Sugee cake is a much loved tradition amongst the Portuguese Eurasians in Singapore and Malaysia. It makes an appearance at all festivals, whether that’s Christmas, Easter, christenings, weddings, birthdays or funerals.
Estimated reading time: 17 minutes
Table of contents
What is Sugee Cake?
The word sugee (also spelt suji) is the Hindi word for semolina. So sugee cake is semolina cake, and it is practically a national institution in the Kristang community (Eurasians of Portuguese descent) in Singapore and Malaysia. Much like Curry Devil.
Click here to read more about them and the other ethnicities making up the local population.
There are many dishes in Singapore and Malaysia that are oblivious to cultural lines and are claimed by most or all our ethnic groups. Laksa and pineapple tarts are great examples of this.
Then, there are many that are quite happy to remain within their original circle, and today’s sugee cake is a classic case of that, as is the aforementioned curry debal.
So where does the Eurasian sugee cake come from? Like much of Kristao cooking, this Eurasian semolina cake most likely owes its existence to the Portuguese occupation of Malacca in the 16th – 17th centuries.
If you’re interested, you can read a very brief write up of this over on LinsFood, just click here.
A cake made with semolina isn’t unique to Singapore and Malaysia, it exists in many forms all around the world; in Europe, in the Middle East and in South Asia. You have Middle Eastern basbousa, the Italian torta di semolino and the Goan baath cake or bolo de rulao. This last also has very strong Portuguese inclinations.
In fact, I have 2 semolina cakes over at LinsFood that you might enjoy, because I love semolina desserts:
Sugee Cake Recipe
The basis of sugee cake is the Western pound cake or the British Madeira cake, where you have equal amounts of the main ingredients. However, there is no such thing as an authentic sugee cake. Over the years, not only did the locals adopt the Hindi word sugee for semolina, but they also adapted the recipe to suit their own tastes.
There are as many sugee cake recipes out there as there are cooks, with each family having its own little slant on it.
Some make their semolina cake with a crazy amount of egg yolks, resulting in a very, very rich and heavy cake. Some will make it with just semolina, some will add almonds, and I’ve even eaten some with cashew nuts in it, which were not to my taste at all. We’ll take a look at these differences below as I address the ingredients.
Growing up in Singapore, I’ve also had Eurasian sugee cake made with coconut, very similar in nature to its South Asian counterpart.
And I’ve had them all – the good, the bad and the ugly!
To a certain extent, it is a very forgiving recipe. It’s not going to crash and burn, so to speak, if you chop and change the odd ingredient.
LinsFood’s Sugee Cake Recipe
My first few years here in the UK (in the 90s), I was making sugee cake all the time, almost every other weekend. Because it’s so easy to do, freezes well and I just love all things semolina. And I always had friends stopping by! And the fact that I was in my 20s with a very high metabolism meant I could eat it all the time!
Maybe my tastes changed, not to mention priorities, somewhere along the line, I stopped making it.
Once I started blogging, it went on the wish list and kind of stayed there until early last year, when a couple of my readers and an old friend Rachel in Australia, asked for it.
I have 3 recipes for sugee cake, one from another old friend, Hyacinth, the second from an aunt (of sorts) and the 3rd, from an old boyfriend’s mum, whose family was very much steeped in the Kristao (how it’s actually spelt) culture, right down to speaking the patois on a daily basis.
In the image below, Hyacinth is bottom left and Rachel is sitting on my left (I’m in polka dots).
It’s the 3rd sugee cake recipe that I had always made because it was so easy to remember because it was based on the pound cake principle.
So I’ve spent the last year or so baking all 3 recipes again and again and finally settled with the one based on the pound cake. What I like about this recipe is there is no added flour, whether all purpose or cornflour. Just semolina and ground almonds.
I’ve changed the ingredient ratios to achieve a slightly more flavourful cake with a light-ish texture but with enough density to pay homage to its predecessor. The original was a little on the dry side and a bit bland, as far as flavour was concerned.
So LinsFood’s sugee cake is buttery, grainy and only a touch sweet with a slightly airy and light-ish crumb.
- Melt the butter, then soak the semolina in it overnight (minimum 2 hours) – this aids the flavour and the crumb texture.
- Get all the ingredients ready, then separate the eggs.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Cream the egg yolks and sugar until pale.
- Add vanilla (or other flavouring, see below) and brandy or rum, if using.
- Mix the soaked semolina, aka semolina butter.
- Add ground almonds.
- Fold in stiff egg whites and bake.
- Optional Step: wrap a baking strip around your cake pan before baking, see below.
That’s it. Easy, right?
Baking strips are handy little things to have if you love baking cakes. They ensure even baking, flat tops and most importantly, lightly coloured cake edges or crust.
