This Goan dish, apa de camarao, has a most unusual taste combination – a hot, savoury and slightly sweet filling of prawn, baked inside a sweet coconut cake.

I first had this dish in a Goan restaurant where it was presented as prawn pie. I was underwhelmed – too doughy and almost flavourless. I forgot about it until some months later I saw a similar dish on a television program. Something during the show triggered a memory and it was back to my grandmother’s writings, and I discovered her notes from their time Goa, and this recipe.

She had two similar recipes. One was for a pie, using typical puff pastry, and this one with a more complex dough with rice flour. Her recipe, or her cook’s recipe, to be more precise, has a light cake or bread, with a brioche-like consistency. Her subsequent marginalia make it clear that this became a very popular weekend lunchtime dish.

She is very clear on one point. The use of rice flour and coconut is what makes this dish, as is the use of yeast to make the dough rise and become light. Of course, preparing food as I must for a collection of variously gluten-intolerant friends and family, a cake-like dish without wheat flour is ideal.

Other than getting the dough right, the only other thing to master is the filling. I use medium-sized prawns and I keep the filling very dry for it to work with the cake.

This is not a difficult recipe if you are a confident baker. If your baking expertise is limited, then you only have to get the batter right for this dish to work well. To get the batter right, just make sure it is mixed well, and be patient to allow it to rise. When baking, just be confident enough to let it cook for the required time without checking constantly.

The prawn filling can be made the day before but must be brought back to room temperature before baking.

We would serve this warm, with a tomato kasaundi and our favourite spinach salad.

the recipe

prep 30 minutes
cook 1 hour 25 minutes
soak 30 minutes
total 1 hour 55 minutes
servings 6 servings
calories 483 kcal

ingredients

for the prawn filling

for the batter

  • tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp jaggery
  • 1 tbsp water lukewarm
  • cups rice flour
  • 2 tbsp jaggery
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut grated
  • 4 eggs at room temperature

instructions

to make the prawn filling

  1. Soak chillies in red wine vinegar and three tablespoons of water for 30 minutes
  2. Grind the garlic and ginger to a fine paste, adding a little water if required.
  3. Grind the soaked chillies with the cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves and cumin seeds to a fine paste with the soaking liquid.
  4. Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan. When hot, add the onions and fry for around five minutes or until golden.
  5. Add the spice paste and salt to the pan and stir over low heat for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook for three minutes or until the raw smell of garlic has disappeared. Stir frequently whilst cooking.
  7. Add the tomatoes and cook, covered for 15 minutes, or until they have completely broken down. Stir and mash the tomato pieces down every minute.
  8. Stir in the jaggery and cook for two minutes, stirring continuously. The sauce should be quite thick.
  9. Add the prawns and cook for about three minutes, or until they have just turned to curl and change colour. Stir gently and frequently. It is important to not overcook the prawns as they will be baked into the cake and will cook further. Once cooked, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

to make the batter

  1. Activate the dried yeast by placing it in a small bowl with one teaspoon of jaggery and lukewarm water. Stir well and set aside whilst preparing the batter. The mixture will froth during this time.

  2. Using a large and deep bowl, sieve the rice flour, two teaspoons of jaggery and one teaspoon of salt ensuring there are no lumps. Add the grated coconut and mix well.

  3. Add half a cup of water and beat well into a smooth batter.

  4. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until well combined and they have a frothy texture.
  5. Add beaten eggs to the batter and mix well.
  6. Add yeast mixture to batter and mix well. Cover bowl, and leave in a warm, dry place for around four hours to allow batter to rise. It should double in size.

to make the cake

  1. Preheat oven to 150C.

  2. Lightly grease a 22cm cake tin.
  3. Pour half the batter into the cake tin. Bake for ten minutes to make the top surface of this bottom half of the cake firm enough to support the filling.
  4. Remove from oven, and working quickly, spread the prawn filling evenly over the bottom layer, leaving an unfilled edge of ½ cm. Top with the remaining batter and return to the oven.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes until cake is golden brown. A skewer or toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean.
  6. Allow to cool and remove from cake tin.
  7. Serve whilst warm, but not hot.
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