Basbousa: The Egyptian Semolina Cake

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.




Pina Colada Cheesecake

On Sunday we had such fun filled birthday celebrations in Bahamas! Or so I imagined, eating this Pina Colada Cheesecake that really made up for a few misses. Well, almost.2Its been a long time since I baked a cheesecake though there often is a demand for one. As we geared for the birthday in smoldering May, a coconut cheesecake seemed the best choice. A few splashes of rum and a few chunks of pineapple make everyone merry. Did I mention hidden chocolate chips in the rum cream topping? I was ready with the plan.1WP_20160529_08_54_22_ProThough we do get mascarpone here, it’s obscenely priced and I can’t bring myself to bake with an ingredient I wouldn’t be happy buying. Luckily, you can make your own mascarpone at home and that what I do. It tastes far better than the store bought and costs a fraction. Though it takes a bit of planning as making mascarpone at home takes two days, it’s totally worth the time. I suggest you make your own mascarpone and spend that hard earned money on that Ruby woo or Nymphette, or both. Making your own mascarpone can empower you in some ways.WP_20160530_17_50_03_Pro (2).jpgI believed that Pina Colada would be a great flavor to be translated into a cheesecake and I wasn’t wrong because it’s one of the most superlative cheesecakes I have baked, and is decadent at its best. Though I trust my gut feeling while choosing a flavor, it’s the smiles, hugs and kisses which really tell it all.3Homemade Mascarpone Cheese:
(Adapted from here)
Yields around 650 grams cheese

• 1 Liter amul cream (25% fat)
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Prepare a bain marie  large enough to hold the vessel you are going to pour your cream in. Bring water to simmer.
2. Empty the cream in a large heatproof vessel and place in bain marie. Heat the cream gently till it registers a temperature of 85° C.
3. Add the lemon juice and keep stirring the cream till it thickens and coats the spatula, 3-4 minutes.
4. Take the cream vessel out and cool it to room temperature. Chill cream for up to 24 hours. It will thicken further under refrigeration.
5. Spread layers of clean muslin cloth and empty the thickened cream into it. Hang it inside refrigerator for 24 to drain out whey.
6. Store tightly under refrigeration for up-to a week.

Pina Colada Cheesecake
(Adapted from here)
Makes a 9 inch round cheesecake

For the Crust
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, divided
• 3/4 cup digestive biscuits crumbs
• 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted, cooled
• 1/4 cup sugar

For the filling
• 680 grams cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 ½ cup sugar
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 3 tablespoons corn flour
• 4 large eggs
• 1 cup canned cream of coconut, unsweetened
• 1/4 cup rum

For the topping
• 400 grams amul cream
• 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
• 2 tablespoons rum + a handful of chocolate chips (optional)
• Small chunks of freshly chopped pineapple

Bake the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 176° C. Brush 9-inch-diameter springform cake pan with 2.5-inch-high sides with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Line the pan with parchment paper; lightly brush paper with some of melted butter.
2. To roast coconut, scrape a fresh coconut and roast at 176° C for 7-10 minutes, tossing the coconut regularly till it turns very light golden. Cool and keep aside.
3. Blend crumbs, coconut, sugar, and remaining butter in a medium bowl. Press mixture tightly over bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust until lightly browned at edges, about 10 minutes. Cool. Reduce oven temperature to 150° C

Prepare the filling:
1. Using electric mixer, beat first 4 ingredients in large bowl until blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating for a whole minute before adding the next. Beat in cream of coconut and rum.
2. The batter will be thin. Gently pour batter over crust.
3. Place the pan on a big sheet of heavy duty aluminium sheet such that you get over-hangs above the edges. Secure the overhangs to make it a watertight contraption.
4. Place cake pan in large roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to roasting pan to come 1 inch up sides of cake pan.
5. Cover roasting pan with foil and bake cake 1 hour.
6. Remove foil. Bake until cake is pale brown, puffed, and just set in center, about 40 minutes#. Cool cake in water bath 2 hours. Remove from water; run knife around cake to loosen. Chill cake in pan for minimum 6 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

#My cake took more than two hours at this step and I almost became impatient. A frantic google search enlightened me by the fact that it was alright to bake as long as the center was jiggling and that the baking time has a lot to do with the temperature inside the oven. Mine being an old equipment, took more than two hours but you really need to keep a check to avoid over-baking. The key is to turn off the oven when its still jiggling in the center and leave it in the water bath inside the oven where it will keep on setting with time.

For the topping:
1. Chill the amul cream at least for six hours. Remove the thickened cream in a bowl and discard the separated water. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat gently to lighten the cream.
2. Add in the rum and beat once more. Mix in chocolate chips if using.
3. Spread over the cooled cheesecake and decorate with pineapple chunks and cherries.