I like to use them with all batters that run a little wetter, like today’s sugee cake. It’s not overly runny like my eggless cakes on LinsFood, but the strip makes the difference between a light brown crust and a dark and thicker crust. And as you can see in the image, a completely flat top.
You can make a diy baking strip with any kind of towel material by cutting them into long strips. Wet before use, squeeze out excess water, then wrap them around your baking pan and secure with something like a safety pin. Be careful, when the cake is done, that pin will be HOT.
If you fancy buying them, here’s my Amazon affiliate link for Wilton cake strips.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients we use in LinsFood’s Sugee cake. I also give you suggestions on alternative flavourings below that I use regularly.
- Fine semolina
- Finely ground almonds (aka almond flour)
- Large eggs – 7 egg yolks + 5 egg whites
- Salted butter
- Baking powder
- Flavouring – I’m using vanilla, see variations below
- Brandy – optional, rum is also popular
- Tiny pinch of salt
We want fine semolina for making sugee cake. It also needs to be dry. In some countries, semolina sold can be moist, so you don’t want that.
Where can you find semolina? Here in the UK, all our major supermarkets sell it, in the baking section. Failing that, you’ll find it online (Amazon has great brands) and at South Asian stores. It’s called sugee flour or rava.
As you can see in the method above, I soak the semolina overnight as I prefer the texture of the cake when it’s soaked. Many, many families don’t do this, it’s all a matter of what’s traditional in one’s family. This soaked semolina is also called semolina butter.
Some also toast the semolina before using/soaking. While this is imperative in certain desserts like sugee halwa (coming soon), in my experience, it doesn’t make a difference to the final flavour of the cake. In fact, it is detrimental to the final texture, as the toasted semolina will soak up the liquid in your cake, giving you a drier result.
Our sugee cake contains the same amount of semolina as it does almonds. This gives a deliciously gritty bite and crumb, something I love in cakes. I like to use finely ground almonds, also sold as almond flour, as this produces the lightest crumb alongside the semolina.
I know many families who use coarsely chopped almonds to make their sugee cake but I definitely prefer the lighter crumb version produced by using finely ground almonds.
Traditionally, this would be done at home, starting with blanching, then skinning and finally chopping or grinding the almonds. But this was in the days before good quality ground almonds became easily available.
I prefer to buy mine because, why not, when I’m assured of quality? I teach Italian cooking classes weekly, so once a fortnight, I make almond based cakes, the Italian Torta Caprese and Torta Caprese Bianca al Limone (both recipes on LinsFood). So I always have a huge supply of commercially ground almonds.
Once again, we need dry ground almonds, not the moist variety, as often sold on the European continent.
This Eurasian sugee cake has a reputation of being egg yolk heavy. I have an old friend whose grandmother used to make it with 20 egg yolks and zero egg whites! Their sugee cake was rich and absolutely delicious and also pretty moist and dense.
I’m not using anywhere near that number, just a couple more yolks than whites, as you’ll see in the recipe below. Because the size of eggs vary depending on where you are, I’ve given you the weight of the yolks and whites too. But you know what? Don’t sweat it too much. Remember right at the start, how I said this is a pretty forgiving recipe?
A little difference here and there isn’t going to kill your cake. So if you have slightly less or more in weight, your cake will still be absolutely fine.
I beat the egg whites to a stiff stage. You may see recipes that say soft stage. Some may even use whole eggs without separating. Potato, po-tah-to, it’s all good. So many different ways to make the Eurasian sugee cake.
Always bake with butter that you are familiar with because not all butter is created equal. I’ve been using the same Anchor brand for ever. We used it in my grandma’s kitchen and that’s what I’ve basically stuck with, although I do have a couple of other favourite brands.
Most baking recipes you see call for unsalted butter. I like to buck the trend and use salted, because I know my butter. In today’s recipe, I even add an additional pinch of salt as I think the sugee cake benefits from it.
We’ll be melting the butter and soaking the semolina in it overnight, or for at least 2 hours.
We use the simple white sugar in this, and I’m using a similar amount to that of butter. It doesn’t matter if you’re using granulated or caster sugar, as long as you beat the former long enough.
The good old baking powder is all we need. You’ll find some also using bicarbonate soda, but we don’t need it given our fairly neutral ingredients (non acidic).
Cream of tartar can be used for beating the egg whites if that’s something you do. I don’t, so I’ve left it out of the recipe. In case you’re a novice, cream of tartar helps to stabilise the beaten egg whites and produces a glossier result.
You’ll see that compared to the usual 1 tsp or so in cake recipes, we’re using a whopping 1 Tbsp. Once again, this helps give the otherwise dense cake a lift for a lighter crumb.
