On Valentine’s Day, I posted the photo below on my FB page with no recipe in the caption.
Surprisingly, my abridged post received overwhelming attention and I was swamped with requests to post the recipe.
For some reason, that oozing cream sandwiched between two layers of glistening semolina cake, electrified a raving crowd for syrupy desserts.
This dessert is basically a modern rendition of traditional cream filled basbousa, that is quite popular in Egypt, yet usually shunned by foreigners who find it overly sweet and sticky.
Basbousa by itself (also known as Namoura in the levant), is a dense cake which lineage goes back to India.
If you’ve tried Indian Halva studded with nuts and drenched in simple syrup, you probably can fathom what Basbousa tastes like, although both dishes are cooked in dissimilar fashions.
According to Febe Armanios, a professor of history at Middlebury College and a specialist in food studies of the Middle East, “The economic connections between Egypt and South Asia were particularly strong in the medieval period. A robust exchange of various goods and spices took place between the regions. Also, Egyptian merchants and their agents spent much time in the coastal areas of the Indian subcontinent, and they may have brought back to Egypt some novel culinary concepts, and also imparted their knowledge on their hosts.”
In this rendition, I am reinventing Basbousa by spicing up the batter with cinnamon and cloves to create some depth of flavor, while decreasing the amount of sugar in the cream filling to cut through the sweetness of the syrup.
Unlike the traditional syrup where water and sugar are the only ingredients, I leverage here the power of orange juice, which serves as a natural sweetener, zesty aroma diffuser, and dissolvent liquid at the same time. To take it up a notch, a drizzle of orange blossom adds “C’est du je ne said pa quoi”, while a few strands of saffron turns the syrup into a feast for the eye.
Toasting the coconut before adding it to the batter is another upgrade that goes a long way. The toasting amps up the flavor of the tropical granules and make their taste as strongly present as the texture.
This dessert is much easier to make that it looks and YES it is unapologetically rich and sweet.
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Basbousa Bel Ashta: Cream-Filled Semolina Cake:
Recipe adapted from Ms. Manal Alalem
- 1 cup semolina, coarse
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup desiccated coconut, toasted
- 1/2 cup ghee (clarified butter), melted
- 3/4 cup yogurt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- The zest of one orange
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon of cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 3/4 cup whole milk,
- 3 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1 cup clotted cream
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon of orange blossom
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of saffron strands, optional
- Rind of one orange
- 3 cardamom pods, bruised
- Preheat the oven to 370°.
- Prepare the cake batter: In a mixing bowl, toss all the semolina cake ingredients and mix well until all the ingredients are incorporated.
- Make the cream filling: Add the milk and cornflour to a medium sauce pan, and whisk well until the corn flour disappears. Turn on the stove heat and start to stir until the the cream thickens.
- Assemble the cake: In a glass dish or a cheesecake mold with a detachable base, add half the quantity of semolina batter, level its surface, add the cream and then add the second half of the batter.
- Bake for almost 20 minutes or until the surface is tanned and golden.
- Make the syrup: While the cake is baking, add the sugar, orange juice, and water to a sauce pan, and stir over low heat until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Add the flavorings and saffron, and let it gently simmer for 8-10 minutes until it thickens.
- Add the hot syrup: Remove the baking dish from the oven and immediately pour the hot syrup on the hot cake. Let it come to room temperature, and then keep it in the fridge at least three hours or preferably over night so the cream sets and all the flavorings blend in the cake.
- Garnish with nuts or rinds of oranges, and serve cold.