- ovenproof baking dish 30x22x3 cm,
- 450 ml water
- 450 g fine granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- thin zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 300 g fine durum wheat semolina
- 1 tsp baking powder (4 g)
- pinch salt
- 100 g butter, softened
- 125 g fine granulated sugar
- 2 very fresh eggs
- 1 tsp grated unwaxed orange zest
- pinch vanilla seed
- 150 ml Greek yoghurt
- 24 blanched almond halves
‘An Arab who does not love sweets is like a Muslim who does not believe in Paradise’. A bold assertion, but the fact is that the fondness for sweet things in the Arab world leaps to the eye everywhere. Sweet cakes and candies are offered at every festivity, religious or not, even at funerals. Already in the Middle Ages sugar was an ordinary ingredient in Arab countries and not as expensive as in Western world where it was called ‘the white gold’.
A nice example of the original processing of sugar is this Egyptian version of the semolina cake Basbusa: soaked with syrup without making it cloying.
As to ‘semolina’, this should be the smied from Middle Eastern shops, which gives a beautiful yellow pastry. Soft wheat semolina does not have that effect. Sometimes the cake is made even more yellow by adding a spoonful of turmeric or a pinch of saffron. Instead of with almonds it can be garnished with pine nuts. That is up to you. But keep this rule of thumb: the cold syrup has to be poured over the warm pastry.
- Syrup: Simmer water sugar, juices and zest over low heat for 10 minutes. Increase the heat and reduce the liquid to 300 ml. Leave to cool. Discard the lemon zest.
- Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas 6.
- Batter: Sift semolina with baking powder and salt.
- Beat the soft butter with the sugar until creamy. You can do this with an electric mixer. Gradually add the eggs with vanilla and orange zest, beating well after each addition. Put the mixer aside, take a large metal spoon and gently fold in alternately the sifted semolina and the yoghurt.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly with wet hands. Divide the almond halves onto the batter: 4 over the width, 6 over the length.
- Baking: 25-30 minutes on the middle shelf until the cake looks a golden brown. Cut into 24 squares immediately. Pour the cold syrup onto the warm cake. Cover and leave to soak for a night.
When in Luxor I was served fresh orange parts with Basbusa. Tasted well.