Vanilla and mixed spice (pumpkin spice in the US) are the most popular choice of flavourings for sugee cake. Mixed spice should be found easily in the spice aisle in your supermarket, near the cinnamon, coriander, etc. If you can’t get it, make your own with this Pumpkin Spice recipe on LinsFood.
I’ve also flavoured sugee cake with rose water, orange flower water, aroma panettone and my personal favourite baking aroma, Fiori di Sicilia. This last adds an inimitable citrusy aroma to our semolina cake and reminds me of the Portuguese orange cake, Bolo de Laranja.
Brandy is by far, the most popular choice when making this Eurasian semolina cake. Rum is also popular. But this is purely optional, and if you don’t do alcohol, leave it out. You don’t have to make up the liquid amount, as it’s minimal, and remember forgiving recipe?
How to Serve it?
It’s eaten as dessert, much like you would any cake. Sugee cake is usually cut into little squares, and many will bake it in a square or rectangular tin. I’ve always used a round tin for it and this recipe is perfect for a 9″/23cm tin. You could also bake it in an 8″/20cm square tin.
Need baking pan conversion? Hit this Madeira Cake article on LinsFood.
Sugee cake, in my opinion, is best served with tea or coffee. Given its rather “plain” nature, it’s a perfect accompaniment to a hot drink. And if you’re feeling really nostalgic, make some pang susi to go with it! You know you want to!
Despite its light-ish crumb because of the almonds, it is still a pretty sturdy cake. So if you wanted, you could use it as a base for a celebration cake. Ice it with buttercream or fondant, as you see fit. In fact, topping it with royal icing is not an uncommon practice, but I like mine with just a sprinkle of icing sugar.
How long does Sugee Cake Keep?
It will last a good 5 days if kept in an airtight container. No need to refrigerate. I find that it gets softer as the days go by.
Sugee cake also freezes very well. Wrap it up in foil and freeze for up to a month. To defrost: if you have enough time, leave it out on the counter for 1 hour or so, depending on the size that you’re defrosting. A whole cake will need a minimum 2 hours, probably 3.
A quick way to defrost is to do it in 10 – 20 second bursts in the microwave oven, depending on the size. A quarter of a cake needs about 30 – 40 seconds. This is not suitable for a whole cake.
Leftover Sugee Cake?
If you don’t fancy freezing leftover sugee cake, it makes a great base for trifles and tiramisu. I don’t have a trifle recipe surprisingly, but you’ll find a Baileys tiramisu on LinsFood.
And that’s that. I think I’ve covered all there is to be said. Let me know what you think. Don’t forget, no picture, it didn’t happen!
If you enjoy the recipe, drop me a comment and let me know. And if you are feeling like a star, don’t forget that 5-star rating! 😉Thank you!
If you make this recipe, post it on Instagram and tag me @azlinbloor and hashtag it #linsfood.
More Eurasian Recipes
Images by LinsFoodies
Eurasian Sugee Cake (Semolina and Almond Cake)
- 2 large bowls
- 1 hand held beaters (or table top mixer)
- 1 rubber spatula or wooden spoon
- 1 weighing scales
- 1 9"/23cm cake pan
- 1 baking strip optional
- 200 g fine semolina
- 250 salted butter
- 7 large egg yolks about 120 g/4.2 oz
- 5 large egg whites about 200 g/7 oz (save the other 2 for a white omelette?)
- 250 g sugar (caster or granulated)
- 200 g finely ground almonds, dry not moist (aka almond flour)
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 small pinch salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 3 Tbsp brandy optional
The Night Before (or 2 hours minimum)
- Melt the butter in your microwave at 50% power at 20 second bursts. Check at the 20 second mark, as the time will depend on the strength of your microwave oven. Mine is 900w and it takes me about 50 – 60 seconds.You want your butter to be a creamy liquid, with the odd lump still visible. Stir for 5 seconds to mix and dissolve some of the lumps, but we're not too bothered about these soft lumps of butter.
- Add the semolina and stir to mix thoroughly. Cover with cling film and leave on the kitchen counter overnight or a minimum of 2 hours.When I make sugee cake in the winter, I have to revive this semolina butter the next day as it'll be pretty solid because of the cold. I do this in the microwave oven, in 10 second bursts. Stir, then set aside until needed.
The Next Day
- Get all your ingredients ready, then separate the eggs. We'll only be using 5 egg whites.Place the egg whites in a large bowl to be beaten to a stiff stage.Place the egg yolks into a larger bowl to be creamed with the sugar.
- Stir the baking powder and tiny pinch of salt into the ground almonds. If using mixed spice, add it to the almonds too.Not sure about tiny pinch? Pinch a little salt with the tip of your thumb and forefinger.
