Basboosa – Semolina Cake
I received an email with an invitation more than delicious: it asked if I would like to visit the kitchen, bakery and pastry chef of one of the tastiest restaurants in Sao Paulo – the Arabia. Don’t know about you, but I love Lebanese food and even coming from an Italian/ Spanish family, I grew up eating sfihas, kibehs, rice with lentils, tabbouleh and an eventual turkish delight every now and then – Sao Paulo received a lot of Lebanese immigrants in the end of the XIX, so their delicious food became very common around here.
Everything was very clean and efficient, a real assembly line of delights, and right at the entrance I bumped into this:
After passing through the assembly line of sfihas and bravely resist to stick one in my pocket , we reached the part that matters – the pastry kitchen.
Clear syrups bubbling in huge pans, beautiful confections everywhere and a delicious orange blossom water aroma in the air. Chef Samih Abou Ali, authentic Lebanese citizen and very friendly, handles everything with skill, an d was kind enough to answer all of my questions.
From top right, clockwise: cashew nuts flowers waiting for the orange blossom syrup; chef Samih rolling out Phylo dough until the thickness of a tissue paper; skilled hands closing the sweets; the divine semolina cake; Knef being prepared in the hot copper plate; walnut beklawa
I asked the chef the recipe for the semolina cake, which seemed the most possible to be made at home. He patiently said ok, but warned me it was not so easy to make at home. Still, I came across the challenge, because if there’s one thing I like is a mocking recipe.
Back at home…
Chef Samih was right, the thing seems simple, but it depends a lot on the kind of semolina you will use – the ideal is a medium ground semolina, not too powdery, and not too coarse (like couscous). I attempted the cake twice, and In my first attempt, I didn’t add enough milk to the batter and got a delicious semolina BRICK.
It must be prepared one day in advance because the batter has to rest overnight before baking.
Semolina Cake (20cm/ 9-inch square baking dish) – for measurement conversions, please check the link on the right side bar
- 625g sugar
- 200ml water
- Drops of lemon
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon rosewater
For the cake:
- 400g semolina
- 200g caster sugar
- 40g unsweetened desiccated coconut
- 1 / 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons of the syrup ready and cold
- 150ml milk (this is the minimum you will need, but you may need more, according to your semolina)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 30 g melted butter
- tahini (sesame paste)
- blanched almonds
Make the syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to heat and cook, stirring until it boils. Add drops of lemon and boil for 3 minutes. Let cool and mix the rose and orange blossom water.
Make the batter:
Grease a baking dish with tahini and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix semolina, sugar, coconut and baking powder. Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the butter, vanilla, syrup and milk gradually. Mix with your hands. The semolina will absorb the milk – add more little by little, until the batter looks and feels like a thick porridge. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish, cover and let rest for about 12 hours.
Preheat oven to 400F (or 200°C). With a knife, mark 3cm squares in the dough, and place an almond in each square. Bake until dough rise a little and pass the toothpick test, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, cut squares where once you’ve checked the lines and return to oven for a few minutes to brown.
Heat the syrup. Soak the hot cake with the syrup while hot and let cool very well to remove from the pan. Serve with the remaining syrup.