Carnival was originally a European Christian festival tradition which began in the 15th century in Malta, and was increasingly popular during the times of the Knights of St John in the 16th century. Parades, festivals and masquerade balls took place during this period, and with it came the prinjolata, which has come to be known as our very own traditional pine nut cake.

Carnival takes place after Epiphany and before Ash Wednesday when Lent commences. It’s a festival of gluttony, which is where the prinjolata fits in perfectly. It’s a domed sweet confection made using sponge cake or biscuits, bonded together with butter cream and all sorts, then usually encased in a meringue coating. If that wasn’t enough, the prinjolata is then adorned with glacé cherries, chocolate and finally decorated with pine nuts.

Each year I’ve aimed at making my own version of the prinjolata, but this year I’ve actually omitted the glacé cherries and used fresh ones instead. I’ve also opted out of the meringue coating and used fresh cream, which is sometimes used when prinjolata is made at home. This version makes a large prinjolata, which really needs to be shared with a big group. You can always reduce the quantities by half if it’s just for a small gathering.

Enjoy carnival if you’re lucky enough to be in Malta, and do try prinjolata if you get the chance!

Image credit: Marlene Zammit.



For the sponge:
450gr butter
450gr caster sugar
8 eggs, lightly beaten
450gr self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder

For the butter cream filling:
600gr icing sugar, sifted
300gr butter, softened
2 tbl milk
1 lemon, zested
20 cherries, pitted and chopped
80gr pine nuts, lightly crushed

For the cream coating:
300ml double cream
100gr icing sugar
50gr pine nuts
25 cherries, pitted and halved
40gr melted chocolate
40gr melted white chocolate


#1. Preheat the oven to 180℃ and line a large cake tin with baking paper. To make the sponge, beat together with an electric beater the butter and the sugar for about five minutes. Beat in the eggs. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder.

#2. Pour into the cake tin and bake in the oven for approximately 30 – 35 minutes or until springy to touch. Allow to cool.

#3. Prepare the butter cream filling. Beat the butter and icing sugar until well mixed and a creamy texture. Add in the milk and beat for a few minutes more.

#4. Fold in the cherries, lemon zest and pine nuts.

#5. Line a large mixing bowl with butter and then cling film. This will make it easier for the cake dome to be removed once set.

#6. Slice the sponge into thin rectangular pieces. Line the bottom of the bowl with sponge then add a layer of butter cream filling. Keep doing this until the bowl has been filled with layers of sponge and butter cream filling.

#7. Complete by layering the last of the sponge pieces on top of the bowl. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

#8. The following day, pry the cake dome out of the bowl by using a sharp knife to help lift the cake away from the mixing bowl. Prepare the cream by beating with icing sugar until thickened. Cover the cake with the cream.

#9. Finally decorate with cherries and melted chocolate. Then finish off by scattering pine nuts all over the prinjolata.