Thursday, November 8, 2012

Semolina Cake - Basbousa or Namoura

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Halloween. Halloween passed without much fanfare in our family, but something that has been receiving a lot of attention by my family lately is this semolina and coconut cake. Even though everybody in our family has different preferences when it comes to food in general, this cake was relished by all of us, not once but three times last month. This cake doesn't have a cakey texture but it is very soft, moist and slightly crumbly. It smells heavenly from the rosewater and tastes even better on the second day.  

It goes by many different names and is wildly popular in Greek, Turkey, throughout the Levant and the North African countries, since many of these countries share a common Ottoman heritage. 
The recipe varies a great deal though, some contain eggs while others don't, some include yogurt while others include milk, some made with butter or clarified butter and others with vegetable oil, some with coconut and others without. I made it egg-less and without milk to store it a little longer. A piece of this delectable semolina cake, and perhaps a cup of Moroccan mint tea, is everything you need to be transcended to another world in this autumn cold. 


2 cups (350 g) fine semolina (cream of wheat)
1/2 cup (35 g) unsweetened, desiccated coconut
1/2 cup (100 g) caster sugar
150 g melted butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup (200 g) plain Turkish yogurt (10 %)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
20-30 blanched almonds or almond flakes (for garnish)


1 cup water
1 cup (225 g) caster sugar
1 1/2 tbs rose water
3 tsp lemon or lime juice


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 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 and rub it between your fingers. If the skin doesn't come off easily allow the almonds to soak for a little longer. If they come off easily, pour the water out and start blanching all the almonds. Spread the almonds on a dry towel and pat dry and keep them in the towel overnight. I cut the almonds into halves but if you find that difficult, you could use whole almonds or store-bought almond flakes.  
The syrup has to be at room temperature and the cake should be warm when you pour the syrup over the cake, so you have to prepare the syrup before baking the cake. To make the syrup, boil the sugar and the water at medium heat. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then add the lemon juice and remove the scum (if any) that floats to the top. Add the rosewater and boil until the syrup thickens a little (if you stir with a spoon, it will coat the back of the spoon and if you touch it, the syrup will feel a little thick and slimy). Don't let the syrup boil for a long time and thicken up too much though, it means less syrup. It will take about 15 minutes to boil the syrup. Once ready, remove from stove and allow to come to room temperature.  

In a large bowl, mix the semolina and the baking soda. Then add the coconut, sugar and salt and mix well. Add the melted butter and yogurt and mix well with a spoon until well combined and it comes together. With 3/4 cup yogurt it all came together for me but you could add a little bit more if you have difficulty it combining everything. Either way, the batter will be thick and come together, almost like a dough. Lightly butter a 27 cm (about 10 inch) non-removable cake p
an/pie plate before placing parchment paper (so that the paper doesn't move) and then lightly butter the sides and the bottom (if you use a cake pan with removable bottom, there is a risk that the syrup runs down the sides). Spoon in the cake batter and even it out on top with a spoon. Allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes. Then cut the cake into diamonds or squares (before baking it). Place the blanched almonds or almond flakes in the middle of each diamond/square and gently press them down a little.

Bake the cake at 175 C (350 F) in a preheated oven, in the middle rack for about 20 minutes first. Take the cake out and gently cut it into diamonds/squares again (if you cut the cake when it is fresh out of the oven, it might crumble. This is why it is good to cut it before it is fully baked). Place the cake back into the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes until it looks golden and crisp on top. Take the cake out
and spread the syrup slowly and evenly on top of the cake. Allow the cake to soak up the syrup for a couple of hours or overnight and cool down to room temperature. Then cut the cake again when it has cooled down before serving. You can keep the cake refrigerated, and warm it up before serving. You have to warm it up before serving, otherwise it will feel like a brick. I don't warm up the whole cake, only the pieces that are to be served - a few seconds in the microwave is enough. You can keep it refrigerated for up to 1 1/2 weeks.