- Turn the oven on to 170°C/340°F.Grease and line a 9"/23cm cake pan. A loose bottom cake pan makes it easier to release the cake without damaging the top of the cake.I'm using a reusable liner.If using a baking strip, wet it thoroughly, squeeze excess water out, then wrap your baking pan with it and tighten.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Tip the sugar onto the egg yolks and beat on high for 2 minutes until you have a very pale mix. You can use the same beaters.Even if your beaters have only 2 settings, this should be fine. Or add an additional minute.
- Add the vanilla and brandy (if using) and beat on low to mix for about 10 seconds.Or whatever flavouring you're using.
- Add the semolina butter to the egg yolk mix and beat on medium to mix well. You could use a wooden spoon if you like.
- Add the ground almonds to the semolina butter and egg yolk mix. Beat it on low until mixed through, wiping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Fold the stiff egg whites into the semolina mix in 3 additions. Use a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon for this.If you prefer, you can also use your tabletop mixer for this, but on the lowest setting.
- Pour the sugee cake mix into your greased baking pan.
- Bake in the pre heated oven for 60 – 70 minutes until the sides are beginning to just come away from the edge of the pan.Test for doneness by inserting a cake tester or thin wooden skewer/cocktail stick in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done. If not, give it another 10 minutes, as all ovens vary.
- Take the pan out of the oven and leave to cool for 1 hour before taking the cake out of the pan. Leave to cool before cutting. But a warm sugee cake slice is amazing, if soft!
11 thoughts on “Eurasian Sugee Cake (a Semolina and Almond Cake)”
Ignore my last question. I used 3tsp not tablespoons. I see yours uses 1 tbs. Sigh. My eyes needs a check 🙂
Haha, don’t worry about it. So 3 tsp = 1 Tbsp (just in case).
Baking powder lifts the cake and gives it a lighter crumb. But too much of it and cakes can rise to quickly and then sink.
Another question 🙂
You put 1TBS Baking Powder. My aunt’s has 3 TBS. How does this affect the cake?
Hi Lin, I want to make this for my brother’s birthday on Boxing Day. Do you have an easy icing recipe without raw eggs? Royal icing does right? Thanks.
Hi Nicola, yes on the royal icing.
Here’s a simple buttercream icing on LinsFood that will keep for days, especially if you keep it milk free: Buttercream Icing.
I give you various flavouring ideas on there too.
Hi Lin, I am determined to overcome my fear of making a sugee cake. I need to remind myself that failure is key to eventually being a PRO 🙂
Just wondering , any flour needed in this recipe? I see some recipes adding a little.
Haha, you are absolutely right on that, Joy; if at first you don’t succeed and all that.
No flour in this old, traditional recipe, giving a gritty and grainy texture synonymous with flourless cakes, which I love.
I mention in the article that there is no such thing as an authentic sugee cake recipe as every family has its own version, hence the disparity you’ve seen.
Good luck and let me know how it goes. Any problems/questions, just get back to me, I check my notifications daily and try to reply within 24 hours.
The sugee cake came out of the oven looking perfect. Your step by step instructions was really helpful. The traditional taste was there but it was slightly dry. A fantastic first attempt 🙂 Could the dryness be due to me adding coarsely ground almonds rather than finely grounded? I liked the nutty texture though. I also used equal proportion of butter and sugee (250g). I followed the proportions in a recipe my aunt gave me 🙁
Should my butter be more than sugee? Thank you for your prompt reply. I really appreciate your encouragement.
That was fast!
I think my recipe sounds similar to the recipe you got from your aunt, in that they are based on the pound cake principle, as mentioned in the article. So all the ingredients are in equal proportions.
This recipe started life as having 250g of butter, sugar, almonds and semolina. But that produced a dry cake, that while nice, was also more bland than I like it. So I reduced the amount of semolina and almonds and added a little more salt than usual, despite using salted butter.
So, in this instance, yes, a little less semolina.
You could continue playing with the recipe to get your perfect sugee cake, Joy. One of my readers uses this recipe but with only 150g of semolina and almonds. The cake dips she says, but she prefers the denser texture of it.
Thanks so much Lin. Will tweak my recipe. Reducing the sugee and ground almonds would be better than increasing the butter. Actually, let me try your recipe EXACTLY!
I was so excited to try making a sugee cake after learning (during Christmas) that my MALE cousins were successfully doing so 🙂 Eurasians are very protective about their recipes so… I decided to look through my mother’s cookbooks (measurements all in pounds and ounces) and the internet to compare. So happy to come across yours! I’ll keep persevering 🙂
My granny always made it a point to share her secrets with anybody who asked. And it’s a kindness that’s ingrained in all of us.
The thing about sugee cake is that there are so many versions. Everyone has their own idea of what is the best, which to me, is just a matter of taste.
I’m not a fan of the super dense and greasy ones but many of my family members prefer those.🤷♀️
The nyonya version of sugee cake tends to be heavy on egg yolks, btw.