Basbousa is a soft, somewhat crumbly cake traditionally made with semolina and, sometimes, coconut. The warm cake is soaked in sugar syrup flavored with orange flower water or rose water until it absorbs most of the liquid. Almonds or pistachios are the usual nuts used to garnish basbousa which is served cut into squares or diamonds. I found it best to leave the batter covered overnight as this allows the yogurt-butter mixture to soften the semolina grains before baking. The exact origin of basbousa remains subject to debate since cakes made out of semolina are popular in many countries of the Middle East. This recipe from Rathai’s Recipes does not claim to be authentic but I chose it for being eggless and without milk. It smells heavenly from the rose water and tastes even better after it has aged a couple of days.
For the Cake
2 cups (350 g) fine semolina
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (35 g) desiccated coconut
1/2 cup (100 g) caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon kitchen salt
150 g unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (200 g) plain yogurt
20-30 blanched almonds
For the Sugar Syrup
1 cup (225 g) caster sugar
1 1/2 tbs rose water
3 tsp lemon or lime juice
1 cup water
- To blanch the almonds, boil the water until it is hot and bubbly. It will take about 7-8 minutes with the lid on.
- Place the raw almonds in a small bowl and pour about half of the hot water over the almonds and put a lid on.
- Allow the almonds to soak in the hot water for about 10 minutes. Take an almond out, rub it between fingers.
- Start blanching almonds. Spread almonds on a dry towel and pat dry and keep them in the towel overnight.
- The syrup has to be at room temperature and the cake warm; the syrup should be prepared before the cake.
- To make the syrup, boil sugar along with the water at medium heat. Stir until sugar has completely dissolved.
- Then add lemon juice and remove the scum that floats to the top. Add rosewater and boil till syrup thickens.
- Do not let the syrup boil for a long time and thicken up too much. It should take about 15 minutes to be ready.
- Once ready, remove from stove. Bring to room temperature. In a large bowl, mix semolina and baking soda.
- Then add coconut, sugar and salt and mix well. Add the melted butter and yogurt and mix well with a spoon.
- The mixture should be well combined and come together. Lightly butter a 27 cm/10″ cake pan or a pie plate.
- Line with parchment paper and then lightly butter the sides and the bottom of the pan. Spoon in cake batter.
- Even it out on top with a spoon. Allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes. Then score cake into diamonds or squares.
- Place blanched almonds in the middle of each diamond or square and gently press each almond down a little.
- Bake at 175 oC (350 oF) in a preheated oven, in the middle rack for about 20 minutes first. Take the cake out.
- Gently cut into diamonds/squares again. If you cut the cake when it is fresh out of the oven, it might crumble.
- Place cake back into the oven, bake for another 20-25 minutes until the cake looks golden and crisp on top.
- Take the cake out and spread the syrup slowly and evenly on top of the cake. Allow cake to soak up the syrup.
- Leave for a couple of hours until it has cooled down to room temperature or leave overnight then cut again.
- Keep covered and refrigerated, and warm for few seconds in the microwave before serving. Makes 20 pieces.
Basbousa – Semolina Syrup Cake