A Kitchen Well Travelled (with Mum’s Signature Butter Cake recipe)

A Kitchen Well travelled

A Kitchen Well travelledThis recipe for a moist and delicious butter cake comes from A Kitchen Well-Travelled by Sai Yoganathan who was born in Jaffna, a peninsula in the northern province of Sri Lanka.

Butter Cake is popular in Sri Lanka. Sai’s mother, who nurtured her cooking skills, has given it her own twist by liberally scenting it with vanilla and adding a topping of almonds, raisins and cashew nuts. It is a large cake, but I found the recipe was easily halved.

Sai’s gastronomic journeys began in Sri Lanka. Over the years she has travelled widely and lived in Africa, Australia and New Zealand experiencing many different cuisines. This has inspired her to create many unique recipes, often incorporating exotic spices from her motherland. As freshly ground spices make a curry much more flavoursome she has shared her family’s spice blends including Jaffna Style curry powder, dark-roasted aromatic spice powder and roasted fennel powder

When I visited Sri Lanka, I loved the cuisine, the spicy curries, sweet treats, and sipping the refreshing juice from King Coconuts at roadside stalls.  I am delighted Sai has included her version for hoppers, a bowl-shaped spongy sourdough pancake with crispy edges, one of the most popular Sri Lankan breakfast dishes.

Sri Lankans love savoury snacks which are similar to tapas. I tasted her fish cutlets (spicy little balls coated with breadcrumbs, deep-fried and served with dipping sauces) at a party for the book’s launching. They were very moorish. The sambal and goat cheese tartlets were good too although a little too fiery for me. But it would be easy to adjust the heat to your liking.

While living in New Zealand Sai fell in love with the Dunedin Farmers’ market and developed a special appreciation for New Zealand’s world-class meat with which she has created recipes such as lamb leg roast with harissa and roasted garlic, tagine style venison and lamb rack with stuffed mushrooms, baby carrots and cherry sauce.

From her fish recipes, the easy pan-dressed fish with chilli, coriander and tomato appealed for an easy midweek dinner.

The desserts such as the deconstructed raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake with lychee sorbet, look amazing.

Sai has dedicated A Kitchen Well Travelled to her father who died of a brain tumour aged 53. 100% of the author’s profits from the sales of this book are being donated to the New Zealand Brain Tumour Trust.

As she has lived in New Zealand, she knows our food culture, has used ingredients which are available here and created recipes to please Kiwi palates. This very stylish cookbook would be enjoyed by cooks who love taking a look in someone else’s kitchen and enjoy creating special meals for family and friends.

A Kitchen Well- Travelled by Sai Yoganathan is published by Tarras Press. RRP $59.99.

Reviews by Lyn Potter

Parent and grandparent, Avid traveler, writer & passionate home cook

Read more by Lyn here.

mums butter cakeMum’s Signature Butter Cake

A deliciously moist butter cake recipe which my whole family loves – and yes, the vanilla measurement in this recipe is correct! Serves 10–12, prep time 30 mins, cooking time 60 mins.


500g butter

500g caster sugar

8 large eggs, separated 500g high grade  flour 4 tsp baking powder

2 Tbsp vanilla extract

½ cup milk

tsp freshly grated nutmeg

For the topping

½ cup sliced or slivered almonds

a handful of cashew nuts, chopped

½ cup raisins


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Grease a cake tin (40cm x 32cm x 8cm) and line with baking paper.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and Add the egg yolks one by one, beating well after each addition.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peak stage.
  5. Sift the flour and baking powder into a Gradually fold the flour and egg whites into the butter mixture. Be careful not to overmix.
  6. Add the vanilla extract, milk and grated nutmeg and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Top evenly with nuts and raisins. Tap the sides of the cake tin and place the cake in the oven.
  7. Bake for 45–55 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the tin for 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice and serve.