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.




Swedish Visiting Cake

Relax. I am taking it easy here. You are welcome to join if you are interested or curious or both. I feel that since I have Swedish Visiting Cake ready here, you would be.wp_20161130_14_25_56_pro-2Yes, this is the season of chocolate filled Yule logs and rum soaked cakes, of grandest cookies and gingerbread houses. And that is the reason you need this cake in December even more. I know it is kind of hard to just feed the cakes with rum and not pinching that tiny bit, or building that gingerbread house to perfection while drooling all the while. So, I say, if you have this cake ready, you wont mind not pinching your fruits cake or gingerbread house. In the month of December, this cake is your savior. Really.wp_20161130_14_33_02_pro-2I have baked this cake many times. Its one of the easiest cakes from one of my most treasured cake book. One without any leavening agent, this cake rather sets than baking , filling your house with the most delicious smell of almonds and vanilla. Bake it for yourself, friends or visitors, its a winner all the way!wp_20161130_14_30_46_pro

Swedish Visiting Cake

1 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)
Grated zest of one lemon
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup flour
1 stick melted butter, cooled
¼ cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)

• In a medium bowl, add the lemon zest to the sugar. Rub the zest and sugar in between your fingers to release the oils, the sugar will become lemon scented.
• Whisk in the eggs one at a time.
• Whisk in the salt and the extracts.
• Change to a spatula and stir in the flour.
• Fold in the butter.
• Stir until combined. Dorie baked hers in an 9-inch cast iron skillet. I don’t have one so I used a regular 9-inch pie pan with removable bottom. You may also bake in an 8 inch cake pan but the cake will be thin , like a sheet cake. Grease the pan.
• Pour the batter into the pan and top with the sliced almonds and a generous sprinkling of sugar.
• Bake in the oven preheated to 176 degree Celsius for 25 to 30 minutes. It will be golden and the edges will have a nice crust.
• Let the cake cool in the pan for about 5 minutes and then take a knife and run it around the edge of the pan.
• This cake can be served warm or at room temperature. It will stay good for up to two days at room temperature or may be 3-4 days under refrigeration. But it won’t last that long. Promise

Apple Sharlotka (Russian apple cake)

A dessert reputed to be a cake-torte-pie-all-in-one needs a grand introduction but then, you should not be biased by the number of steps or the list of ingredients. And you should not be flabbergasted when you don’t find butter/oil/milk/buttermilk/cream listed under the ingredients even after scrutinizing the recipe five times. And lastly when I tell you that you can bake it ahead of time because it only gets better the next day and it just takes a dusting of icing sugar for decoration, I have an inkling that from this word onward, I am talking to myself.



In case you chose to stay to know more, let me tell you this light and fluffy Russian sponge cake is raised on a heap of thinly sliced apples. The cake per se is mildly sweet and complemented well by the slight tartness of the apple chunks, which also ooze out the right amount of juices to moisten the cake.  The whiff of nutmeg and cinnamon in this cake is the perfect prelude to the up coming festive season. This cake is also the closest you will come to an apple pie on a weeknight sans all that hard work. And if I need one reason to bake this cake again, this would be it.


Apple Sharlotka (The Russian Apple Cake)
(Yields one 8 or 9 inch cake)

6 large eggs, at room temp
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ spoon nutmeg powder
¼ spoon cinnamon powder
5 large apples (I used green apples)
Powdered sugar to dust the finished cake
• Preheat the oven to 170 °C. Grease an 8 or 9 inch springform cake pan and line with the parchment sheet.
• Peel and cut the apples into small chunks. Squirt the juice of one lemon and toss apple chunks well. Arrange the apple chunks in the springform pan and keep aside.
• Using hand beater beat eggs with the sugar for about 10-12 minutes on medium-high speed till the mixture falls in thick ribbon form. Whisk in vanilla extract.
• Mix flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg powders. Mix it gently into the egg mixture in three increments using spatula without deflating the mixture too much.
• Pour the batter over the arranged apples and let the batter seep in the empty spaces. You may gently move the pan to help the batter spread faster.
• Bake in the pre heated oven for 50-60 minutes till the tester comes out clean. Cool it for about 15 minutes before releasing the cake from pan.
• Once cooled, sprinkle the confectioner’s sugar on top.

