The royal beauty of the Ugandan Queen Cake lies in its simplicity. Essentially mini sponge cakes, the queen cakes you can buy from street stalls around the capital city Kampala are the antithesis of the modern cupcake overloaded with sugary toppings and sweet treats. The Ugandan queen cake only includes the basic ingredients; flour, eggs, cooking oil, sugar, baking powder, and vanilla essence. And it is delicious.
I spotted the queen cakes on a work trip to Uganda that took me around the streets and markets of Kampala. Often beautifully displayed in glass display cabinets on the sidewalks or shop steps, these sweet muffins were everywhere. They were so ubiquitous that I was in no rush to try them. Clearly, you can get your hands on a queen cake just about anywhere and at any time. Or so I thought.
Somehow I managed to leave Uganda without having sunk my teeth into a single queen cake, much to my own disappointment. On a follow-up foodie trip to Uganda, tasting the queen cake was therefore high on my list of priorities. They intrigued me since I had never seen similar muffins for sale anywhere else on the continent.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo and much of francophone West Africa, you find versions of the French baguette for sale all around. And across the continent you will find street sellers offering simple drop doughnuts, often from a single container on the roadside or straight from a sizzling deep-frying pan. They’re called fat cakes in South Africa, mandazi in Kenya, and puff-puff in Nigeria.
But the Ugandan queen cake was new to me. Ugandan food blogger Sophie M, of the beautiful blog A Kitchen in Uganda, told me they are a favourite snack in Uganda that people usually buy in the mornings and have with juice or water for breakfast. Judging from the name, I assume they are a remnant from colonial days, although it appears British queen cakes should include currants.
After another three days in Kampala, when my friends and guides Celestine, Alex and Brian swiftly drove me from one home to another to learn as much as possible about the distinct regional cuisines of what I think is Africa’s least known but perhaps most exciting foodie country, I found myself once again heading towards Entebbe airport on the shores of Lake Victoria without having tasted the queen cake.
Not to worry, I thought. Considering how readily available the queen cakes are, I asked Brian, who was driving me to the airport, to stop by a roadside stall somewhere so that I could buy one for the road. The road from Kampala to Entebbe takes about an hour to drive and passes by shops and villages all along, so there seemed to be no cause for concern. To cut a long story short however, after many kilometers of eyes glued to the sides of the road and after running through the market streets of Entebbe with a nervous eye on the clock, I eventually headed for the airport entrance wondering whether security would allow me to take the one treasured queen cake through that I finally had in my bag.
“It should crumble on your tongue,” Brian said as he waved me off. It did. And I was grateful to have a small snack with me as there was no time to visit the coffee shop before take-off nor did the airline offer much to eat on the short flight to Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Brian also promised he would get me the recipe, and many weeks later he emailed what he had found ‘after being tossed around for a while.’
It seemed like an industrial recipe for a very large amount of queen cakes: 1.7 kg flour, 900 grams sugar, 900 grams oil, 60 grams baking powder, 16 eggs, 1 liter of milk and some vanilla essence. I’ve adapted it to more manageable recipe below, enough for eight giant queen cakes similar in size to the ones I eyed on the streets in Kampala.
The ingredients for this recipe would all be easily available at market stalls or corner shops in Uganda, and I am assuming this may be why the recipe has withstood the global craze for super-loaded cupcakes. Should you want to add a little bit of extra taste though, I suggest you swap one deciliter of the milk for the same amount of freshly squeezed orange juice and add the grated zest of an orange. It seems like only a slight bastardization of a beautifully simple cake, and adds just a touch of tangy orange as the crumples hit your tongue.
On a side note, it’s been a long time since I blogged. In the meantime I’ve become a very happy mother to a wonderful little princess – certainly something to celebrate with queen cakes!
Makes 8 giant queen cakes
- 7 dl cake flour
- 2.5 dl sugar
- 3 dl cooking oil
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 eggs
- 3.5 dl milk (or 2.5 dl milk and 1 dl freshly squeezed orange juice)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- Optional: the grated zest of one fresh orange
- Butter to grease the moulds
Heat the oven to 180 C and grease 8 giant cupcake moulds with a bit of fresh butter.
Mix all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and all the wet ingredients in a separate mixing bowl. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir into a smooth batter. Divide the batter between the eight moulds, and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until they have risen and acquired a golden brown colour.