting up my grandmother’s recipe for the sugee cake and for that, I usually divide the ingredients to make smaller batches when not making for a gathering or party.

    Happy baking!

    Posted by cheryl
  4. Hi dear …
    I was wondering what cake pan did you use for this recipe? Im Malaysian and I have been trying to find a good Sugee recipe. I have my grand auntys recipe but here recipe is too large… I would love to try your recipe.


    Posted by Ishani
  5. Hello Ivy,

    Thank you for your email and I’m happy to hear that you had some wonderful sugee cake in Perth!

    I haven’t as yet tried out any baking in the microwave oven, where I believe my microwave oven cooking skills to be rather primitive i.e. I am still figuring out how to microwave scrambled eggs to my liking in a microwave oven *LOL*
    I have thus far only stuck to conventional oven baking, with top and bottom heating (!) – a recommendation from a good Italian friend of mine, who is also a Chef at one of Singapore’s most popular Italian eateries :-)

    Happy baking! :-)

    Posted by cheryl
  6. Had wonderful sugee cake in Perth , homemade by Eurasian friends and was craving for it when I got back. Thanks for your recipe, I will try it out, but can I bake it in my convection/microwave oven?? I was told baking cakes in these ovens do not turn out very well.

    Posted by ivy

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