When I first ran across the idea of the Persian Love Cake, I was totally intrigued.
A grain-free cake with heady Persian spices intended to spark love? Yes, please!
However, as I read more and more about the history of the cake, I became less and less… intrigued. While it may celebrate the liberal use of almonds, pistachios, and honey commonly eaten in Middle Eastern cuisine and use rosewater, saffron, and cardamom, three spices commonly found in Persian recipes, this cake is far from traditional. It turns out that the cake is actually French!
Legend has it that a French woman fell in love with an Iranian prince and concocted this cake to show her deep affection for him. However, she was unaware of his severe allergy to saffron and he died on the spot after only a few bites. So much for budding love!
But whether the legend is true or not, the cake and its ingredients ARE inspiring, nonetheless. After trying a few recipes but not quite finding one I really liked, I was even more determined to figure out a recipe that used those ingredients, whether it turned out like the original or not. I ended up using the pistachios in the cake itself rather than as a garnish, moved the rosewater to the whipped cream (so it can be skipped, if desired), and added a liberal amount of lemon to bring a focus to the myriad of flavors.
So, whether you hope to spark love, celebrate already existing love, or just need an excuse for a simple, delightful cake, this recipe fits the bill.
One note about grain-free cakes: You'll note that I call for coconut flour in this cake. It plays an important role in helping grain-free cakes maintain their structure, which is a trick I learned my friend Kelly's new book, Everyday Grain-Free Baking. It's full of those kinds of nuggets of wisdom – definitely pick up a copy if you can.
(Also, be sure to try the Saffron & Rose Persian Love Ice Cream created by Ariana over at And Here We Are. It's out of this world!)
For the Cake
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest OR 1 tablespoon lemon extract
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 cup almond flour (I recommend this brand above all others, or you can grind your own)
- 1/2 cup ground pistachios (about 60-80 pistachios - see directions below)
- 2 tablespoons coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the Rose-Scented Cream
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream (coconut cream may be substituted for a dairy-free version)
- 2-3 tablespoons beet juice (adjust to desired shade or see how to make homemade food coloring)
- 1 very small pinch saffron (optional)
- 1 tablespoon rosewater, more as desired
- First, preheat the oven to 350ºF and liberally grease a 9-inch round springform pan. Set aside.
- Next, shell and grind enough pistachios to equal 1/2 cup of ground pistachios, about 60-80 pistachios. Repeat with almonds, if necessary.
- Next, separate your eggs, placing the yolks in a large mixing bowl and the whites in the bowl of an electric mixer, making sure the bowl and whisk attachment are absolutely bone dry. Set the electric mixer aside.
- Add the lemon zest and honey to the bowl with the egg yolks. Beat with a whisk until smooth and set aside.
- In a second bowl, combine the almond flour, pistachio flour (ground pistachios), and coconut flour with the cardamom, saffron, and baking powder. Mix well, then pour into the egg yolk mixture and combine well. At this point, lift the whisk to observe the mixture. If the mixture runs or drips off the end fairly smoothly, just let it be, but if the mixture is so thick that it sort of "plops" off the end of the whisk instead of flows, add one more whole egg to the mixture and whisk again. (The mixture WILL be quite thick - you just want it to look more like a batter than a dough.) Set aside.
- Now beat the egg whites. Have the vinegar and cream of tartar at the ready, then turn the mixer to low and slowly increase its speed to high. Once bubbles begin to appear, add the vinegar and cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat or your cake will more easily deflate during baking (which won't affect the flavor or texture, it will just be... flatter!).
- Fold the egg whites carefully into pistachio-egg yolk mixture in several additions but handling the batter as little as possible. Scrape the finished batter into the prepared springform pan and bake until the entire top is golden brown, the middle no longer jiggles, and the sides have begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 25-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the rose-scented cream. Clean out the bowl of the electric mixer and pour in the cream. Add the saffron, if using, and stir slowly until the cream has yellowed, then increase the speed to high and beat until it begins to thicken. Add the rosewater and the beet juice, then continue to beat until thick, billowy clouds form. Set aside in the refrigerator.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely in the pan. Once cool, pop open the springform and remove to a platter.
- To serve, decorate each slice with a dollop of rose-scented cream and whole, shelled pistachios.
- Please note that there are A LOT of different flavors happening in this cake. Feel free to skip the rose-scented cream if you prefer the cake by itself.