While Europe in general and France in particular may be the doyen of modern baking with exquisite cakes and tarts, they were not the ones to invent baking. Egyptians developed this art and were the pioneers of baking first bread, as early as 600 BC, using yeast which they previously used to brew beer. Romans being the connoisseurs of good food took baking to next level and pastry cook became a respected profession. However, the first cakes created were very different from what we eat today. More bread-like and sweetened with honey, they were dressed with dry fruits and nuts on special occasions.
Basboussa, an Egyptian delicacy, known by many different names ((Arabic: بسبوسة basbūsah, هريسة harīsa, and nammoura (in Lebanon), Armenian: Շամալի shamali, Turkish: revani or ravani (from Persian), French: gabelouze, kalbelouz, and qualb-el-louz (in Tunisian French), Greek: ραβανί and ρεβανί and in English it means “Just a kiss”) is wildly popular in Greek, Turkey, throughout the Levant and the North African countries, as many of these countries share a common Ottoman heritage. Some are baked with eggs while others are not some include yogurt while others include milk, some are made with butter or clarified butter and others with vegetable oil, some with coconut and others without. But what all have in common is the rustic look and almost ambrosial flavor. For me, having a slice of basbousa is like going back in history and admiring simplicity at its best.
This recipe is taken from here and bakes a wonder moist cake bursting with flavors of coconut, rose water and lemon. I did not use vanilla essence to keep the flavors as close to original as I could. This cake uses a very high proportion of semolina, another first for me. It’s a perfect teatime cake and stores well. Try baking it if you haven’t baked it before. You will find a cake for keeps.
1 3/4 cups coarse semolina/sooji
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup plain yoghurt
(or a mix of half yoghurt and half milk)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla essence (I used rose water)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup almonds, blanched and peeled
Ingredients for Syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla or rosewater
(you may even use any other flavouring that you prefer, like saffron or cardamom)
First, prepare the syrup. Combine the water, sugar and lemon juice in a small pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer for about 5-8 minutes. Then turn off the heat, stir in the rosewater or vanilla essence and set the syrup aside to cool down.
In a large bowl, mix together the semolina, flour, baking powder, sugar, coconut and salt. In a small jug, mix the liquid ingredients, yogurt, melted butter, eggs and vanilla.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and then gradually add the liquid ingredients while mixing with a spatula or wooden spoon to form a thick batter.
Pour and level out the batter in a greased 11×7 inch pan and lightly score the top with diamond or square shaped cuts. Press a whole almond in the middle of each square or diamond. Then cover and set the pan aside for half an hour. This helps the semolina to absorb the liquids.
Preheat the oven at 180 C.
Uncover the resting pan and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or till the skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Then remove from the oven and carefully cut all the way through the marks you had made earlier. Pour the cooled syrup as evenly as possible all over the hot basboussa. Then place the pan back in the oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before cutting out the pieces and serving.