Semolina cakes soaked in a flavored sugar syrup are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Depending on the country and even the family, the proportions and flavorings will vary. Some were made with almond meal and flavored with a combination of rose water and orange blossom water. Several cakes were made without any eggs. There is no one single proper semolina cake.
The version below is a particularly rich and moist cake, with the addition of coconut and pistachio nuts. One thing that all of the Basbousa cakes have in common is that they are quite sweet – the perfect ending to a well-spiced meal.
The other night my husband and I watched about five different YouTube videos of people making their version of this delicious cake. Each one looked wonderful. I also checked out Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. However, my recipe comes from The Jewish Soul Food Cookbook From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur with a few tweaks from me.
Normally I do not weigh my ingredients when I bake even though I know that it is a more accurate measure than using cups and teaspoons. I figure that as long as I always “mismeasure” the same way, I’ll be fine. However, since this recipe was almost certainly made by weighing things in grams and I had never made it before, I decided to weigh things out. It’s a good thing that I did, because the weight in grams seemed very off from the measurements given in cups.
If you don’t own a kitchen scale, you should. They are not terribly expensive (the one I use costs less than $10) and these days you can purchase one that takes up almost no space at all. I increasingly find having one to be useful.
When it came to liquid measure, I was less concerned about using cups so I give both measures below.
Pan Size and Serving
Pan sizes vary and what is standard in the United States may not be standard in Europe or the Middle East. The recipe called for a 40 x 25 cm. pan which is about 15 x 10-inches. A standard pan in the U.S. is 13 x 9-inches which is a bit smaller. As long as your pan is at least 3-inches deep it shouldn’t be a problem although you may have to adjust your baking time slightly.
Because the cake is soaked in a sugar syrup, you may want to serve it with a bit of unsweetened whipped cream, creme fraiche or thick yogurt. You could also serve it with a slightly tart fruit preserve to act as a counter balance to the sweetness. However, if you decide to just eat it straight, I certainly won’t tell you no!
Yield: About 12 servings
For the cake
3/4 cup bland vegetable oil (180 ml.)
1.5 cups half & half (single) cream (350 ml.) [You can substitute coconut milk for a non-dairy version.]
100 grams shredded, unsweetened coconut
160 gr. unbleached, all-purpose flour
250 gr. semolina flour (or cream of wheat)
55 gr. ground pistachio nuts [I like to grind my nuts with a little of the sugar. It keeps the nuts from turning to paste.]
4 teaspoons baking powder
6 large eggs
300 gr. granulated sugar
A generous pinch of Kosher salt
For the sugar syrup
1.5 cups of water
300 gr. granulated sugar
1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C)
Combine the vegetable oil and half & half in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut, flour, semolina, ground pistachios, salt and baking powder until well combined.
Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for 8 minutes or until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
Gently fold the egg and sugar mixture into the semolina batter. Pour the batter into a greased rectangular pan.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until the cake turns golden and a toothpick inserted un the center comes out clean. If a few crumbs adhere to the toothpick that’s perfect. [Mine took close to 50 minutes. Ovens vary and my pan was smaller and deeper.]
While the cake is baking, make the sugar syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.
As soon as the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven and pour all of the syrup evenly over the warm cake.
Allow the cake to cool completely before serving. This is even better if made a day ahead. It will last in an airtight container for up to a week. Who are we kidding? It will be eaten long before.