All over the Middle East you will find recipes for semolina cakes. This Orange Semolina Cake is exceptionally moist and the perfect end to a well-spiced meal. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood’s visit to Nicosia,Cyprus on his show City Bakes. As with most semolina cakes, this one is soaked with a delicious sugar syrup. But unlike other semolina cakes that I have eaten, the ingredients call for mastic.
My only familiarity with mastic is as chewing gum, so I was skeptical at first. But I have come to trust Paul Hollywood. He has the joie de vivre and puckishness of Julia Child and is fastidious in his baking. So if he said to use mastic…. Apparently, it is not uncommon in Greek and Cypriot cooking. Also known as the “Tears of Chios,” which sounds much more poetic than “gum,” it is a tree resin with a unique, refreshing flavor. While I am willing to adapt recipes to my own tastes and preferences, when I can, I try respecting the traditions and cultures that I am mimicking as long as they don’t conflict with mine. This Cypriot Shamali cake (known as Basbousa in other parts of the Middle East) is an example.
If you don’t wish to purchase mastic (mine came from Amazon) the cake should still be delicious without it, although you might want to increase the amount of orange zest. The flavor of the mastic was quite subtle and not like anything I could easily identify. It was definitely there, however, and quite nice. And since travel seems unlikely anytime in the near future, I was willing to spring for this (for me) unusual ingredient. As an armchair traveler, it seemed a relatively cheap investment.
Because semolina cakes are soaked in syrup, they hold up well and are even better the next day when everything has melded. You need to pour the syrup over the cake while the cake is hot from the oven. This will help the cake absorb all of the delicious orange-scented syrup. And you don’t want to miss a drop. It will seem like an enormous amount of syrup, but don’t get scared off. The cake will absorb all of it. And surprisingly, for all of the sugar, the cake is not extremely sweet.
The measurements are as I found them. I own a small, relatively inexpensive kitchen scale and have learned that conversions from weight to measures is not always accurate. No matter how you pack your measuring cup, however, 200 grams will always be 200 grams.
This cake is lovely and easy to make. Try it soon. You won’t be disappointed.
For other delicious semolina cake recipes:
Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake
Yield: 8 very generous servings
For the cake
190g caster (granulated) sugar
400g semolina flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mastic, crushed to a powder
Zest of a large orange (I used a navel)
170g natural yoghurt
2 medium eggs (I used large eggs and it was fine)
120ml sunflower or Canola oil
For the syrup
250g caster (granulated) sugar
Juice of an orange
25g chopped raw pistachio nuts
1. Line the base of a 20 cm. spring form cake tin (I used an 8-inch spring form tin which is just slightly larger) with baking parchment. There is no need to grease the tin.
2. Heat your oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. (375 degrees F.) Place all the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth thick mixture. You could use a mixer if you like. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top to level. Bake for about 40 minutes until the cake is risen and when a skewer is inserted it comes out clean.
3. To make the syrup heat the sugar, water and orange juice. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
4. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack on top of a pan with sides (to catch the drips.) Score the cake into 8 serving pieces. Pour over the hot syrup. It will look as if the cake is drowning but almost all of the syrup will be absorbed within 10 minutes. Once most of the syrup has been absorbed, scatter the chopped pistachio nuts over the top. Leave to cool completely before serving.