Basbousa: Orange Semolina Cake with Zesty Syrup

A few weeks ago I found myself strolling around the shuk, without much of an agenda. I needed a mental reset from the routine of life and so I meandered through the stalls, looking for nothing in particular, just enjoying the bustle around me. On my way out, with a light spring to my step, I noticed the warmth of the sun on my face. I felt so calm and carefree. Until out of the crowd, I noticed a six foot soldier in an olive green uniform with a menacing metal thing (read: gun) strapped around his chest. Reality hit and I didn’t feel so carefree anymore. It didn’t help that a few minutes later a number of these soldiers were frantically running through the shuk, clearly looking for someone. I’d like to think the person they were searching for perhaps forgot to pay for his falafel. No one else seemed bothered by the scene. With widened eyes, I hastily made my way back home.

I have fear. It’s muted and invisible but it follows me quietly to many places I go. I wish it wasn’t so and I get that the Israeli-Arab conflict is a conflict with many layers and facets but hey, it sucks. When an Arab lady eyed me at the market, I assumed it was malicious but maybe she was checking out my head scarf. Hers was pretty and I considered inquiring about it, maybe just to show that I’m a friendly mother who loves her babies so ferociously and I just want them to be safe. Like I’m sure she does hers.

When I’m on a crowded bus, my mind wanders off calculating probabilities, scanning for something or someone suspicious. Sometimes I take things a little further and imagine what kind of picture the Jerusalem Post will use on their front page if I were, you know. Morbid thoughts, I tell you. It better not be my passport’s.

That’s life here and without getting into politics, I think that even if there isn’t a solution, maybe we can agree on something. Cake, for sure. Maybe cake will bring peace. Probably this cake. Basbousa is a delicious semolina cake popular in the middle east. It’s soaked in syrup that usually contains rose water or orange blossom but since I don’t stock those, I’ve made my own variation with orange zest. A good way to use winter citrus. It has a gritty, soft texture and when cut into small diamonds, makes for beautiful presentation. The almond on top is optional but adds nuttiness and a decorative touch.


Basbousa: Orange Semolina Cake with Zesty Syrup


4 cups semolina

20g active dry yeast

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ cup sugar

20g (2 packs) vanilla sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup ground coconut

1 cup orange juice

1 cup oil

Raw almonds, for topping

for the syrup,

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Juice from ½ lemon

Zest from 1 orange


Start with the syrup. In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar, lemon juice, and zest to a boil until thickened and the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

For the cake,

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, mix the semolina, yeast, baking powder, sugar, vanilla sugar,salt, coconut, orange juice and oil. Pour into a 9-inch cake pan and press down. Starting left to right, run a sharp knife diagonally in 2 inch increments and diagonally right to left to create diamond shapes. Press almond into the middle of each diamond and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and carefully run a knife along the lines so the syrup absorbs better. Pour the cold syrup over the hot cake and let it absorb as it cools. If any of the almonds danced off, nudge them back into place. Serve.

Note: Despite the picture, do not use a springform pan for this! Even when lined with foil, the syrup escapes, leaving you with a dry cake.