Almond cake with butterscotch buttercream


The year end baking spree saw heavenly dose of chocolate, fruits and alcohol in my bakes, and that resulted in many happy faces around.  A week into the New Year there was an opportunity for another cake. And suddenly I didn’t want to bake with any of the above! I wanted a new ingredient to bake with, something that would be a fitting contrast to all things chocolate and alcohol. I almost decided on baking with potatoes, but in the end almonds took the cake, quite literally.

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Almonds are a beautiful ingredient to bake with. I love them for the mild flavor and rich texture they impart. At the same time, they pair very well, be it with chocolate, strawberries, honey, oranges, cherries or just anything one can think of. If almonds were humans, they would be the best people around.

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This almond cake was baked purely on experimental basis and it didn’t let me down. This beautiful golden cake is very moist and fluffy at the same time. It is speckled with tiny brown dots and infused with sweet almond flavor. I paired it with butterscotch granules and butterscotch flavored buttercream. And those tiny confetti sprinkles? You don’t fight them when you have a “soon-going-to-be-six years” old at home, you just let them be.


Almond Cake with butterscotch buttercream:
(Yields One 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake, or 16 cupcakes)

¾ cup cake flour
1/3 cup almond flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
115 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
200 grams brown sugar
1 teaspoons almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
240 ml buttermilk, well-mixed

• Preheat oven to 350° F (176°C). Butter a 9-inches round cake pan and line with buttered parchment paper.
• Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix in almond flour.
• In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, (around 3-4 minutes) then beat in almond extract.
• Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
• At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled).
• Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated. It is always good to mix in the last batch with a rubber spatula.
• Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
• Bake until golden and the cake tester poked in center of the cake comes out clean, (around 35 to 40 minutes).
• Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment.
• Cool completely before frosting.

Rich butterscotch buttercream:

1 cup unsalted butter
3 teaspoon of butterscotch essence
4 cups of icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons of fresh cream

• Sift the icing sugar and reserve. It is always good to use fresh icing sugar/
• Whip the butter till its light and fluffy, for about 2-3 minute
• Start adding the icing sugar in small batches and keep whipping till it is incorporated all. Add essence and whip well once again.
• Start adding the cream, one table spoon at a time, and whip it well before adding further. Once the desired consistency is reached, add in the color and whip well before frosting the cake.





Coconut banana loaf

Once I shifted to south India after my wedding, the biggest revelation to me was the varieties of banana available here and the obsession with the fruit. I never knew that it came in so many shapes, sizes and colors. And the fact that some varieties were preferred more than others actually left me flummoxed! To me, a banana had  always been just a banana. But not anymore! In last seven years I can tell a Rasthali from a Nendran and have many times left a shop without buying  if the shop didn’t have the stock of the one of my liking. So it was a natural progression that I started baking with bananas more frequently. In other words, banana and I moved from being “just friends” to a more meaningful “relationship”.


However, it will be blasphemous if you do not say “coconut” in the same breath as “banana” if you are living in southern India. In my maternal home coconut does not enjoy the same status that banana does. There latter is eaten more unceremoniously than the former. But here, like banana, coconut is an integral part of everyday life. It is liberally used in almost every food preparation, be it sweet or savory, vegetarian or non-vegetarian, ceremonial or casual. Personally, I like the delicate flavor and the mild sweetness of the raw coconut. It also happens to be my go-to flavor for desserts. So my friends, how this banana coconut loaf came to be does not need any further write-up.WP_20151219_07_52_58_Pro

This loaf has a good amount of multi grain flour and fruits, but with my own standards for something to qualify as healthy, this one doesn’t get there. Nevertheless, its a moist, very flavorful and  delicious loaf and to call it a tea cake is an understatement unless you are feeling fancy. Easy on steps and requiring very staple ingredients from pantry, you do not really have to plan big to bake this loaf. Just a few leftover bananas and an extra coconut will do.


