This basbousa recipe is the easiest, most delicious classic Arabic semolina cake recipe. It's one of those desserts that every Arab household has a version of, and here I'll be sharing my Teta's recipe. She never really wrote things down, so I had to experiment until I got the most perfect, moist, sweet, and crumbly basbousa just like Teta used to make. The first couple of trials were a disaster because I couldn't get the measurements right, but once I did, my family started asking for a tray every other day! I've never had to buy ready-made basbousa again.
What I Love About This Recipe
Out of all the Arabic desserts (and there are many), basbousa definitely has to be my favorite. It's one of the simplest desserts to make and is made of minimal ingredients, yet it just tastes so special. And don't get me started on how good your house will smell while it's in the oven. Most people like to let it cool and soak up the simple syrup that you pour on top when it comes out of the oven, but I can never wait that long. It's just a million times better when it's warm, fresh, and oh so crumbly.
Ingredients You'll Need
- Coarse Semolina: You'll need coarse semolina for this recipe. This Arabic cake should be crumbly and grainy in a way, and fine semolina won't give it the right texture.
- Ghee: I've tried to make basbousa with regular butter, but ghee or clarified butter really is the key to getting the perfect flavor.
- Yogurt: You can use any type of yogurt. I've made it with full fat and low-fat yogurt, and greek yogurt was the only one that didn't work. So only avoid greek yogurt.
- Sugar: The dough itself will need white sugar, which you can use less since you'll be soaking the basbousa cake in sugar syrup anyway. It depends on how sweet you like it.
- Baking Powder: You'll only need a little bit of baking powder, but it's what gives this basbousa its delicate and addicting texture.
- Honey: I found that honey was the missing ingredient to giving it that special flavor. And it also helps the dough come together.
- Tahini: You can use olive oil, ghee, or vegetable oil too. You only need a little bit to grease your baking pan with.
- Raw Nuts: I like garnishing my basbousa semolina cake with pistachios. You can use almonds, pine nuts, or cashews, or just leave It plain.
- Orange Blossom Water: I always make my simple syrup with orange blossom water. It just adds that special touch.
- Lemon Juice: My aunt taught me to add a tiny bit of lemon juice to my simple syrup to intensify its flavors and thicken it up faster.
How To Make Basbousa
Mix the semolina, sugar, and baking powder in a bowl. In another bowl, melt the ghee in a microwave. Mix in the honey to the melted ghee.
Add the ghee and honey mixture to the dry semolina mixture. Mix until fully blended. Add the yogurt and blend until squishy, but don't overwork the dough.
Grease a 12" (30 cm) round baking pan (or equivalent in size) with tahini. Lightly press the dough into the pan evenly.
Hint: Let the dough rest for at least an hour. Teta's recipe is the only one I know that calls for resting the dough. But trust me, it makes a world of difference. I promise you'll have the perfect delicate basbousa every single time.
Prepare the simple syrup while the basbousa dough is resting. To make the simple syrup, dissolve the sugar in water in a saucepan on the stovetop. Add lemon juice. Stir until the simple syrup thickens up. Add orange blossom water. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 350 ℉ (180 ℃). Cut the basbousa cake before you bake it. I found that cutting it before I bake makes sure the lines are clean-cut, and the syrup is absorbed much more evenly.
Garnish with pistachios or nuts of choice. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes at 350 ℉ (180 ℃).
ALWAYS have your syrup ready to pour onto your semolina cake the second it comes out of the oven. You have to pour it on when it's really hot so it can absorb the liquid without turning into a syrupy mess. You'll see how it absorbs the liquid as soon as it's poured on.
Tips and Tricks
- Don't overwork the dough. When I make basbousa semolina cake, I always mix the dry ingredients with melted ghee first and then add the yogurt. Only mix until it's fully incorporated. This will make sure your semolina doesn't absorb the liquid from the yogurt, which will probably leave you with a rubbery texture instead of a moist, crumbly one, which is what you're going for.
What is Semolina?
Made from a hard type of wheat called durum wheat, semolina is basically just a coarser flour. It’s usually used in pasta, bread, as well as baked goods, but it’s super well known for being used in semolina porridge. This is because it absorbs liquid really well. You'll usually find it at your local supermarket in the flour section.
In Syria, Semolina is very commonly used in numerous desserts and baked goods like maamoul and mamouniyeh and is what gives them their distinct grainy texture. Additionally, it’s commonly served in savory dishes as couscous in the place of rice.
Different Arabic Semolina Cakes
This Arabic semolina cake recipe is a classic in almost every Arab household. Although it's most commonly known as basbousa, Palestinians and Syrians call it harisseh, Lebanese call it namoura, Armenians call it Shamali, and there are Persian, Kuwaiti, and Greek versions of it as well. Some people add shredded coconut or coconut flakes, some cover the top in mixed nuts, and some add saffron. There are so many versions of this decadent dessert that you'll probably find different tips and tricks in each household. My family prefers Teta's plain basbousa, without coconut, and we'll even make it without the nuts. It's just that good on its own.
Since semolina comes from wheat, that means it does contain gluten. Basbousa can be made with corn semolina, which would make it gluten-free.
Pronounce basbousa like "BAS-BOO-SA".
How To Store
Store this basbousa semolina cake recipe in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.