Basbousa is a delicious Middle Eastern Semolina cake soaked in simple syrup that comes together in under an hour with minimal effort. The coarse semolina in the cake offers a unique texture distinct to this popular Middle Eastern dessert. This easy dessert is very much worth trying!
Growing up, this was one of the most nostalgic desserts that my mom would make for gatherings with friends and family. I now know why. It is easy to prepare, so tasty, and always a crowd-pleaser. So, check out what I think is the best basbousa recipe below!
What is Basbousa?
This beloved dessert goes by quite a few names and depends on the region. For example, in Palestine and Jordan, we often refer to this semolina cake as hareesa. Typically, hareesa is made without the use of coconut, however. In this recipe, coconut is used, so it is more recognized as basbousa which is also the name of it in countries like Egypt. Every region has a take on this dessert, but at the end of the day, it is a semolina cake soaked in simple syrup, distinguished by the almonds on top.
What is Semolina?
Now that you know this cake is made entirely of semolina, you may be wondering what that is exactly. Semolina is a type of flour made of durum wheat, so this cake, for the record is not gluten-free. You will find semolina flour sold in different sizes but typically as fine or as coarse. For this cake, coarse semolina is used. The texture of the coarse semolina makes a big difference in this cake and will yield the best result.
You can find this product at any Middle Eastern grocery store and in Indian markets. I have even found them in mainstream supermarkets in the ethnic food aisle.
How to make this recipe:
- To start, prep a 9×13 baking dish with tahini paste. This will offer a slightly nutty taste to the bottom of the semolina cake. You can always use butter, ghee, oil, or nonstick spray in place.
- Then, you will combine the plain yogurt with the sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. This will start to bubble slightly and rise.
- Then, combine the coarse semolina flour with the melted butter and coconut.
- After that, add the yogurt mix and stir together.
- Lastly, pour the milk and mix until you have a cohesive batter.
- Pour into the prepped baking dish and score into a diamond or square piece. Top with almonds and bake!
- Make the simple syrup at this point which is just sugar and water, so it is ready once the cake is baked.
- Once the basbousa is baked, pour the simple syrup over the top while it is still hot. The semolina cake will soak all that sweetness and moisten the cake too. Please don’t be shy with the syrup; use it all!
- Now, this is the hard part…you have to wait for at least an hour until the cake is completely cooled before digging in, or you risk it crumbling. Plus, you want the syrup to be entirely absorbed by the cake before enjoying a piece.
How to Store this Basbousa Dessert:
This cake makes roughly 24 pieces depending on the size of the cuts. It is a great dessert to serve at a gathering, but if you have leftovers, this cake stores well.
I would recommend placing it in an airtight container and keeping it at room temperature for up to 3 days. After that, you can store it in the fridge, or you can do this from the get-go and take it out to keep room temperature before serving it for up to a week.
More Middle Eastern Desserts:
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Basbousa (Middle Eastern Semolina Cake)
- 1 cup Plain Yogurt
- 1 cup Granulated Sugar
- 1.5 tsp Baking Powder
- 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
- 3 cups Semolina, coarse
- 1/2 cup Butter, unsalted, melted this is equivalent to 1 stick of butter
- 1 cup Fine Coconut Flakes in the store, this may be labeled as coconut powder or coconut macaroon. I get the Baladna brand from the Middle Eastern market
- 3/4 cup Milk
- 2 tbsp Tahini Paste this is used to coat the baking pan
- Whole Almonds enough for each piece of semolina cake. approx. 24 almonds
- 2 cups Granulated Sugar
- 1.5 cups Water
- Squeeze of lemon
- Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prep your 9×13 baking dish by brushing the bottom of edges of the pan with the tahini paste.
- In a bowl, mix the yogurt, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda together. Set that to the side. You will notice the yogurt slighty bubble and rise.
- In another bowl, stir together the semolina with the melted butter until it begins to come together. At this point, fold in the coconut powder as well.
- Add the yogurt mixture into the semolina mixture and combine the two well. To this, add the milk. Mix until a cohesive batter comes together.
- Add the batter into the prepped baking pan spreading it out evenly. Tap the baking pan against a surface to release any air bubbles that may be in the batter before baking.
- The batter is thick enough to cut into pre baking. Cut into even squares or diamonds in the size of your preference. I got approx. 24 pieces out of my pan. See video above for demonstration.
- Add a whole almond to the center of each piece just tapping it gently into the batter. You can also add a sprinkle of coconut powder over the top of the batter if you would like before baking.
- Bake uncovered in the oven for 25-30 min on the bottom rack until the edges start to brown. Then, move the pan to the top rack for another 5-10 minutes so the whole cake gets a beautiful light brown color.
- While the cake bakes, prepare the simple syrup by stirring together the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let this simmer for about 8 minutes until it thickens and add a asqueezeof lemon at the end.
- Once the cake is out of the oven, re-inforce the previously cut lines by going over it again with a sharp knife. Then, pour the warm syrup all over the top of the semolina cake. The cake especially when warm will soak it up.
- Allow for the cake to cool completely for at least an hour before taking the slices out or you can risk it crumbling. You also want the cake to absorb all of the syrup. Enjoy a slice with a cup of tea or coffee!