Coconut banana loaf
Makes one 9X5X4 inches loaf


• 1 cup All purpose flour
• 3/4 cup multi grain flour
• 1 ½ tsp baking powder
• 3/4th cup sugar
• 113 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup mashed bananas
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ cup shredded coconut
• Chopped nuts of your choice

For the loaf:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9X5-inch-loaf pan.
2. In a bowl, whisk together flours, salt and baking powder
3. In another bowl, large enough to hold the batter mix the melted butter and sugar until combined. Add in eggs, mashed banana and vanilla extract.
4. Add the flour mix to the butter mix and whisk till just combined. Add in shredded coconut and nuts if using.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes. When done, the top would be golden brown and the tester should come out clean, but take care not to over-bake the loaf.
6. Store in an air-tight container for upto two day at room temperature or refrigerate for upto 3-4 days.



Carrot apple banana cake

A few months ago, a conversation with my five year old went like this:
She: “Mamma! May I have cake for breakfast?”
Me: “No darling. Cakes don’t make a healthy breakfast choice.”
She: “Why do we have to eat healthy breakfast everyday?”
Me: “…(A long lecture on the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast, and how cakes are not healthy)…..”
Daughter( after a pause): “Then why do you bake unhealthy cakes all the time?”

Needless to say it surely made me frown. But with time, I have become more deft at steering my frowns towards smiles as my daughter is picking up argumentative skills. Not to be daunted, it was time to look for a cake recipe that would be healthy and not just for the namesake. So, here were my criteria:

A healthy cake should:
1. Not be slathered with buttercream or chocolate
2. Be low on fat, refined sugar and flour
3. Have some kind of fruit, vegetable and nuts in abundance
4. Have multi-grain flour in it
5. AND should appeal to the palate of a five year old

It appeared too idealistic but sometimes it pays to be stubborn. So, after going through many recipes, deciding on a few and finally tweaking a couple of them, I had my Eureka! moment.



Don’t go by the looks. This Plain Jane really packs a punch. This is my kind of everyday cake, one that I don’t mind my little girl having for breakfast. Despite having a high ratio of multi-grain flour, it is very moist and has a tender crumb. I think it will still taste great if the ratio is  increased further; or sugar is decreased by a couple of tablespoons, or a fist full of grated coconut is added to the batter. But as of now, I am in love with this one.   “Let them have cake!” has become my answer to the mid-meal/mid-play/mid-night/any-time hunger pangs on days this cake is in my fridge.


(Update- 9th September 2015) : It’s less than a week, and I have already made three batches of this, in different permutations and combinations. Yes, it’s that good. So, here is what I found:
1. Reducing sugar by two tablespoons makes it noticeably less sweet and while it’s healthier, kids may not fancy it, though it will make a good snack for elderly.
2. Increasing the multigrain flour: all-purpose flour ratio from 1:1 to 3:1 leads to coarser, rustic but still moist loaf, but again, my kid compared it to eating something “sandy”.
3. For the next, I substituted 1/3 cup of almond meal with grated unsweetened coconut, and it was divine. And while I was experimenting like there was no tomorrow, I ran out of banana puree but still had a cup full of grated carrots. I combined that with 1 ½ grated apple and 1/2 cup shredded coconut, and I couldn’t have offered you if you visited me the next evening, because it was all over. )

Carrot apple banana cake:
(Adapted from here and here)

Makes one 9X5.5X4 inches loaf or 14-16 muffins

2 eggs
¼ cup sunflower oil
½ cup mashed ripe bananas
1 sweet apple, grated
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
½ tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup multigrain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup roasted almond meal
1 cup heaped tightly packed grated carrots

• Heat oven to 176° C. Line and grease a loaf pan or muffin tray
• In a big mixing bowl, mix eggs, mashed bananas, oil, grated apple and sugar. Add milk and mix well.
• In a separate bowl, mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, raisins and cinnamon powder.
• Add grated carrots to the egg mix, followed by the flour mix and roasted almond meal. Mix well.
• Fill the loaf tin or muffin tray almost to the top and bake for about 30 mins or till the tester inserted in the middle comes out clean
• If baking in a loaf pan, check after 45 mins, and every 5 mins after that.
• Cool on a rack and store well.