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April 24, 2008

For Love of Lychees


When I visited Amai Tea House in New York, one of their treats I sampled besides their tea cookies was a moist lychee brownie. The brownie was pleasantly thick and fudgy, but it didn't have quite enough lychee flavor for my taste - I am quite fond of the fruit, so perhaps I hoping for a bit more punch.

I carried the thought back with me to San Francisco, and last week when I picked up some of the season's first strawberries, it all came together - a light lychee butter cake with strawberries and rose cream.

Lychees are surely a fruit for the sweet-toothed - with their honeyed, floral flavor and ambrosial fragrance, they are nature's bonbons, albeit in a prickly-than-usual package. Lychees aren't quite in season yet; they are found in abundance during the summer months at Asian markets, and a frosty lychee tapioca drink is one of my favorite thirst quenchers on a hot day. However, canned lychees can be found year round; they're usually packed in sweet syrup, much like many canned peaches, which can render them even more shockingly sweet. In this cake though, I found the syrup can be used advantageously to boost the lychee flavor.


The cake is a sunshiny cloud of happiness - I was aiming for a looser, fluffier texture rather than a tight, pound cake-like crumb. Gorgeously golden, it promises rich buttery flavor and delivers, along with a dose of fruitiness from the bits of lychees sprinkled throughout and laced into the cake batter. The lightness and delicacy of the cake helps showcase the lychees instead of competing against it like a heavier, more intense cake might. I also found that using the syrup from the canned lychees really helps boost the flavor - as well as making the cake irresistibly fragrant! If you're a little uncertain as to how sweet you want your cake, you can always decrease how much syrup you add in. Also, dry off the lychees before you add them to the batter - that will also get rid of more syrup and prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.

In pondering what to serve the cake with, I first thought of some obvious tropical companions like coconut or macadamias, but I really wanted to use those strawberries - they were too tempting to ignore. So really, this dessert ended up being a minor riff on the Ispahan - raspberries would be wonderful with the cake too, as their tartness would match well with the sweetness of the lychees - but I think the strawberries, draped with a spring-pink rose-scented cream, fit the bill just fine.


The strawberries are adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert, but I added some rose syrup to the whipped cream to intensify the flavor and give it color. If you can't find it, rosewater will work just as well, but if you do get your hands on some rose syrup, it's a fun ingredient to work with; it's jewel-pink color never fails to bring a smile to my face.

It's awfully windy and blustery out here in San Francisco, but the bright skies and lengthening days tell me that spring is definitely here. And when strawberries start showing up at the market, who am I to disagree?


Lychee Butter Cake

1- 14 oz can lychees (about 1 cup lychees, reserve the liquid)

2 cups (240g) flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (160g) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup (160 g) sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8x8 baking pan.

Drain the lychees and cut into small pieces; set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla. Mix to combine.

Add in about 4 -6 tablespoons of the reserved lychee liquid slowly. Mix between additions to fully incorporate before adding more.

Toss the lychee pieces in the flour mixture to coat (this will help keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter).

Add flour and lychee mixture to the batter and mix to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack before serving.

Strawberries with Rose Cream

adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert

makes about 6 to 8 servings

3 pints ripe strawberries

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon rose water

2 teaspoons rose syrup

Wash the strawberries. Hull and cut them if desired.

In a stand mixer, whip the cream, rose water, and rose syrup into soft peaks. Do not overwhip.

Serve over strawberries.

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I have never had lychees before, but this makes me really want to try!

How many servings does this recipe yield? Sounds scrumptious!!

Thanks for sharing! My hubby grew up no Lychees and was so excited when I found them at Trader Joe's. I'm excited to try them in baking; it had never occurred to me!

ohhh this looks great! i love lychees, too. hope all is well anita!

I love anything with lychee and this is the first time I see it incorporated in baked goods. Thanks for the recipe. I got to try it out soon.

I would have never thought to bake with lychee, as I've only seen them in cold desserts. Paired with strawberries and rose cream...delish!

I've always been intrigued by lychees, but have yet to try them - that cake looks quite wonderful!!

seeing the sunny skies really does bring spring to my mind, and an iced drink with one of your lychee cakes sure sounds like a yummy afternoon treat! :D

I've never had a lychee, but you are really making me want to go taste one...especially if it was in a butter cake like that!

I love lychees. I can't wait for them to be in season again - though the canned ones aren't too bad. This looks so yummy, Anita!

The combo of lychees and strawberries sounds delightful!

That looks so interesting.. I have never had a lychee cake. It looks and sounds moist!

Well I can't hang with lychee, I had a whole post about it but it sure is pretty.

I feel like hugging you now for sharing this recipe (I know we are strangers!) :D I love Lychees and have been looking for new recipes which use Lychees. This is simply perfect..thanks!!! :)

This looks so light and yummy; I was also drawn by your description of it being buttery. This will go on my list of "must try". :)

This is a fantastic idea. I wish I could have a piece.

This is my kind of dessert! I've never tried lychee but now I'm so anxious to try it! I love sweet fruit :). Do you happen to know where I could get ahold of some? I've never even heard of it until now! Oh, my palate is so narrow! Thanks for sharing! I'm so curious now.

Hi all,
thanks for the sweet compliments!

This makes an 8"x8" cake, so maybe 16 pieces or so? Depending on how you cut it!

Fresh lychees can be found at many Asian groceries, but you can also find canned lychees year-round at the same places. I used canned lychees for this recipe, which are good for desserts, but fresh lychees are best for just plain eating!

I just saw lychees at the grocery last week and wondered what they were. Thanks for educating me and now I can grab a can and make dessert!

i love lychees! this cake looks delicious! i think i'm totally making this for mother's day!!!

I made this and posted it on my blog today.
What a lovely cake. Delightful as cupcakes for the children as well. Thank you for sharing this.

This cake was tasty although not as sweet or "lychee"-ee as I expected, I added 6 full tablespoons of the syrup and skimped a little on the sugar to compensate, I should have added all the sugar. So the remaining syrup I boiled down with a bit of kumquat syrup and poured this over the cake, I think that helped enhance the lychee flavor. Thanks for a great cake!

I turned this cake into little cupcakes for my parents' anniversary, and they loved it! Thanks for sharing the recipe. :)


I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for sharing!


I'm glad you enjoyed the cake! Some people can find lychees too sweet, so I was trying to find a good balance in the cake. I'm glad you were able to play around with it and find a taste to suit you!

Lychee cake sounds very interesting. I love lychees, so will bookmark this to try some time!

Ooo I love lychees and this is a great way to enjoy them when they're not fresh!

This recipe is amazing! I'm vegan so I substituted the butter for vegan butter and eggs for tofu. It's very delicious! Not too dense, not too light, and the lychee chunks distribute a nice sweetness to the cake. Love it!

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