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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.

BASBOUSA

Ingredients:

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

Method:

  • 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

On the second week of Ramadan, I purchased a large box of Tunisian Deglet Noor dates from my local store. Though they are great to snack on, I had other plans for them as soon as I got them home. It took all the patience in me to wait for Eid to start on this rich and buttery stuffed cookie from Chef in DisguiseMa’amoul does require some advance planning and the dough preparation is made on the eve so that the semolina grains have enough time to soften and swell up in hot ghee. This traditional Lebanese cookie, usually filled with dates and nuts like almonds or pistachios or walnuts, is shaped in hand carved wooden molds. To improvise for the absence of these beautiful molds, which can be purchase online, I used my smallest tart molds lined with plastic wrap. They worked like a charm but I hope to be able to get hold of the real molds by next Eid-ul- Fitr for authentic-looking ma’mouls.

MA’AMOUL

Ingredients:

500 g fine semolina

150 g ghee, melted and hot

50 g unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup powdered milk

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup ground almonds

3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup orange blossom water

1/4 cup rosewater

For the Date Filling

500g pitted dates/date paste

250 g chopped nuts

1/2 teaspoon of cardamom

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon orange blossom water

1 tablespoon butter or ghee

Method:

  • For the crust, place the semolina in a bowl and add the butter/ghee and oil to it, starting with 1/8 cup.
  • It is important for the ghee/butter to be melted and hot. Rub into semolina until completely absorbed.

  • Mixture will resemble wet sand. Cover and leave over night so that semolina granules swell and soften.
  • The next day add the flour, powdered milk and baking powder, then gradually add the ground almonds.

  • Dissolve yeast in the water with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Wait for it to foam and add it to the semolina mix.
  • Dissolve the 1/4 cup of sugar in the orange blossom and rosewater then add it to the semolina mixture.

  • Mix gently till dough comes together and is homogenous. Cover mixture and allow to rest for one hour.
  • Take small amount of dough and try rolling into a ball, if it crumbles you need to add some more water.

  • Knead gently, cover and leave for 10 minutes. For date and nut filling, combine all ingredients together.
  • Shape semolina dough into walnut sized pieces. Keep the dough covered to prevent it from drying out.

  • Shape the date filling into small balls about half the size of the dough balls and flatten each dough ball.
  • Place the date ball inside. Seal dough around the stuffing making sure the filling is completely enclosed.

  • Shape it into a ball. For shaping the ma’amoul using molds, place the dough in a mold and press firmly.
  • Do not over do or the ma’amoul will stick to the mold. Line the molds with a little piece of plastic wrap.

  • Press the filled dough then use the plastic wrap to take the dough out of the mold before peeling it off.
  • Invert the mold and tap the end of the mold on the kitchen towel and the formed ma’amoul will fall out.

  • Bake on the middle rack of a preheated oven (230 C) till the edges are golden brown for 5 to 12 minutes.
  • Then place them under the broiler till the tops are golden brown for 2 to 5 minutes. Remove from oven.

  • Take the cookies out of the oven and allow them to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Move them to a cooling rack because they are prone to crumble when they are still hot. Makes 15 pieces.

Eid Mubarak

ALMOND & SEMOLINA MINI MUFFINS

Ingredients:

150g unsalted butter

150g caster sugar

150g ground almonds

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

2 eggs, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Zest and juice of 2 lemons

100g fine semolina

75g icing sugar, sifted

2-3 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons almond flakes

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F and prepare 12 muffin cups with paper liners (not necessary if using silicone).
  • Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture turns pale and fluffy.

  • Add the ground almonds, baking powder and salt and mix until just incorporated. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  • Then add the extracts, zest and juice. Finally, gently fold in the semolina. Divide the mixture between muffin cases.

  • Bake for one hour, until the cake tops are springy and just beginning to turn golden. Cool completely before icing.
  • To make the icing, whisk together icing sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl to make a thick but spreadable icing.

  • When mini muffins are completely cool, spread about 1 teaspoon of icing over each one with the back of a spoon.
  • Sprinkle a few toasted almonds over the icing and leave to set before serving. Makes 12 mini semolina muffins.

Adapted from The Kitchenist

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